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UNICEF CEE/CIS Regional Director advocates for more investments in families to protect the rights of children in Bulgaria

Imagen del UNICEF
© UNICEF 2012/Bulgaria/Tzocheva
UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) Marie-Pierre Poirier meets with President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev.

By Jacklin Tzocheva

SOFIA, Bulgaria, 16 May 2012 – Marie-Pierre Poirier, the Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS), met with President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev, as well as top cabinet ministers, civil society officials and key partners, urging them to strengthen support for families in order to realize the rights of the most vulnerable children in Bulgaria.

Ms. Poirier and Mr. Plevneliev also discussed the state policy for child protection and the need for investments and support for families, particularly in early childhood development.
“Politicians should not only spend public resources but invest them in targeted and long-term initiatives,” Mr. Plevneliev said.

Supporting the most vulnerable children

Bulgaria, a middle-income country in the European Union, is showing development and growth in many areas, but huge inequities and discrimination continue to exist for many children. Vulnerable children include those who live in poverty and those with disabilities. In the CEE/CIS region, these children – particularly those with disabilities – are institutionalized at the highest rates in the world.

But studies show that institutions are no replacements for the warm, personal care of parents and families. Institutions can actually damage the health of infants and young children, who may even develop disabilities due to lack of social and intellectual stimulation. And without proper care, these children are vulnerable to neglect and abuse.

Efforts are underway to move children from institutions to healthier care arrangements. But support for families of vulnerable children will also be essential, enabling these families to care for their own children.

“Bulgaria’s progress is very encouraging and this working model should be documented and shared in order to encourage other countries with similar issues to adopt positive change,” said Ms. Poirier. “However, closing institutions is not sufficient. We need a strong emphasis on support to families at risk.”

Among Bulgaria`s poorest and most vulnerable children, who are at risk of being denied their rights, are those from the Roma community.

On a visit to a Roma neighborhood in Sofia, Ms. Poirier met with parents, children as well as health workers. They told her that many children are deprived of their rights to adequate living conditions, including access to water, sanitation, education and health services. They also reported that many girls and young women are involved in prostitution and trafficking.

Imagen del UNICEF
© UNICEF 2012/Bulgaria/Tzocheva
UNICEF Regional Director for CEE/CIS Marie-Pierre Poirier visits St. Ivan Rilski, an institution for infants in Bulgaria.

Partnerships for children

Ms. Poirier also visited St. Ivan Rilski, an institution that houses 60 infants. There, she noted how institution staff can play a role in the transformation of child care.

“Institutions can be transformed into support mechanisms for families. It is important for the staff from the institution to cooperate with the social workers to nurture contacts between the families and the children placed into residential care and to promote family reintegration,” Ms. Poirier said.

She also spoke with Minister of Health Desislava Atanasova, who confirmed the readiness of the Bulgarian Government to host an international conference on preventing all children, especially the youngest, from being placed in institutions.

Ms. Poirier also addressed the role of civil society with the National Network for Children, a coalition representing 103 nongovernmental organizations working to promote child rights. And she met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Nickolay Mladenov to discuss the next five-year cooperation between the Government of Bulgaria and UNICEF, which starts in 2013. It will reflect priorities in line with national strategies and Europe 2020, the European Union’s growth strategy for the coming decade.

The Regional Director’s visit concluded with the official opening of the new UNICEF Bulgaria building, which was provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The opening was attended by Mr. Mladenov, Deputy Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection Kalin Kamenov, officials from other United Nations agencies, ambassadors, and other partners.

“Bulgaria is an excellent example of progress in implementing European Union standards,” Ms. Poirier said. “The next steps are developing and sharing methodologies to support families at risk and bring real change. I have no doubt that this is the most cost-effective option for the government to protect children's rights.”