Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Children were registered immediately upon birth in the country. Children born to asylum seekers could not be registered until the mother received either refugee or humanitarian status.
Education: Public education is compulsory to the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, but authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements. School dropout rates were disproportionately high among the Romani population.
According to the National Statistical Institute, 17,553 children (2.3 percent of those enrolled) dropped out of school in 2013. The Education Ministry estimated the number of dropouts at 3,844. NGOs considered both figures inaccurate and estimated the actual number of dropouts to fall between these figures.
Child Abuse: Violence against children continued to be a problem. According to the SACP, in the first nine months of the year, there was a slight decrease in the number of reported child abuse cases compared with the previous few years. In 2013 the SACP worked on 1,384 new cases of violence, down from 1,454 in 2012. While the short-term trends possibly indicated a decrease in violence against children, data collected over the previous 10 years indicate both physical violence and sexual violence increased as a proportion of the total. Physical violence increased from 24 percent in 2004 to 38.2 percent of all cases and had become the most prevalent form of violence. While not as prevalent, the proportion of cases of sexual violence more than doubled from 7 percent to 15.4 percent during the same period. The home continued to be the location where violence was most prevalent (71.6 percent), while 9 percent of cases occurred on the street, 5.4 percent in school, and 4.6 percent in a public location. According to the Animus Association Foundation, discussion of sexual violence against children remained a social taboo.
In February the National Network for Children accused the government of not taking appropriate action after discovering grave violations of children’s rights in correctional facilities in Straldja, Dragodanovo, and Varnentsi. Prompted by volunteers, in September 2013 the SACP inspected the facility in Straldja and uncovered cases of physical violence, sexual violence, and poor health care and nourishment. As of November there was an investigation by the prosecution. In November 2013 the SACP requested the closing of the facility in Straldja; as of October the government was still working on the relocation of the children. According to the National Statistical Institute, 1,937 children were victims of serious crimes in 2013, up from 1,777 victims in 2012.
The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that children could call for counseling, information, and support as well as to report abuse. During the first nine months of the year, helpline counselors carried out 13,307 consultations. Less than 4 percent of the reports concerned cases of abuse, and only 1 percent concerned physical violence, accompanied in almost all cases by emotional abuse. Hotline administrators referred 331 cases of children at risk to the child protection administration. NGOs expressed concern that in many cases social workers, guided by conflicting legislation, preferred to send a child out of an abusive home into an institution rather than remove the abusive parent.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person can enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2013 there were 385 marriages of girls under 18, or 1.8 percent of the total number, which continued an increasing trend since 2009, when the figure was 0.6 percent. NGOs reported that child marriage was a pervasive problem in Romani communities that resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There is no express provision in the law that prohibits FGM/C, and there were no reports of such practices concerning children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000-15,000 levs ($3,125-$9,375) for forcing children into prostitution, as well as three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000-20,000 levs ($6,250-$12,500) for child sex trafficking. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine of up to 8,000 levs ($5,000).
Institutionalized Children: Authorities placed children in institutions regardless of varying types and degrees of disability. Between September 2013 and March, the government closed seven institutions as part of a plan to close all institutions by 2025 and replace them with alternative, community-based care. As of October the government operated 103 institutions, including 50 for parentless children, 29 for those needing medical and social care, and 24 for children and youth with physical disabilities. The number of institutionalized children further declined from 3,592 in July 2013 to 3,550 as of July. Approximately 25 percent of the children remaining in institutions had disabilities. According to the SACP, an estimated 50 percent of institutionalized children were Roma. The BHC was concerned that, despite its deinstitutionalization policy, the government continued to place children in institutions.
Most children in government institutions were not orphans; courts institutionalized children when they determined their families were unable to provide them adequate care. The government continued to inspect the institutions, uncovering numerous malpractices and mistreatment of the children placed there. In August an inspection of the institution in Knyazhevo, Sofia, revealed serious violations of the established regulations and recordkeeping after an 18-month-old child disappeared from the institution.
The government continued implementing its deinstitutionalization program after developing individual deinstitutionalization plans for each child. Between September 2013 and October, authorities removed 492 children from institutions and relocated the majority of them to family-type centers, with a smaller number, approximately 10 percent, accommodated in protected housing. As of August the SACP successfully completed 1,737 cases of children either reintegrated with their families, adopted, or placed in foster care, and prevented the abandonment of 626 children. An interagency working group was developing a standard for dedicated government funding of foster care. The ombudsman identified a disconcerting trend of children returning from family-type centers to their original institutions. The SACP stated that poverty and the lack of sufficiently developed alternatives to institutionalized care, in addition to the insufficient number of needs-based services for disabled children, hampered successful deinstitutionalization.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information see travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/country/bulgaria.html.