This is the special website of Bulgarian Helsinki Committee about the 2010 inspections of all social homes for children with mental disabilities in Bulgaria. Here you can find the full reports on the state of children’s rights in each institution (only in Bulgarian). You can also support the public campaign for persecution of the ones responsible for the crimes against children with mental disabilities in Bulgarian institutions.
PRESS RELEASE: Child institution investigations, 8 months later: Substantial deficiencies, considerable achievements – Fairness questioned
PRESS RELEASE: Child institution investigations, 8 months later:
Substantial deficiencies, considerable achievements –
1 June 2011
During the eight months after the investigations in care homes for disabled children, the Prosecutor’s Office has initiated 248 pre-trial procedures and suspended 25, out of which 21 are still being examined in higher court. No indictments have been made. The larger share of pre-trial procedures is against unknown defendants.
The data was presented on International Children’s Day by Galina Toneva, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Bulgaria, during a press conference about the results of the campaign against crime in child institutions, held by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).
A joint investigation between BHC and the Prosecutor’s Office carried out in all care homes for disabled children in Bulgaria in 2010 found an immense number of child deaths – largely avoidable and none investigated. There were 238 child deaths between 2000 and 2010. In the opinion of BHC’s experts, at least three quarters of those deaths were avoidable: 31 children died of starvation (systematic malnutrition); 84 from neglect; 13 due to poor hygiene; 6 in accidents such as hypothermia, drowning, suffocation; 36 died because they were bedridden; 2 deaths were caused by violence. Moreover, during the inspection it was found that violence, binding and treatment with harmful drugs continue to be widespread practices in care homes for disabled children in Bulgaria. At the time of the inspection there were 103 children who were malnourished and at real risk of death by starvation in institutions.
In 2010 Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev promised there will be legal cases regarding all 238 deaths and all crimes against living children. This would mean the prosecutor’s office should initiate hundreds of pre-trial procedures.
“Prosecutors enact alarming traverses: in the absence of treatment of abscess and absence of special dental care, in a maltreatment with tranquilisers case, in adultery and other sexual abuse cases, in hypotrophy and pneumonia death cases, in cases of injuries – accidents or complications,” said Margarita Ilieva, attorney-at-law, Legal Defence programme director, deputy-chair of BHC. The committee has raised objections to over 60% of all indictments it has been notified about, including decrees of termination. Ilieva further pointed out that no comprehensive forensic medical examination are being carried out due to the lack of written instructions by the prosecutor, despite the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office’s promised commitment.
At the same time, Ms. Ilieva emphasised that the unprecedented investigations are a considerable achievement: for causing death and calumniation through malnutrition, for causing death by negligence, for maltreatment with tranquilisers, for causing immobility through the use of medicine, for the unlawful deprivation of liberty in mental institutions, and others.
Galina Toneva announced that no later than September the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office will create a specialised department dealing with offences committed by minors, and offences whose victims are minors. The department will aid regional and district prosecutors in the investigation of similar cases.
Today the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee launched a campaign for access of the media and the public to care homes, aiming to enable public control over what happens in them. “Currently, if a journalist wants to enter a care home, he/she must ask the permission of the mayor of the respective municipality. Issuing such permissions might take exceptionally long or not happen at all, without any clear justification. The reason that is often pointed out is an old decree of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy. When the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee enquired under the access to public information procedures however, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy was unable to find such a decree,” commented Yana Buhrer Tavanier, “Campaigns and Communications” programme director at BHC.
The law requires that directors at child care homes should grant access to all information that is created or archived at their institutions, observing the Personal Data Protection Act, commented Fany Stoyanova, attorney-at-law and officer at the Access to Information programme. This means that the law provides access to the budget of any given care home, spending reports, contracts, inspection findings reports, warrants, etc. “Directors can personally grant access to the institution premises, without asking the consent of authorities,” added lawyer Davidova. According to her, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy should elucidate these obligations to directors and child care homes, in order to avoid difficulties in the process of granting access to information.
“We fully support the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’s campaign. Of course access should be granted in accordance with the law. Public control would bring enormous benefits,” commented Galina Toneva.
For more information:
Regarding the investigations:
Margarita Ilieva, Attorney-at-law, Deputy-Chair at BHC
Regarding the campaign for media and public access to institutions:
Yana Buhrer Tavanier, “Campaigns and Communications” Programme Director at BHC
The current state of social institutions for children reveals malnourishment, violence, physical and chemical restraining.
Sofia, 20 September 2010
A large proportion of child deaths in social institutions are avoidable and never investigated. This summarizes the findings made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) after the completion of inspections, which covered all the social homes for children with mental disabilities in Bulgaria. The results were announced today at a press conference in Sofia.
The inspections of children’s homes were carried out in collaboration with the Prosecution Service. At present, the Prosecution Service is expected to commence formal investigations on the basis of the gathered material evidence.
Evidence shows that two hundred and thirty eight deaths occurred between 2000 and 2010 or on average 25 deaths per annum.
At least 66% of these deaths have been unnecessary and avoidable:
- 31 caused by famine (systematic malnourishment);
- 84 caused by general physical deterioration, resulting from neglect;
- 13 caused by infections, i.e. bad hygiene;
- 6 caused by accidents such as freezing to death, drowning, suffocation, etc.;
- 36 caused by pneumonia, i.e. by exposure to cold or long-term immobility;
- 2 caused by violence;
- 15 deaths have unexplained causes.
“This investigation is unprecedented in terms of its range and implications. The facts that we uncovered confirmed more than ever that the claims, that these children’s deaths were caused by their disabilities, were absolute lies. The children die of neglect,” said Yana Buhrer Tavanier, the Campaigns Director of BHC.
149 deaths occurred in children’s homes rather than hospitals, which means that the children were not hospitalized, in spite of their grave health conditions, and left to die, or were released from the hospital just before they died. Eleven of the children were hospitalized too late.
The deaths usually occurred during the winter months of the year.
An autopsy was not performed in more than 90 of the deaths. The death cases were never investigated as a rule – the deaths remain unpunished and the children unprotected.
The homes for children with mental disabilities in Bulgaria continue to maintain a practice of malnourishment, violence, physical restraint by bounding and treatment with dangerous drugs, as revealed by the inspections.
“At the time of the inspections, 103 residents were suffering from malnutrition and were, therefore, exposed to the risk of dying of hunger or diseases due to their weakened and underfed condition,” said Margarita Ilieva, Attorney-at-Law, Deputy Chairperson of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Director of its Legal Defence Programme. “This is a case of an institutionalized – rather than organized – crime, and it is directed against the most vulnerable group of people in this country,” she added.
During the inspections, a total of 622 cases of grave inflammatory diseases and contagion were established. Some of the children’s homes, such as Medven, Gomotartsy, and Sladak Kladenets, have very bad levels of hygiene, and a history of multiple and repetitive epidemic outbursts. Most typical were the fecal-oral infections, dysentery, hepatitis, which cost the children their lives. The public health control authorities (the Regional Inspections for Protection and Control of Public Health) are ineffective in dealing with the problem – they fail to penalize any violations of the law or unfulfilled recommendations.
Seven cases of sexual abuse were found to have occurred in the period in question; in addition, there have been at least eight cases of physical violence, including a head injury with a lethal outcome, and a case of strangulation. The Child Protection Department was contacted in all of these cases, while the State Agency for Child Protection was informed of at least half of them. BHC does not possess any evidence of the actual involvement of any of the two agencies in any of cases mentioned above. None of the children, who suffered from violence have received any help or justice.
Existing documentation reveals more than 86 serious accidents. Residents prone to self-harming numbered 58.
More than eight homes maintain a practice of unlawful physical immobilization of children as a means to control their behaviour through bounding limbs, fastening to beds, wheelchairs and other objects and the use of restraining jackets. There have been at least 17 cases of physical immobilization. More than 90 children have been “chemically restrained” by heavy and damaging neuroleptic drugs. Physical immobilization is a form of violence that is destructive to the mental health, and any chemical method of restraint is detrimental to the body.
Dangerous drugs, often harmful and unnecessary, have been administered to 167 residents. Some of the children have been subjected to long-term excessive drug treatments.
BHC states that apart from the staff in the children’s homes and the medical personnel involved, responsibility must also be sought from the mayors, as the officials formally in charge of these institutions, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy (the Child Protection Departments and the local Social Assistance Directorates), the Regional Inspections for Protection and Control of Public Health and the State Agency for Child Protection.
The performed inspections of homes revealed that the five worst institutions are Mogilino (now closed), Medven, Kroushary, Petrovo (Blagoevgrad region), and Rudnik.
BHC’s public campaign pushes for a full-scale investigation of each of the cases and a maximum number of indictments.