Data on the children with disabilities in Bulgaria and around the world

How to overcome the challenges

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History of children's rights and the rights of the persons with disabilities

Thirty years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to children around the world by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, approved by the UN General Assembly in December 2006, further reinforces the rights of children with disabilities and introduces new obligations on the states to remove the barriers that limit their participation in all relevant domains of life.

Bulgaria has ratified both conventions. Over the last decade, the country has taken important steps for the inclusion of children, adolescents and young people with disabilities. However, despite the efforts at national level, children with disabilities remain one of the most excluded and invisible groups in society.

Globally 

it is estimated that around 15% of the population live with disability[1]. 5.1% of the children (or 95 million) have disability, of whom 13 million (0.7%) have severe disability[2]. These are only indicative estimate because the definitions of disability applied across the countries differ and not all countries collect reliable data.

Bulgaria

hough there is no complete data on the actual number of children with disabilities in the country. The estimated[3] number is about 32,000.

The country is a signatory to both CRC and CRPD and has established several legal and institutional arrangements to protect the rights of children with disabilities. Over the past decade the country has undertaken important steps toward ensuring inclusion of children with disabilities: all residential institutions for children with disabilities and half of the infant homes have been closed leading to a significant reduction of the number of children in residential care - from 7,587 in 2010 to 633 at the end of 2018 [4] .

The Pre-school and School Education Act adopted at the end of 2015, established conditions for inclusion of children with disabilities in the mainstream educational system. During the 2018-2019 academic year almost 22,035 children with disabilities and special needs attended mainstream schools and kindergartens. In addition, the recently adopted Law on Social Services, Law on People with Disabilities, as well as the Law on Family Benefits for Children amendments further expanded the support and services provided to children with disabilities and their families.

However, despite the national efforts children with disabilities continue to be one of the most excluded and invisible groups in the society. They are at greater risk of separation from their biological families, they are more likely to live in institutional care or to remain outside the mainstream schools and kindergartens. For example, data shows that in 2018 approx. 90% of all children in infant homes (0-3 years for age)[5] and 50% of the children in family type residential facilities were children with disabilities. Around 10,000 is the estimated number of children with disabilities who are out of school. Data also shows that many of the young people with disabilities aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training. 


[1] https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health

[2] WHO and the World Bank, 2011. World Report on Disability. WHO, Geneva: http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf

[3] Data of the Agency for Social Assistance on the number of children with a level of disability over 50% whose families have received financial support under the Integration of People with Disabilities Act and its Implementing Regulations, as well as data of the National Centre of Public Health and Analyses on the number children with a level of disability less than 50 %

[4] Agency for Social Assistance

[5] Report of the Ministry of Health, 2017     

Why the issue is still challenging in Bulgaria and what needs to change?

The medical approach

Medical and charity approaches to disability are still prevailing in policy, practices, as well as general understanding of disability. Thus, efforts are focused on addressing the individual conditions and not on removing the institutional, social, attitudinal and physical barriers that limit participation of people with specific needs.

Early identification and early support for development of children with disabilities

Early detection and early childhood intervention services that support caregivers to provide nurturing care to children with disabilities and developmental difficulties during the first 3 years of life are not sufficiently developed which limits the opportunities for growth and development.

Support to caregivers of children with disabilities and developmental difficulties

Support to caregivers of children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, including counselling and mental health support, parenting support groups, support for building caregivers’ skills to provide adequate care, reliable information on care and available support, respite care services, etc. are not developed.

Insufficient support to kindergartens and schools to be more inclusive

There is a need to invest more in teacher professional development by building their competencies to respect diversity and support the learning. The environments in education systems should encourage teachers to co-operate among themselves as well as with other professionals and in the community to build individualized support to all children with disabilities.

Assistive technologies and learning materials

Assistive technologies, particularly alternative communication and augmentation technologies (including low cost) are not well known and used by practitioners to facilitate participation and learning of children with disabilities. Many children with disabilities are not provided with support and adaptation, or access to learning materials so that they can actively participate in classrooms.

Inaccessible physical infrastructure

Most of the buildings, streets, public transport vehicle, schools, sport facilities, cultural halls, service centers, playgrounds, etc. are not accessible and adapted for children with disabilities to ensure their inclusion. 

Stigma and discrimination

Stigma and discrimination on the part of families, professionals, peers, employers and the public continue to undermine the rights of children with disabilities. They lead to segregation – in the school and the community, affect children’s self-esteem and limit chances for employment and meaningful participation in all domains of life.