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Football Star Dimitar Berbatov joins UNICEF in Launching a Report on Children with Disabilities in his capacity of newly appointed goodwill ambassador for children in Bulgaria.

© UNICEF/Bulgaria
Dimitar Berbatov, new Goodwill Ambassador, UNICEF Bulgaria.

Sofia, 31st May 2006. The Innocenti Research Centre Report launched by UNICEF-Bulgaria in partnership with the Centre for Independent Living today focuses on the situation of children with disabilities in Central and Eastern Europe and CIS countries, which are segregated in institutions and special educational facilities as well as suggest policy recommendations. The Government and non government partners present at the launch have been joined by the newly appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador - football star Dimitar Berbatov, who offered his support to enhance protection of the rights of children and give them the priority attention they deserve.

According to the UNICEF Innocenti Insight, Children and Disability in Transition in CEE/CIS and Baltic States, the total number of children registered as disabled across the region’s 27 countries has tripled from about 500,000 in 1990 to 1.5 million in 2000. An additional 1 million children are thought to go unregistered. Most of these children continue to face their lives in segregated institutions, suffering from stigma and discrimination.

The report finds that poverty and disability go hand in hand, each fuelling the other. Families with children with disabilities tend to be poorer than other families. Disability continues to be poorly diagnosed and often goes untreated. It becomes a life sentence of lasting disadvantage. Lacking proper support from the State and with limited access to quality basic social services for treatment and care of their children, parents see institutionalisation as the only viable alternative.

 “Children with disabilities constitute an important share of children in institutions or other specialized schools in Bulgaria as well. There are 1,310 children placed in permanent care within special institutions under the MoLSP which have been decentralized to municipal level. Another 12,000 are placed in various special and auxiliary schools under the Ministry of Education” stated Dr. Octavian Bivol, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria. And he continued: “UNICEF is looking forward to the implementation of the National integrated plan for child rights 2006-2009 which will seriously contribute towards the establishment of alternative community based services and thus towards the reduction of the number of children in institutions”

Bulgaria is not only one of the countries included in the whole study but it is also in the excerpt on qualitative research as one of the method of analysis of the issues studied. And something more, the international report begins with a quote  of 17-years old Valya who  lives with her family and whose words are quoted at the beginning of the report: “I want you to write down, that I don’t consider myself ill. On the contrary: it is good to be alive when you are young”.  “She says this despite her disability and the difficulties she is confronted with every day”, said Ms. Kapka Panayotova, the Chairperson of the Centre for Independent Living. She continues that the findings of the report place Bulgaria on one of the first places according to number of disabled children placed in social institutions and in specialised and segregated schools. “Out of the total number of about 13,000 children in special schools, half are living there separated from their parents” comments Mrs. Panayotova.

“The results highlight the legacies of the past, the momentum for change and areas where action is needed. Institutionalization, segregation and discrimination are still prominent features of the environments in which children with disabilities live across the region. However, there are also widespread signs that social attitudes towards disability are changing, and there are many concrete examples of ways in which children with disabilities are being integrated into society.” Said Ms. Marta Santos Pais in the foreword of  the report

“To achieve this,  public and private action from a broad and dynamic coalition of stakeholders is required. I see myself as one of the stakeholders along with you, the government in the person of the present here today, of the civil society. I wish to use the recognition of my personal achievements to advocate for the rights of the children and children with disabilities among these, to mobilize public awareness and support so that changes are made that will make the life of these children easier and participatory. To help them come out of the isolation and enjoy and have access to what all children have and to sports among these", said the newly appointed UNICEF goodwill ambassador, football player Dimitar Berbatov who recently joined the English Premiership club Tottenham Hotspurs from German outfit Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

The report calls for an immediate end to the common practice of placing children with disabilities in institutions and segregated schools. This will require:
• changes in public attitudes;
• measures to boost family income so children can stay together with their families and develop to their full potential;
• greater participation of parents in decisions affecting their children;
• resources for families and the community;
• changes to the  physical environments that exacerbate the impact of disability.

“The State agency for child protection has been working contnuously towards the development of rights based policies for children, has made a serious progress in the development of alternative care services, in building partnerships with the private and the non-governmental sector in the creation of child friendly services and on the way of moving towards a “world fit for children “that  the world leaders committed to at the UN Special Session  for children in 2002” stated Ms. Mestan, the Chairpersoin of the SACP.

 “Nations can be judged by the way in which they treat the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged,” Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director said at the launch of the report in Geneva. “While it may be hard to undo the damage already done to children with disabilities, nations could and should move faster to stop discrimination and stigma blighting the lives of these children and their families. As this report underscores, it is time to transform the care and treatment of children with disabilities from being a source of public shame to being a measure of human progress.”

For additional information call Ms. Jetchka Karaslavova, UNICEF communications Officer at 96 96 207,



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