This report is the result of a research combining desk researches, analysis and semi-structured interviews of experts working with children suspected or accused of having committed a criminal offence involved in judicial proceedings. We have interviewed and talked with lawyers, social workers, members of the Commission for Combating Juvenile Delinquency (“the Comission”), police officers, judges, prosecutors, teachers, university professors and children.
The present report aims at identifying the challenges and obstacles for the use of diversion, and mapping the existing alternatives measures to the traditional judicial systems for children in rural areas.
Juvenile justice system in Bulgaria has developed during the past 25 years. In 1991 Bulgaria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The same year the new Bulgarian Constitution was adopted. During the following years Bulgaria ratified several international human rights treaties. In 2000 the Child Protection Act was adopted. In 2007 the country became a member of the European Union.
Despite the important development and achievements in children’s rights and child protection concepts, Bulgarian juvenile justice system remained deeply bounded to the perceptions concerning juvenile delinquents and “fighting” with their anti-social behaviour.
At present in Bulgaria there are two laws that operate simultaneously – Child Protection Law, adopted in 2000, which is focused on the protection of the normal physical, mental, moral and social development of the child and the Fighting against Anti-Social Behavior of Minors and Underage Persons Act (FASBMUPA), adopted in 1958, which regulates the activities for prevention and counteraction to anti-social behavior of under-aged and minors. Since the changes in 1989 the FASBMUPA, which is amended more than 25 times, had two significant reforms: in 1996, the Labor Educational Schools have been renamed in Correctional Boarding Schools (CBS) and judicial review was introduced of the decisions for placement in them, and in 2004, when was included the court to decide on placement of the children in CBS and Socio-Pedagogical Boarding Schools (SPBS). In Bulgarian legislation there is no definition of the term anti-social behavior. The Local Commissions have a margin of appreciation to decide which act can be considered as anti-social behavior. As it can be seen in the statistics of the National Statistics Institute anti-social behavior is: running away from home, wandering, drinking, drug use, prostitution, homosexuality, truancy, begging and others.
Despite that the minimum age of criminal responsibility, stipulated in the Bulgarian Criminal Code, is 14 and no child under this age should be subject to criminal charges, all measures under FASBMUPA, including placement in closed institutions, are imposed on children between 8-18 years old.
Child Protection Law and FASBMUPA are pursuing different aims: the first guarantees the children’s rights and their protection by the institutions and the second is focused on the combat of anti-social behavior of children and the maintenance of public order. Presently both systems are working in parallel and it is difficult to establish examples of coordination between them. The procedure under FASBMUPA focuses on punishment, prosecution and on detention rather than on protection, rehabilitation, diversion, restorative justice and alternatives in community. The children involved in the procedures under FASBMUPA do not participate in them voluntarily and the measures are imposed unilaterally by the Commission or the court.
In Bulgaria there is not specialized and separate justice system for children. The statistics discloses that the biggest number of children in conflict with the law are accused of petty or non-violent offences or even acts, which if committed by adults will not be considered as an offence.