Bulgaria: right to education

13 October 2008, Budapest (Hungary), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Strasbourg (France). For the first time in central and eastern Europe, the European Committee of Social Rights finds violations of the right to education (Article 17(2)) and the right to non-discrimination (Article E) of the Revised European Social Charter. The decision in the case of Mental Disability Advocacy Center v. Bulgaria criticises the Bulgarian government for actively depriving children with intellectual disabilities of education.  

In its landmark decision which was made public today, the European Committee of Social Rights responded to a ‘collective complaint’ under the European Social Charter which was lodged against Bulgaria by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in February 2007. The Committee found evidence that the Bulgarian government failed to provide education for up to 3,000 children with intellectual disabilities living in so-called ‘homes for mentally disabled children’ across Bulgaria.

Today’s decision highlights the inadequacy of Bulgarian standards for inclusive education. It notes that legislation and policies remain unimplemented and unmonitored. Specifically, the European Committee on Social Rights notes that:
•    mainstream schools are not accessible nor adaptable to children who live in ‘homes for mentally disabled children’.
•    teacher training is inadequate and educational curricula and teaching resources are not adapted to the special learning needs of children with intellectual disabilities.
•    the Bulgarian Government failed to implement a 2002 law which provided that children in ‘homes for mentally disabled children’ could be integrated into schools.
•    as a result of the failure to implement the law, only 6.2% of children in ‘homes for mentally disabled children’ receive an education, whereas primary school attendance for Bulgarian children in general is approximately 94%.
•    the disparity between school attendance for children with and without disabilities is so great that it constitutes discrimination against children with intellectual disabilities living in ‘homes for mentally disabled children’.

A child placed in one of Bulgaria’s ‘homes for mentally disabled children’ is needlessly segregated, denied any hope and assistance of entering and contributing to society, and will routinely suffer violations of basic human rights recognised under international law. These institutions are often located in remote rural areas and run by unqualified staff with little understanding of the needs or rights of children with intellectual and other types of disabilities. As a result, neglect – as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse – is common. Human rights violations in these institutions have been commented on by numerous international organisations and have been widely documented, most recently by reports produced by the BBC, and France2.

MDAC brought its case against Bulgaria to highlight government-sanctioned segregation and discrimination. It chose to bring the case against Bulgaria, but the situation remains similar in many European countries. Addressing the need for the Bulgarian government to bring its laws and services in line with the European Committee’s decision, MDAC’s Executive Director Oliver Lewis, said: “To reverse the denial of these children’s right to inclusive education and their right to live in the community, the Bulgarian government must now commit to a results-based action plan and allocate adequate funding to implement the plan.”

Krassimir Kanev, Executive Director of the BHC added, “Within Bulgaria there are a few fantastic examples of services run by civil society organisations which ensure that children with disabilities are included in the community and are provided with specialist assistance in regular schools. Our and other civil society organisations look forward to helping the government to ensure that the right to education is respected in relation to all children.”

You can download the official decision on the merits here.

For more information contact: MDAC +36 1 413 2730, mdac@mdac.org; or Aneta Genova, MDAC Legal Monitor +3592 943 4876

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Notes for editors:

The European Committee of Social Rights is the supervisory body of the European Social Charter, a human rights instrument established by the Council of Europe in 1961, and revised in 1996, which guarantees social and economic rights. States Party to the European Social Charter submit periodic reports to the ECSR on their progress in securing social rights in their jurisdiction. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center is registered as one of the international non-governmental organisations which are entitled to file ‘collective complaints’ to the ECSR alleging violations of the rights inscribed within the Charter. For more information click here.

The Mental Disability Advocacy Center advances the human rights of adults and children with actual or perceived intellectual or psycho-social disabilities. Focusing on Europe and central Asia, we use a combination of law and advocacy to promote equality and social integration. We have participatory status with the Council of Europe. Our vision is for a world that values emotional, mental and learning differences, and where people respect each other’s autonomy and dignity.

Mental Disability Advocacy Center
Hercegprímás u. 11, 1051 Budapest, Hungary
tel: +36 1 413 27 30, fax: +36 1 413 27 39
email: mdac@mdac.org, web: www.mdac.org

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights. Its objectives are to promote respect for the human rights of every individual, to stimulate legislative reform to bring Bulgarian legislation in line with international human rights standards, to trigger public debate on human rights issues, to carry out advocacy for the protection of human rights, and to popularise and make widely available human rights instruments.

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Varbitsa 7, 1504 Sofia, Bulgaria
tel/fax: + 3592 943 4876        
email: bhc@bghelsinki.org, web: www.bghelsinki.org


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