Bulgaria: public spending and the rights of the child

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Source: The National Network for Children , Bulgaria

The National Network for Children – Bulgaria is an alliance of civil society organisations and supporters, working with and for children and families across the whole country.

The promotion, protection and observing the rights of the child are part of the key principles, that unite us. We believe that all policies and practices, that affect directly or indirectly the children should be developed, applied and observed, taking into account the principle of the best interest of the child and with the active participation of children and young people themselves.

In all our activities we are lead by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a key document that lays down the philosophy, the values and the way of work of the Network.

The current contribution is based on:

  • a consultation with young people from 5th and 10th grade from 119 School in Sofia carried out upon request of Eurochild, a network of organisations and individuals working in and across Europe to promote the rights and well-being of children and young people. The National Network for Children is a member and a national partner network of the organization for Bulgaria;
  • the annual independent monitoring report “Report Card: What is the average Government score for childcare”. This document aims to appraise the implementation of selected government commitments in the area of child and family policies in Bulgaria during the previous calendar year and to include recommendations to support the decision-making process of the state administration. The document contains five main areas: “General principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”, “Family Environment”, “Healthcare”, “Education” and “Juvenile Justice”;
  • The Child Protection Index  for Bulgaria developed and piloted in 2015 as a joint project of World Vision and ChildPact (a regional network of civil society organisations dedicated to child rights and protection around the Southeast Europe and South Caucasus sub-regions). The Child Protection Index was created to monitor and influence child-related policies at national levels so that together civil society can be an active and influential voice for policy and implementation changes nationally, regionally and internationally. One of the Index indicators (Indicator 8 from the General/governance part) is looking at whether there are permanent arrangements established for budgetary analysis at the national and other levels of government to ascertain:

a) the proportion of overall budgets devoted to children?
b) any disparities between regions, rural/urban, particular groups of children?
c) the most disadvantaged groups of children?

So far, all pilot countries (Romania, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Moldova) have scored 0 (zero) on these aspects.

General comments

We welcome the efforts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to develop, consult and adopt a General Comment on public spending and the rights of the child. We believe that a General comment on public spending to realize children’s rights will provide governments and other relevant actors with further guidance on how to achieve sufficient, effective and efficient public budget allocation and spending to realize children’s rights within a framework of open, inclusive and accountable governance. It will also help us, our partners and supporters, as well as children themselves, to monitor and advocate for investment in children and better public spending to realise children’s rights.
We would like to stress our support for the draft General Comment emphasis and interpretation on the general obligation and the specific rule as well as the legal analysis of article 4 in relation to public spending.

We very much welcome the explicit reiteration of the Committee in paragraph 37 “that a minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights is incumbent upon every State. Lack of available resources is never a valid argument for States to not comply with this core obligation. The core obligation should always be guaranteed, even in times of economic austerity.”

Concrete comments

  1. Need for stronger emphasis on agreeing impact and indicators between different Government agencies, statistical bodies and systems followed by unifying data collection, processes and analysis methodologies in order to guarantee comparable, reliable and quality data.
    It is a common practice in the region of Central and Eastern Europe that there is very little public accountability about spending on public services. Furthermore, very often different government agencies and statistical bodies use different methodologies and definitions which make data comparison and meaningful analysis impossible to achieve.
    We welcome paragraph 78 in V. Implementation of the rights of the child in public spending, A. Planning, 1. Assessing the situation which urges States to review the mandates and resources of statistical bodies and systems for data collection, processes, analysis and dissemination. However, given the context we operate in, we would like to suggest that an additional sentence is added which addresses the need to have joint work between different actors and stakeholders on agreeing what impact for children they are seeking, the indicators to measure it as well as the data and processes to be used to monitor progress.
  2. Consider the introduction of “a child-centred investment strategy” in the State’s obligations to ensure sufficient, effective, efficient and equitable public spending to respect, promote, protect and fulfil the Convention and the Optional Protocols.
    As a National Partner Network of Eurochild, the National Network for Children – Bulgaria joins the advocacy efforts for a children-centred investment strategy based on 5 pillars: education, early years, health promotion, community development and family strengthening, social protection and welfare support .
    Despite the widespread recognition that quality education is key to social mobility, employability and citizenship, a recent report from UNICEF shows that more than a third of OECD countries have reduced public education spending after 2010, and several more have frozen it.
    Investment in education should go beyond formal schooling and official curricula. More and more families depend on after-school clubs and organised holiday activities. Free public provision of such services is often unavailable or of low quality. Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are deprived from access to music, art and culture, leisure activities and sports which are essential for children’s well-being and development.
    If high quality education for all is recognised as vital for strengthening human capital and building more equitable societies, it follows that public investment should be weighted towards the early years. A growing body of neuro-science points to the critical importance of the first 5 years of a child’s life in brain development. Positive early childhood experiences help lay the foundations for highly-prized skills such as the ability to think creatively and laterally, to build positive relationships, to communicate effectively, to adapt to new situations, to cope in stressful situations. Conversely, if a child misses out on a stimulating and nurturing environment in the early years, it can be difficult to catch up and can negatively affect his or her life-time chances.
    We believe addressing disadvantage in childhood requires an integrated and child-rights approach for it to be successful in the long-term. Promoting the concept of „Investment in children and return on investment” to States will support the General Comment aim to ensure States’ application of article 4 of the Convention and its three Optional Protocols in relation to public spending.
  3. The need to incorporate the obligation of the State to carry out a Child rights impact assessment (CRIA) in paragraph 32. under 3 “for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention”.
    Paragraph 32 explains very well the obligation to promote the rights of the child in relation to public spending. It clarifies that apart from giving priority to children’s rights in the allocation of resources, it also means that States must take active steps to ensure that explicit consideration is given to the impact on children in its all public spending decisions. We would suggest to consider adding explicitly the CRIA in the paragraph explaining that children’s rights impact assessment involves the examination of existing and proposed policies, legislation or changes in administrative services for their impact on children and for how they support the implementation of the Convention. We believe this would contribute to better understanding and implementation of the CRIA as a tool for translating the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its article 3, giving priority to children’s best interests, into practice in a concrete and structured manner.
  4. Need to emphasize the States obligation to ring-fence resources from institutions to community-based services in C. Executing, 1. Transferring available resources.
    There is a concern in some countries that policy-makers use the closure of institutions (e.g. deinstitutionalization of children’s service; mental health) as an opportunity to reduce the budget, and divert some of the funds formerly allocated to the institutions away from the children’s services or mental health sector. Even where there is an active move towards community care, funds are not necessarily transferred to community-based services, as there sometimes appears to be the (misconceived) assumption that fewer resources are needed for such services.
  5. Technical suggestions aimed to ensure shared understanding between different stakeholders:
  • We would like to suggest that ‘regional, local authorities, business and media’ are added in the fifth bullet point in I. Introduction which starts with “Provide enabling environment for State officials and civil society, including children…”.
  • As above, insert the EU Chapter on Fundamental Rights in A. Background, paragraph 5.
  • Add “promoted, and fulfilled” at the end of paragraph 33 under 3., III. Public spending considerations implied by article 4 and the general principles.
  • Consider adding ‘in consultation with children, parents, civil society and other stakeholders on the basis of child rights approaches and principles’ in paragraph 50, B. The general child rights principles and public spending, 1. Public spending and the right to non-discrimination (art.2) to make it explicit that in identifying groups of children that qualify for special measures the States consult all interested parties in a child rights based way to ensure the special measures address the most marginalized and vulnerable ones, whose rights are violated or not protected.