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No investigation of the children's deaths

On 4th April 2013 Bulgaria responded to criticism by IHEU of the appalling treatment and neglect of children Bulgarian institutions by submitting a written report to the Uited Nations Human Rights Council [A/HRC/22/G/19].  In its report Bulgaria claims to have conducted 22 inspections of homes after the announcement of 238 deaths. But the rport contained no explanations for the deaths. Were they investigated? Did Bulgarian justice prosecute anyone? All we are told is that the homes were visited. There are no details of any investigation involving specialized police trained to work with children, independant psychologists, medical services or social workers. According to IHEU sources no such investigation has been conducted.

The report states that:

"under the new standard any specialized institution or resident service must have a procedure devised for registration of death cases and must follow a notification sequence so as competent authorities, parents/guardians or trustees, and respective Social Assistance Directorate to be duly informed. The procedure includes development and approval of internal rules on notification and registration of death cases."

Yet there is no confirmation that these deaths or future deaths will be investigated or merely registered and just noted as a series of deaths in the archives, let alone confirm that these deaths involving mistreatment and starvation will lead to any internal investigation by Social Services as would happen anywhere else in Europe. 

From an IHEU contact who directly witnessed three of these deaths, we now understand that the 238 victims counted only disabled children. In one baby home alone, 18  children have died in the last 18 months – implying that the total toll of children deaths greatly exceeds the number acknowledged by the Bulgarian authorities. Furthermore, the solidarity that exists between suspected doctors and staff of these homes prevents NGOs from efficiently investigating the children´s deaths themselves. NGOs are still being removed from or prevented from visiting these homes. 

Shocking cases of mistreatment

IHEU has learnt of the case of a 3-year child, born with a malfunction in the hand who was so neglected in a special home that his hand became infected. The hand was amputated at a hospital. After ten days, the arm was amputated because of a necrosis due to length of time the hand had been tied up. 

We have heard of case in 2011 in which a 19-month old baby was scalded while taking a shower because the neglected piping in this state-run home sprayed boiling water, according to the Director of the home. The boy was hospitalized with fears for his life. One year later, in 2012, another child suffered fist degree burns.  All three of these cases happened in the same institution, the Home for Medicosocial Care for Children, St. Ivan Rilski in Sofia.

New State-run homes are a failure

According to another witness, most of the official programs to "de-institutionalize" children are not implemented. They are conducted without clear ideas and plans for the childrens´ future. The “new homes” are actually the same kind of old institutions with the same practices. Children do not attend school and the ratio of staff to children is one to eight – and  the personnel take little care of the children themselves but are employed mainly on regular housekeeping jobs such as cleaning. In December IHEU visited such a special state-run home for young, mentally disabled people. The temperature inside was very cold, children slept in freezing rooms with jackets and some blankets to cover them.

The right to have access to their families 

Another theme totally ignored by the Bulgarian report is the link between the disabled children and their parents. 

The report gives numbers but the sample is way too small. Overall, few parents call the institutions to know how their children are treated, have had food during the day or sleep in a warm bed. Part of the problem lies with the families themselves, the other is a lack of  government help for these families, often very poor, to enable them to maintain contact with their children.

IHEU will continue to press both through the United Nations in Geneva and through the Bulgarian and wider European media for more effective action from the Bulgarian government for these children. 

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