Bulgaria must ensure the right to education for all children

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Bulgaria is currently reforming its education system. We call on the Government to respect its international obligations and ensure that the reforms will guarantee to incousive education for all children, including children with disabilities, and access to the support they need in inclusive schools. Bulgaria should also dismantle special schools which segregate children with disabilities from their peers.

Photo: Cross.bg In 2008 the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Rights criticised Bulgaria for violating the right to education of institutionalised children with moderate, severe and profound intellectual disabilities. In many cases, the government regarded these children as ‘ineducable’ and denied them any access to education. The decision came in a case brought in front of the Committee by MDAC (MDAC v. Bulgaria), which took a collective complaint on behalf of these children. In our complaint, MDAC stressed that only  6.2% of children with moderate, severe or profound intellectual disabilities in Bulgaria were attending school. Moreover, where education was provided, this was in segregated settings (3.4%), and very few were educated in inclusive schools, but with little access to support or reasonable accommodations (2.8%).[1]

Since 2008 there have been some improvements, although the pace of change has been slow. Bulgaria has adopted several strategies and policies which included guaranteeing access to education for people with disabilities, and undertaking a number of pilot projects with similar purposes.[2] The number of children with special educational needs who are attending mainstream kindergartens and schools increased by 74.6 % (from 5,573 in 2008 to 9,734 in 2013)[3].

Despite these developments, children and pupils with special educational needs “account for only 1.4% of the total number of students in the education system, which is remarkably low for an EU member state.”[4] 1,144 children and young people with disabilities continue to  live in residential institutions, with only 31 (3.5%) of them going to a mainstream school.[5] Bulgaria retains 71 special schools which separate children with disabilities from their peers,[6] where education is provided for 3,842 children.[7]

The current reform of education law in Bulgaria has the potential to create real change for all children with disabilities. The process will closely be monitored by civil society members, including by MDAC, as well as by international bodies. Later this year, the European Committee on Social Rights will issue its Concluding Observations on Bulgaria’s performance in the field of education and MDAC is planning to provide relevant information for the Committee members. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will also reviews Bulgaria’s performance in implementing children’s rights in October 2016.

The Bulgarian government must ensure inclusion is the central guiding principle in the current law reform process. No child must ever be treated as if they were ‘ineducable’, and all children must be provided access to mainstream education and support, in line with Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We call on the Bulgarian government to:

  1. Ensure that the new education law:
    • Recognises the right to inclusive education for all children, including all children with disabilities irrespective of their level of support needs;
    • Recognise that all children have the right to receive support and reasonable accommodation, paid for by the state, to access inclusive schools;
    • Establishes a process to abolish special schools, and creates pathways for children with disabilities to be included in inclusive schools within a reasonable time period;
    • Under no circumstance shall a child be considered uneducable.
  2. Promote the involvement of civil society during the adoption of the new Education Act, including the involvement of organisations of people with disabilities and of parents, and other representatives of civil society.

 


[1]  Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) v. Bulgaria,  Complaint No. 41/2007, European Committee of Social Rights, decision on the merits adopted on the 3 June 2008, para. 43 and 45.

[2] For details see  European Social Charter. 13th National Report on the implementation of the European Social Charter submitted by the government of Bulgaria.  RAP/RCha/BUL/13(2015), pp. 15-29.

[3] European Social Charter. 13th National Report on the implementation of the European Social Charter submitted by the government of Bulgaria.  RAP/RCha/BUL/13(2015), p. 15 and p. 26.

[4] Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED). ANED country report on equality of educational and training opportunities for young disabled people. Bulgaria. 2010, p. 2.

[5] European Social Charter. 13th National Report on the implementation of the European Social Charter submitted by the government of Bulgaria.  RAP/RCha/BUL/13(2015), p. 26.

[6] Bulgarian National Statistical institute, available here.

[7] Bulgarian National Statistical institute, available here.

 

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