Children and institutions

7 August 2009

Children and institutions

Fri, Aug 07 2009 09:47 CETbyLaura Parker1418 Views2 CommentsSir,

For many years, The Sofia Echo has given extensive coverage to the difficulties faced by children living in institutions, the majority of whom come from the most marginalised parts of the Roma community and/or have disabilities (or have been mistakenly diagnosed as such). Many of your readers have given generously of their time and money to try and help improve the opportunities of these vulnerable groups.

Now, more than ever, as Bulgaria faces a continuing economic crisis, the poor and disadvantaged here desperately need a progressive Government that will actively promote social inclusion, ensure that all Bulgarian children receive a good education and work to shut down the damaging institutional system.

However, in a clear signal that education and social policy are low-priority issues for the new Government, GERB has decided that two committees in the new Parliament – those responsible for education and social affairs - need not be chaired by GERB MPs, or even representatives of the Blue Coalition or other parties more politically aligned with GERB. These influential committees play a critical role in the drafting and approval of new legislation and policy.

It is a matter of considerable concern that the Parliament’s Education Committee is now to be chaired by somebody from Ataka. It is well known that the high number of school drop-outs in the Roma community is closely linked to the number of children in institutional care, as well as higher rates of unemployment and imprisonment in later life. Ataka’s policies run absolutely counter to the need to engage in a positive way with the Roma community and increase the participation of Roma children in mainstream education.

No less worrying is the decision that Mrs Maslarova, until recently the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, will chair the Parliament’s Social Committee. Mrs Maslarova has a very poor track record in the social policy area, in particular in relation to disability issues and the reform of institutions for children. Very little progress has been made on either of these issues during the last four years. Despite international outrage at the situation of children in institutions, she has refused to either support their closure or introduce measures designed to reduce the number of children placed in institutional care. During her time in Government, Mrs Maslarova focussed instead on purely populist measures – such as sending pensioners on holiday to the seaside.

The influence of Ataka and former minister Maslarova on education and social policy will almost certainly further set back reforms and do nothing to bring Bulgaria into line with good practice elsewhere in Europe, which GERB claims lies at the heart of its approach to government.

This is not the change that, I believe, many Bulgarians voted for and is a betrayal of the faith that has been put in the new Government. Worse, it represents a betrayal of yet more disadvantaged Bulgarian children who may not be able to vote but surely deserve a better deal.

Yours faithfully,
Laura Parker
Managing Director
ARK Bulgaria
(UK children’s charity)