|Hundreds of child deaths, avoidable but never investigated, a large proportion of which caused by malnutrition.
The current state of the social institutions for children reveals malnutrition, violence, physical and chemical restraint.
Sofia, 20 September 2010
A large number of child deaths – never investigated and avoidable. This summarizes the findings made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) after the conclusion 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 the homes for children were carried out in collaboration with the Prosecution Service. Presently, the Prosecution Service is expected to commence formal investigations on the basis of the material evidence gathered.
There is evidence of two hundred and thirty eight deathswhich have occurred between 2000 and 2010, or average of 25 deaths per annum.
At least two thirds of these deaths have been unnecessary and avoidable:
– 31 caused by starvation (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 results. The facts that we discovered confirmed more categorically than ever that the claims that these children’s deaths were caused by their disabilities were absolute lies. The children were dying from neglect,” said Yana Buhrer Tavanier, the Campaigns Director of BHC.
149 of all the deaths have occurred in the children’s homes, and not in hospitals, which means that the children were not hospitalized in spite of their grave health conditions, and that they were left there to die, or were released from hospital just before they died. 11 of the children were hospitalized too late.
The deaths tended to occur during the cold 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 tying up and treatment with dangerous drugs, was revealed by the inspections.
“At the time of the inspections, 103 residents were suffering from malnutrition and therefore they are exposed to the risk of dying of hunger, including of diseases that will kill them because of 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 – much more 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 are the fecal-oral infections, dysentery, and hepatitis, and they 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, as well as of formal recommendations.
7 cases of sexual abuse were found to have occurred in the period in question; in addition, there have been at least 8 cases of physical violence, including a head injury with lethal outcome, and a case of strangulation. The Child Protection Department was contacted in all of these cases, and 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 the above cases. None of the children who suffered violence have received any help or justice.
Existing documentation reveals more than 86 serious accidents. 58 of the residents are prone to self-harming.
More than 8 homes maintain a practice of unlawful physical immobilization of children as means to control their behaviour – tying up by the limbs or 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. Any 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 be also sought from the mayors, as officials formally in charge of these institutions, from the Minister of Labour and Social Policy (the Child Protection Departments and the local Social Assistance Directorates), from the Regional Inspections for Protection and Control of Public Health and from 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. The full reports on the inspected homes may be seen at:http://forsakenchildren.bghelsinki.org/. That is also the website designated by the BHC for its public campaign to bring to justice the persons and institutions guilty of the crimes committed in the Bulgarian homes for children with mental disabilities.
Background information: Inspections of homes
In August 2009 BHC started a lawsuit against the Prosecution Service for its failure to investigate the crimes committed in the homes for children against their residents, and in particular, to prosecute the large number of deaths – 75 in 8 years. In February 2010 an agreement was reached with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor for collaboration between the Prosecution and BHC in inspecting all children’s homes in the country. The inspections were carried out between March and June 2010. Until August 2010, the finding of the inspections were analyzed by BHC and compiled into a series of reports (totaling 263 pages and 1730 footnotes, which included evidence supporting the established facts) that were presented to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. It remains to be seen what the Prosecution Service’s response will be.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights that was founded in 1992. The objectives of the committee are to promote respect for human rights in Bulgaria in the following target areas: the rights of women, of persons with mental disabilities, of ethnic and religious minorities, of children, protection from torture and ill-treatment, the rights of refugees and migrants, freedom of speech and free access to information, the rights of persons in penitentiary institutions, and issues of the criminal justice system.
For more information on the inspections of homes and the campaign: http://forsakenchildren.bghelsinki.org/
For more information about BHC: http://www.bghelsinki.org/
For more information, please contact:
Margarita Ilieva, Attorney-at-Law: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0884 088 337