Viktoria and Mihail are part of the Child Participation Program of Hope and Homes for Children – Bulgaria. They are also the advocates and the voice of those children and youth who do not have the opportunity to be heard by the state institutions. The right of children to have a family, to learn, to have friends and to develop their potential are some of the rights that must be constantly protected.
On May 2, the 95th session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child took place in Geneva. At this high-level forum, our young people were invited to present their perspective on Bulgaria’s progress in respecting children’s rights.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989, and in 1991 it was ratified by the Great National Assembly and is part of the internal law of our country. Every 6 years, the achieved results are reviewed and goals are set to be fulfilled. This year, participants in our program had a chance to be heard and to start working on their priorities.
What they shared before the meeting:
- Victoria: “My life is great. I have a wonderful family and home, supportive friends and many opportunities to have my voice heard. A voice that is heard and respected. Unfortunately, many children, teenagers and adults do not have this chance. And that’s not fair. Because of this, we, the young advocates from Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria, will continue to seek change”.
- Mikhail: “The whole world is a playground. Here children play freely no matter what color their skin is, where they are from, where they study and as we approach our meeting with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child it is important that we do not forget these things”.
During the meeting they emphasized the following:
- The right of children to live in a family. One of the basic rights, but in Bulgaria there are still children who are placed in institutions and are deprived of family care. They have no personal choice, no opportunity to develop their full potential and defend their positions.
- Right of choice and voice. Children with disabilities, children in small settlements, children from minority groups are not treated equally and this is not fair and there must be changes in this direction.
- Right to education. In our country, poverty is one of the factors for lack of access to education, social isolation and migration.
- Monitoring of the activities by the children themselves. Any progress towards respecting children’s rights is measured by adults, which is not completely objective. Our young people propose that the children also give an assessment and that they, according to their understanding of the application of the legislation, have an equal voice in reporting the progress of our country. It is taking responsibility and seeking efficiency from the implementation of legislation.
In order to enable Bulgarian children to live happily and to contribute to the development of Bulgaria, Viktoria and Mihail and their peers from the Child Participation Program suggest the following as a “must do”:
- Elimination of institutional care for children
- Directed efforts towards stopping child abandonment. Even in small institutions, children should be accommodated only as a last opportunuity and for a very short period. In other words, resources should be invested in the family and separation from parents due to poverty to be avoided .
- Improving the quality of care for children in Family-type placement centers (SGHs) and providing alternatives for those accommodated there.
- Independent living for young people from SGHs who are now doomed to spend their whole lives in institutions. So they have to constantly adjust to other people and have no sense of closeness and family.
- Monitoring, supervision and active participation of children in the implementation of the European Child Guarantee and the observance of the rights of the child in Bulgaria.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also received specific questions that are still unanswered. Much has been done for children in recent years, but much remains to be done, and any time lost is measured in grown children who have not reached their potential.
- Why are there still 4 Homes for medical and social care for children (old-type institutions for babies) and what is the plan for them?
- How will the quality of care for the children from the SGHs be improved and how will alternatives be sought for them – such as placement in foster care, for example?
Viktoria and Mikhail were satisfied that they were able to advocate for the children “without a voice” and hope that they will be heard and particular steps will be undertaken.