Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 09:10 GMT

Bulgaria: Domestic violence; protection available to victims, including Romani women; recent government initiatives and legislation to combat it (January 2005 - August 2006)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 22 August 2006
Citation / Document Symbol BGR101552.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bulgaria: Domestic violence; protection available to victims, including Romani women; recent government initiatives and legislation to combat it (January 2005 - August 2006), 22 August 2006, BGR101552.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f146fc2.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Background

In 1 August 2006 correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of the Sofia-based Center of Women's Studies and Policies (CWSP) provided information on the current situation of domestic violence in Bulgaria. The CWSP, which seeks to promote women's rights, was founded in 2003 and is funded by such organizations as the Open Society Institute and the Canadian International Development Agency (CWSP n.d.).

Citing the findings of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Executive Director of the CWSP noted several positive developments since the implementation of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, including increased cooperation from police officers in cases of domestic violence, a "substantial" increase in the number of women leaving abusive households for shelters and crisis centres, and an increase in the number of women seeking redress for domestic violence (ibid. 1 Aug. 2006). The NGOs indicated that long-term solutions for victims are needed in order to reduce the number of victims who return to abusive relationships; according to the NGOs, only about 10 per cent of women completely escape from abusive situations (ibid.).

Statistics

According to the Executive Director of the CWSP, while there are no official statistics (ibid.), it is estimated that between 20 and 25 per cent of Bulgarian women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives (ibid.; Reuters 29 Nov. 2005; The Sofia Echo 3 Mar. 2005; BNR 14 July 2006) and that one in three Bulgarian women knows a victim (ibid.; BTA 21 Mar. 2005). However, a survey conducted in 2003 by the Bulgarian National Center for Public Opinion Studies found that roughly five per cent of respondents claimed to be victims of physical domestic violence (ibid.; CWSP 1 Aug. 2006), but 12 per cent said they had been subjected to psychological abuse in the home (ibid.). Three quarters of surveyed Bulgarians blamed domestic violence on financial difficulties (The Sofia Echo 31 Mar. 2006; see also BTA 21 Mar. 2005).

Legislation

In 1 August 2006 correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of CWSP indicated that there were no laws specifically targeting domestic violence prior to the adoption of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act in March 2005 in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF) suggests that the passing of the new Act was the result of lobbying by NGOs (20 Mar. 2005). Commenting on the significance of the new Act, the Executive Director of the CWSP stated that "[t]he criminalization of domestic violence is a considerable step ahead and offers instruments to victims of domestic violence to protect their rights" (CWSP 1 Aug. 2006).

Under section 2 of the Act, domestic violence is defined as

any act of physical, mental or sexual violence, and any attempted such violence, as well as the forcible restriction of individual freedom and of privacy, carried out against individuals who have or have had family or kinship ties or cohabit or dwell in the same home (Bulgaria 29 Mar. 2005).

Section 5 of the Act outlines various actions that the state can take to protect victims of abuse, including: removing offenders from the home, issuing restraining orders against offenders, relocating victims, and providing rehabilitation programs for offenders and recovery programs for victims (ibid.). Protection measures can be imposed for a month to a year, and fines can range between 200 and 1,000 leva [approximately CAN$147 (XE.com 3 Aug. 2006a) to CAN$735 (ibid. 3 Aug. 2006b)] (Bulgaria 29 Mar. 2005). Bulgaria's minimum monthly wage is 150 leva (BTA 16 Mar. 2005).

Decisions on protection orders are reportedly made within four to six weeks of submitting an application (CWSP 1 Aug. 2006). However, where there is a "serious threat to life," emergency protection orders can be issued within 24 hours (IHF 2006, 108).

While no official statistics on the effectiveness of the new domestic violence legislation could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate, an informal survey of 13 out of 40 district courts conducted by the CWSP found that, as of February 2006, 321 proceedings had been initiated under the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (CWSP 1 Aug. 2006). Of these, protection measures were issued in 123 cases (38 per cent), while 158 cases were still pending (49 per cent) and 42 cases (13 per cent) had been closed (ibid.). According to the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), the Sofia Regional Court saw 80 domestic violence proceedings between 1 April and 1 December 2005 (10 Dec. 2005; see also IHF 2006) and there were 40 proceedings in Plovdiv (ibid.).

In addition to the stipulations of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, Articles 128 and 129 of the Criminal Code of Bulgaria (passed 1 May 1968 but last amended on 29 April 2006) criminalize the infliction of bodily injury (Bulgaria 1 May 1968). "Medium bodily injury" is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, and "severe bodily injury" is punishable by three to ten years imprisonment (ibid.).

Government

Bulgaria has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (UN 2 Mar. 2006) and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (ibid. 5 June 2006).

While Bulgaria's Protection Against Domestic Violence Act outlines provisions for a national implementation plan to be put in place within six months of the Act's entry into force (BTA 16 Mar. 2005; IHF 2006; CWSP 1 Aug. 2006), this reportedly has not yet occurred (ibid.). Bulgarian Member of Parliament (MP) Marina Dikova has called for increased funding to implement the Act and to assess its effectiveness (BTA 10 Dec. 2005), echoing calls by other MPs to provide more support, specifically for domestic violence shelters (The Sofia Echo 31 Mar. 2006). The Executive Director of the CWSP added that the government had yet to meet its requirements in providing shelters, hotlines and other services to victims of domestic violence as stipulated by legislation such as the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (1 Aug. 2006). According to the Executive Director,

although a legal base addressing domestic violence was established, the government's efforts in terms of its implementation and the funding of the services and activities countering the problem is still insufficient (CWSP 1 Aug. 2006).

The European Union's 2005 Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Bulgaria, however, concluded that

Bulgaria is generally meeting the commitments and requirements arising from the accession negotiations in the areas of equal treatment of women and men, health and safety at work, social protection as well as employment policy, and is expected to be in a position to implement this acquis from accession (25 Oct. 2005).

Non-governmental organizations

According to the Executive Director of the CWSP,

NGOs' efforts to protect victims of domestic violence are substantial and actually NGOs are the key actors who mostly provide victims with psychological, legal, informational, social, etc. assistance and services. Still, some negative aspects in their work are related to the lack of programs for psychological consultation for perpetrators of domestic violence and the lack of joint and countrywide projects addressing the issue [such as national conferences, programs or projects] (1 Aug. 2006).

In 2004, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that the state's financial contributions in the fight against domestic violence were not commensurate with the efforts of NGOs and that legal assistance to victims was lacking (Apr. 2005).

According to the Stop Violence Against Women (stopVAW) Web site, the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation conducted a number of seminars in Sofia in May 2006 with the aim of training police officers and members of the judiciary on the implementation of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (20 June 2006).

The Executive Director of the CWSP indicated that, as of August 2006, there were two crisis centres for victims of domestic violence in Bulgaria and two shelters for women and children victims, including one in the city of Silistra in northeast Bulgaria and another in Pleven in north central Bulgaria (1 August 2006). Two other shelters, one in Gabrovo in north-central Bulgaria and the other in Stara Zagora in south-central Bulgaria assist women and adolescents, but are not specifically geared toward victims of domestic violence (CWSP 1 Aug. 2006). However, according to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, while there are no government-run shelters or counselling centres for victims of domestic violence, there are some 15 NGO-operated crisis centres across the country (US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). The Animus Association Foundation provides shelter for battered women in Sofia (n.d.b), as does the Nadja Centre Foundation (n.d.a). Instead of providing shelter to victims of domestic violence, the Sofia-based Step-by-Step Foundation sends social workers to victims' homes (BNR 14 July 2006).

According to the Executive Director of the CWSP, trained NGO staff and volunteers operate 16 hotlines across Bulgaria, providing psychological and legal counselling to victims of domestic violence (1 Aug. 2006).

The Animus Association Foundation, a Sofia-based NGO providing professional counselling to victims of violence, indicated in its 2004 annual report that its Rehabilitation Centre for Women, Adolescents and Children Survivors of Violence, which runs a 24-hour telephone hotline (Animus n.d.a), had helped 14,452 clients since 1994 (ibid. 2004, 6). Additionally, between 2001 and 2004, the Animus Association's Training Centre trained 5,412 participants, published 500,000 educational and public awareness materials and employed over 160 volunteers (ibid.).

A list of Bulgarian NGOs that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence can be found on the Web site of stopVAW (23 May 2006).

Protection available to Romani women

In 10 August 2006 correspondence sent to the Research Directorate, a representative from the Animus Association Foundation noted that the problem of domestic violence was of particular concern in Bulgaria's Romani community, due to its relative isolation from the rest of Bulgarian society. According to the Representative, domestic violence is widespread and generally tolerated in the Romani community, which "has its own mechanisms to regulate relationships" (Animus 10 Aug. 2006). Based on her experience of offering psychological and social assistance to victims of domestic abuse, the Representative of the Animus Association Foundation noted that very few Romani women ever sought outside assistance and that the only way to intervene in the community was through locally-trusted Romani organizations (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Animus Association Foundation. 10 August 2006. Correspondence from a representative.
_____. 2004. Annual Report 2004. [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.a. "About Us." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.b. "Crisis Unit." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

Bulgaria. 29 March 2005. Protection Against Domestic Violence Act. [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]
_____. 1 May 1968. Criminal Code. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Web site) [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF). 20 March 2005. "On March 16, 2005 the Bulgarian Parliament Passed the Law for Protection Against Domestic Violence." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. April 2005. "Chapter 12: Women's Rights." Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2004: Annual Report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]

Bulgarian National Radio (BNR). 14 July 2006. "Step-by-Step Foundation Helps Domestic Violence Victims." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]

Bulgarian News Agency (BTA). 10 December 2005. "BTA Awarded for Active Contribution to Covering 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign." (Factiva)
_____. 21 March 2005. "Press – Review." (Factiva)
_____. 16 March 2005. "Parliament Passes Conclusively Bill on Prevention Against Domestic Violence." (Factiva)

Center of Women's Studies and Policies (CWSP). 1 August 2006. Correspondence from the Executive Director.
_____. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

European Union (EU). 25 October 2005. European Commission Bulgaria. 2005 Comprehensive Monitoring Report. [Accessed 25 October 2005]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 8 June 2006. "Bulgaria." Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2006 (Events of 2005). [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

Nadja Centre Foundation. N.d.a. "Who Are We?" [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

Reuters. 29 November 2005. "Press Digest – Bulgaria." (Factiva)

The Sofia Echo. 31 March 2006. "Domestic Violence Causes Discussed in Bulgaria." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]
_____. 3 March 2005. Marlene Smits. "Reading Room 1 Past to Present: Position of the Bulgarian Woman." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]

Stop Violence Against Women (stopVAW). 20 June 2006. Genoveva Tisheva. "Bulgarian Judges and Police Trained on the Implementation of the Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]
_____. 23 May 2006. "Bulgaria: Women's NGOs." [Accessed 31 July 2006]

United Nations (UN). 5 June 2006. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for the Advancement of Women. "CEDAW: Signatures to and Ratifications of the Optional Protocol." [Accessed 14 Aug. 2006]
_____. 2 March 2006. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for the Advancement of Women. "CEDAW: States Parties." [Accessed 14 Aug. 2006]

Unites States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Bulgaria." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 2 Aug. 2006]

XE.com. 3 August 2006a. "Universal Currency Converter." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]
_____. 3 August 2006b. "Universal Currency Converter." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral Sources, including: Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF), Maria Center Association and Nadja Centre Foundation (Sofia) did not provide information within time constraints.

Internet Sites, including: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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