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Bulgaria: tackling the root causes and protecting the most marginalised is key, underlines UN human rights expert

GENEVA/SOFIA (9 April 2019) – Tackling poverty, social exclusion and segregation of the most marginalised children in Bulgaria is key to preventing them from becoming victims of sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio.

"The overwhelming majority of children I met in crisis centres and institutions were of Roma origin," the expert said, presenting a statement after an eight-day visit to the country.

"They experience discrimination and exclusion in all walks of life, making them easy prey to traffickers as well as members of their own inner circle of trust, for the purpose of forced begging, sexual exploitation, forced labour or child marriage. It is important to focus on prevention especially by providing comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education.

"I am encouraged by the significant work already done and the importance that the authorities place on effectively combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children and providing victims with initial care, facilities for recovery and rehabilitation. The remaining task, however, is just as significant when it comes to ensuring the long-term care and rehabilitation of children."

Bulgaria remains one of the primary source countries in Europe and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women and children being trafficked and sold for sexual exploitation and forced labour. Trafficking within the country is also a significant reality.

"The sale of babies abroad has become almost commonplace among Roma communities and yet the phenomenon is highly under-reported and subject to lenient or suspended sentences. I am also concerned about the practice of child marriage within some Roma communities," said de Boer-Buquicchio.

"My visit to Bulgaria came at an opportune time against a backdrop of ongoing discussions about a national strategy to protect children against violence, spearheaded by some politicians and representatives of the Orthodox Church, who have underlined that traditional family values are opposed to children being considered as rights holders, including those belonging to ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children.

"These traditional attitudes might further exacerbate the existing segregation, neglect and isolation of the Roma community and halt the State-supported desegregation efforts aimed at building trust, confidence and understanding throughout all communities in Bulgaria," the UN expert said.

The expert highlighted the need to speed up the reform of the existing juvenile justice system which dates back to the 1950s, and welcomed several areas of progress in respect of unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children, including the prohibition of short-term detention.

"I call on the Government to effectively implement these measures by setting up adequate identification and referral procedure as well as age assessment systems with suitable safeguards and ensure coordination with child protection services, because first and foremost these are children at risk," said de Boer-Buquicchio.

During her visit, de Boer-Buquicchio had discussions with national and local Government officials, the Ombudsperson, and representatives of civil society, as well as children. She travelled to Sofia, Burgas, Sliven, Podem and Pernik.

The Special Rapporteur will present the findings and key recommendations from her visit in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2020.

ENDS

Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Netherlands) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2014 and her mandate was renewed in March 2017. She served as Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe between 2002 and 2012. Ms de Boer-Buquicchio spearheaded the adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. She is the President of the European Federation for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Bulgaria

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