I have seen neighborhoods in Sliven and Montana, which resemble neighborhoods in Africa, said at a conference on children problems the representative of UNICEF in Bulgaria.
Despite Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, poverty in the country is still high. 40% of the children in the country live in poverty, while in Europe they are on average 24%. This was stated by Dr. Jane Muita, a UNICEF representative in Bulgaria. She added that she had visited neighborhoods in Sliven and Montana, where she surprisingly found that they resembled neighborhoods in Africa. Dr. Muita was among the participants at a conference on “Children’s Policies – Problems, Solutions, Foreign Experience.” The forum was held on Tuesday and it was the final part of the project “The Voice of Bulgarian Children”, in which the Bulgarian School of Politics “Dimitry Panitza” works together with the National Network for Children. The UNICEF representative in Bulgaria spoke to more than 70 participants in the conference, including current and former MPs, representatives of ministries, local and court authorities, social assistance agencies and NGOs about the possibilities of supporting the state as well as the local authorities in the reforms of the child care system and deinstitutionalization. Dr. Muita noted that in 2000 more than 30,000 children were in institutions, whereas in April 2019, their number is less than 500. In order to share Bulgarian knowledge and experience in this process UNICEF has supported visits by delegations from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco and North Macedonia.
The conference part of the project “The Voice off the Bulgarian Children” supported by OAK Foundation was opened by the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection, Dr. Eleonora Lilova. “The children’s voice is important and the more we listen to the children, the better our way will be,” Lilova said, adding that the social challenges are extremely high and despite the economic upturn in Bulgaria, there is still an uneven distribution of the incomes.
“Bulgarians live mainly in the virtual world. We are at the first place in Europe in terms of using social networks, but children today are becoming more and more lonely. The topics of children’s loneliness as well as social inequalities are the basis of the strategic document, developed by experts from 9 ministries, ASS, NSSI, the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, the National Drug Council, NSI, the Central Commission for Combating Juvenile Delinquency, the National Association of Municipalities in Bulgaria and 12 NGOs, members of the largest consultative body – the National Council for Child Protection in Bulgaria. According to the Constitution, family, motherhood and child are protected by the state, but a large part of the society does not know the norms in Bulgaria and they now try to impose a new rule – namely, no rules”, said Dr. Lilova. Developing the competences of the children and their parents, developing the potential of each child, as well as the potential of all professionals working with children are among the main goals of the strategic document.
A national analysis of children’s problems in Bulgaria, prepared on the basis of analyzes of all administrative regions in the country, was also presented at the conference. It covers four areas: education, health, justice and social protection. The document is commissioned by the Bulgarian School of Politics and its author is the expert on “working with children and families” Ivaylo Milanov.
“Poverty makes it difficult for children to access healthcare, education and development,” Milanov said. According to him, 22.8% of the children in Bulgaria or every fourth or fifth child in our country grows without a parent or without two parents because they work abroad. The Northwest region is the most affected one by the emigration. This is the cause of antisocial behavior, alcohol and drug use, aggression, difficult interpersonal contacts, impaired communication, difficulties in the process of socialization, lack of self-control, tendency to impulsivity or isolation, dropping out of school. Departure abroad is the most common reason for leaving the classrooms of first to fourth grade students (3504 children) and fifth to eighth grades students (3328 children). Next are family reasons – for dropping out of 2251 children from the first to the fourth grade and 2944 from the fifth to the eighth grade. According to Milanov, the proportion of functionally illiterate people in the country is also threatened – people who can not read and write, can not manage their emotions and communicate and at same time become equal members of society with their adulthood.
„A key element in coping with dropping out of school is literacy,” said the educational expert Mariana Georgieva, who presented good examples from European countries of solving children’s problems. In Germany, for example, there are the so-called DAAD classes where children learn in order to gain decent language skills so they can easily get into the subject preparation. In Austria, there are also international schools where teachers have a great freedom in choosing a program while teaching the children. Unlike Bulgaria, in Germany it is not disgraceful for a child to repeat first or second class. This is an opportunity for children to catch up with the basic skills rather than lagging behind and leaving school. And for already dropped students and people over 18 without secondary education, there are schools named “Second chance”.
At the conference on children’s policies on local and national level also spoke the Mayor of Vratza Kalin Kamenov and the Sofia Ombudsman Lilia Hristova who shared solutions based on personal experience.