Unchecked cruelty

Until recently, living conditions in many children’s homes in
Bulgaria were so poor that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment. In February 1997, Amnesty International
expressed concern about the deaths of six children and one 18 year
old from hypothermia and malnutrition in the Dzhurkovo children’s
home, where more than 80 children were without adequate food or
heating for weeks.

Life-threatening conditions were reported in a home in Fakia in the
Burgas region, where in January 2000 two boys were reported to have
died of medical neglect. In August 2000, three children at a home
in Medven died of dysentery. These homes did not have enough state
funding to buy sufficient food.

There have been improvements but many serious deficiencies remain.
Children are still placed in homes after inadequate diagnoses and
without the prospect of monitoring or reassessment. The lack of
specialist therapeutic or educational training impairs their
development and the possibility of leading a more meaningful and
useful life.

Most children in care homes are assessed by the age of three as
having “moderate, severe or profound retardation”. Some are sent to
homes for “social reasons” such as being abandoned or severely
neglected. At 16, when they qualify for disability benefits, they
are re-examined. In some cases they are reportedly diagnosed as
suffering from a more severe degree of disability solely to secure
the highest possible state benefits. At 18, those with the more
severe disabilities are transferred to adult institutions.

A children’s home in Mogilino suffers frequent cuts in power and
heating during the winter. Amnesty found the most disabled children
spent their entire lives in bed and that staff did not interact
with the children beyond feeding and cleaning them.

Although allegations of ill-treatment are rare, this may reflect
the lack of supervision of children’s homes and the inability of
children to complain. Newspaper reports prompted a government
inquiry into a home in Trnava. An orderly had allegedly beaten
children with a stick, had forcibly fed, slapped and tied down a
four-year-old boy and burned another with scalding water.

The inquiry found that a blind girl with impaired hearing had been
placed in seclusion, apparently for crying and preventing other
children from sleeping. However, it did not comment on the scalding
incident, nor did it clarify the circumstances in which children
were secluded, on whose authority or for how long.

It concluded that children had been ill-treated at the home but
suggested that the dismissal of the staff concerned was an end to
the matter. It did not think it worth passing on to the state
prosecutor. Nor did it provide recommendations on how to prevent or
act upon similar misconduct. Amnesty International is concerned
that this inquiry did not meet international human rights standards
for such inquiries into ill treatment.

Ivan Fiser works for Amnesty International


The Republic of Bulgaria is 110,910 sq km (less than half the
UK) with a population of 7.6 million

Ethnic groups (per cent): Bulgarian 83.6, Turk 9.5, Roma 4.6,
other 2.3 (including Macedonian, Armenian, Tata

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