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The laws of the matrimonial love and the spiritual foundations of the marriage, as a voluntary and God-blessed union of a man and a woman, the laws of the parent’s love and the care of the child, according to which the family is organized and functions, must not be violated by transient and volatile political ideologies or ideological projects on a redefining the family, on a rethinking the parenthood, or on a reformatting the rights of the child, which deviate from the basic legal and moral principles of the Constitution, the laws and the traditions of the Bulgarian family.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF THE HOLY SYNOD OF THE BULGARIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – BULGARIAN PATRIARCH About a draft of the NATIONAL CHILDREN STRATEGY

02 April 2019 19:10, Bulgarian Patriarchy

Adopted by St. Synod at its meeting on April 2, 2019, Prot. No. 5, complete composition.

The Holy Synod supports the initiative of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria through the efforts of experts from the State Agency for Child Protection to develop, propose for public discussion and adopt from the state institutions a new National Child Strategy (NSD) defining the main directions and priorities of public and state policy on child protection for the next period from 2019 to 2030. We welcome the approach of openness and public discussion of such important strategic documents of state policy with the participation of representatives of civil society and the opportunity for an open discussion on the main priorities and future measures of this state-owned state strategy and policy for the child and the family in the Republic of Bulgaria . Child care and support for parents and families are of paramount importance for the future of our country and are of paramount strategic importance to the development of the state, national interests and national security. The National Child Protection Strategy should cover the main priorities and measures of the state policy, which require the efforts of the competent institutions of the state and of the whole civil society to be united. As a particularly important strategic and political document that is relevant to every Bulgarian family, the future of children and the entire Bulgarian nation, this strategy should cover the most important priorities for the development of society and the family through the application of all forms of cooperation, synchronization and coordination of government bodies with educational institutions, civil structures, parent communities and stakeholders in the process of consensual discussion, elaboration and implementation of policies to overcome crisis these factors in demographic decline, promote fertility, family support and child protection.

In recent years, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been paying attention to the problems of society and family, and has a lasting and permanent interest in the issues of spiritual, moral education and religious education of children and youth, both in the family and in nowadays school. As a caring mother for the Bulgarian people, she shares the concerns and troubles of many parents and teachers about the contemporary problems of children’s education in our society and looks with concern at the state of today’s family, the rights and interests of the child in the family environment and at school, as well as the children at risk and the changes in state and international standards for parental care and welfare of children at risk.

According to Christian moral principles, all these problems of child support and protection must be considered and resolved in indissoluble connection with the rights and responsibilities of parents and the spirit and traditions of the original Bulgarian family values. As a spiritual institution of the traditional Orthodox Christian denomination for our people, according to the Constitution of the country (Article 13, paragraph 3), the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is a guardian of faith, and as an important pillar of the national cultural and spiritual identity is the guardian of the family values, virtues and moral traditions of the Bulgarian people. Because of this historical role and spiritual mission among the Bulgarian people, the Church considers it its duty to participate in public debates on issues raised by the state authorities on the rights of children and to contribute to the favorable resolution of the pressing problems and challenges for the family and society generally. When discussing the current family and community issues that are the subject of unconditional responsibility of the state and its competent authorities, the Church is always guided by its evangelical New Testament morality with its everlasting and universal Christian moral values by adhering to the spiritual richness and deep roots of the millennial Bulgarian tradition.

1. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK, BASIC PRINCIPLES AND APPROACHES to the NSC (2019-2030)

The proposed new NSC provokes lively discussions in society and heated disputes on the part of many parents, citizens, and stakeholders in the process of discussing and elaborating on proposed measures and priorities for child welfare or concerns about unlawful interference in family life. Child care and support for parenting and families is the heart of the social and demographic policy of the state and is one of the most important conditions for stability and sustainable development of society both now and in the coming decades of the 21st century . On the issues and problems that are the subject of the new National Strategy for the Child (2019-2030), and in particular the system for the protection of the rights and interests of children in relation to the spiritual and moral upbringing and personal development of adolescents, The Synod has already pronounced many of its official opinions, different positions, messages and recommendations to state institutions and public organizations. The specific position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the discussed issues of the NSC, related to the measures for child protection and the reforms in the social welfare system, is most clearly and definitely expressed in the adopted in 2012 „OPINION OF ST. SOCIETY OF BOC – BULGARIAN PATRIARCH on the draft text of the CHILDRENS LAW „, prepared by the MSW / MC for voting in 41-st National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria in 2012. The opinion was adopted by the Holy Synod in its entirety, No 20 of 21.06.2012 and the positions generally expressed in it remain topical and are also applicable to the new NSC proposed for public discussion at the beginning of 2019.

2. INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS FOR CHILD PROTECTION AND THE BULGARIAN LEGISLATION

The National Children’s Strategy (2019-2030) is a political document and should be seen as an important long-term act, and as such a document it should be developed not only in accordance with the international legal instruments mentioned, such as the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Charter on the human rights of the EU, but also in accordance with the Bulgarian Constitution, the norms of domestic law and national interests of the country in context of an unified and consistent policy of the state in the field of family breeding of children. Attempts to adopt „international standards“ and „good practices“ in the field of child protection should fully comply with the legislation in force in the Republic of Bulgaria and be interrelated and synchronized with the principles and priorities of the demographic and national policy security. With the ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child proposed by the National Children’s Strategy, we are preparing to exclude the right of our national judiciary to resolve disputes, as this right is assigned to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, legitimate external intervention in arbitrating disputes over the rights of the child.

The Strategy does not fully addresses all aspects related to child development as defined in Art. 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by applying only selective provisions of the document on a selective basis. According to Article 29, paragraph 1. „States Parties to the Convention shall agree that the education of children shall be directed towards: (a) the development of the child’s personality, talents, mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent possible; (b) the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations; (c) developing a sense of respect of the child’s parents, their own cultural identity, language and values, national values of the country in which the child lives, the country of origin and civilizations other than its own; (d) preparing the child for a responsible life in a free society, in a spirit of understanding, peace and tolerance, gender equality and friendship between all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and native people; (e) the development of a sense of respect for the natural environment. „

The philosophy of the NSC project is based on some accepted principles and policies from other European countries and is guided primarily by ideological constructs related to the policy of „empowering the child“ and taking care of its personality and interests beyond the relationship with parents in the family. This ideological basis of the proposed strategy determines the main principles, priorities, policies and measures for child protection by shifting the main accents from the family environment to practices and measures that change the focus of state policy on intervention in the family by professionals in child care and shifting the role of parenthood. Many of the proposed measures and priorities focus on the rights and interests of the child, but ignore the goals and conditions for its overall emotional, spiritual, moral and personal development as they are enshrined in other relevant legal acts, for example the Pre-school Law and school education, adopted in 2016. Child protection policies should aim to support the personal development of every Bulgarian child and his / her calm growth and upbringing in a healthy and secure environment first and mainly in the family and then at school and other institutions of society. All those responsible for the rights and personal development of the child, factors and institutions – parents, teachers and educators who are called upon to ensure respect for children’s rights and interests, should orient their main goals and activities to preserve and prioritize the child’s emotional attachment to his parents and care for the family, which are the indispensable basis for ensuring his complete personal development and socialization.

3. RIGHTS OF THE CHILD’S AND PARENT’S RIGHTS IN THE FAMILY

The Child Protection Strategy should promote the respect and prestige of the family as the essential and indispensable environment for „harmonious and healthy development of the person“, the fundamental right of the child to be raised in the family by his parents, respect and pay regard to paternity and motherhood, preservation and validation of the traditional family values of continuity, continuation and renewal of the traditions of family breeding, affirmation of the Bulgarian national identity, cultural traditions spiritual and moral values. (Preamble, Article 9, Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

The approach applied by the strategy is to a certain extent simplistic, considering education as a given intellectual framework and as a tool for physical and intellectual development. As it can be seen from the content of Art. 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the personal development of the child involves not only the acquisition of knowledge, physical and intellectual abilities, but also the development of talents, the education in spiritual and moral-ethical values: respect for human rights and freedoms, a sense of respect for the parents and the community they live in.

In the draft of the NDS, some ideological concepts for protecting the rights and interests of the child predominate as a counterpoint to the rights of parents, who present themselves as „international standards“ and „good practices“ and contradict the Constitution and the legislation in force in the Republic of Bulgaria, which sets out the rights of parents and the child protection regime. According to the norms of Art. 27, p. 2 and 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, parents ensure their children’s living conditions according to their abilities and financial capacity, and the State is obliged, in case of financial difficulties, to provide them with material assistance, especially with regard to food, housing (Article 27 (3) of the Convention).

The priorities of the state policy in child protection and the measures outlined in the NSC provide for an independent and complete legal personality and legal capacity to be given to children, while under the Constitution and current Bulgarian legislation they are treated as minors who are not outside the scope of parental care and rights in the family. The strategy introduces „international standards for child protection“, which contradicts the basic principles of the Bulgarian legislation. This creates prerequisites for children to be treated by state social services / according to the protection of the rights of children/ as an independent party in the exercise of civil and human rights outside the scope of the established parental rights or the rights of the guardians. In the conceptual framework and the philosophy of the project for a new child’s strategy, this tendency of unilateralism raises very serious issues, objections and concerns that arise after careful reading the prescribed measures and analysis of the outlined priorities. This „new approach“, which is enshrined in the conceptual framework of the NSC project, sees a set of conditions for a future in which the Bulgarian family and the Bulgarian parents, as well as the Bulgarian school and the Bulgarian teachers, will be even more seriously hampered to exert their beneficial educational influence on the personal development and spiritual growth of children and students, as they will be deprived of the authoritative cooperation of the most important and first pillar in the upbringing and education of adolescents – the family. This is clearly perceived as a danger in the philosophy and conceptual framework of the presented draft of the NSC because the care of the rights of its main subject – the child and the protection of his or her interests are wrongly derived from the context of the family relations and the natural relationships of the child with the parents . Children’s personality is seen and differentiated as a self-sufficient value, and its rights are differentiated from parents ‘rights and their exercise in the family, resulting in unnecessary and one-sided absolutisation of children’s rights or in opposing the interests of the child’s parents’ rights. It is necessary to refine child protection measures in order to prevent collision with parental rights due to an imbalance in the proposed model between child rights, parental rights and family rights, which may provoke opposition between parents and children, and may lead to the unfavorable consequences of the destruction of family relationships and of the traditional Bulgarian model of the Bulgarian family. The protection of children’s rights and interests should not be separated from support for the parental responsibility for bringing up and breeding children in the family, and allow the irreplaceable role of parents to take care for and bring up the child’s personal development process. In the current draft of the NSC, there is a tendency for the family to be underestimated as a community of genetic, emotional and spiritual persons involved in the child’s development and welfare and to the general happiness in family life.

The measures for the protection of the child from various types of violence and harassment in the family should not lead to a government policy of family degradation and child deprivation in the process of bringing up children, but targeted support for the family and parents towards their responsible attitude and adequate care for children in the family and at school environment. The current model of the Strategy lacks set principles and priorities to support parents to acquire the capacity to fulfill their parental rights and parenting responsibilities. On the contrary, it assumes parent-child power relationships and parents’ bad faith, and disability to adequate care and protection of the rights and interests of children. This in turn implies disproportionate and extraordinary measures of intervention by state social services and childcare professionals in parent-child relationships, and allows extreme measures to be taken to restrict parental rights and to bring children out of the family environment.

4. PREVENTION OF THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND PROHIBITION OF THE CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

Nowadays, the abuse of parental rights and the cases of domestic violence against children is a worrisome tendency: both in our society and in a wider social and cultural context. The abuse of parental rights and the irresponsible parenthood have always existed as a spiritual and a social evil, against which the Church and the Christian moral principles of the Bulgarian family and cultural tradition have strongly opposed and categorically condemned.The searching for means, which can be realized against cases of a physical and a mental parental abuse on children, should not lead up to a general narrowing of the parental authority in Bulgaria. Most Bulgarian parents are good and responsible parents and it is not fair to limit and threaten them, because of the low percentage of irresponsible parents, who demonstrate a lower concern or even aggression to their children due to various socio-psychological reasons or a poor level of parenting capacity. The strategy’s draft should take into account, that the protection on the parental rights is in the interest of the child itself. In the event of any problem, related to the child, those ones who gave birth to it, who raise it and bring up it should not be in the role of „the first accused“ and „the one believed to be guilty until proven Innocent „, not by any means. Even less, the strategy should allow the child to be deprived from his or her parents when there is insufficient, ambiguous and contradictory data on family harassment against the child (p. 37, (NCS 2010-2030). The individual acts of a domestic violence and the need to prevent and oppose to this negative phenomenon should not cause a radical change in public morality or a radical change in the state policy in the protection of the child and a support for the parenthood and the family in the direction of the family’s and the parenting’s devaluation and an empowering of childcare professionals as an alternative to the parenthood. Due to individual negative family practices and the fight with the domestic violence against children, the rights of all parents should not be restricted, who, in their majority, are good and responsible, caring, dedicated and loving their children, considered as the most precious God’s gift and a real wealth for every family, society and state.Exemplary cases of abuse of parental rights and individual parental crimes or cases of a domestic violence are not sufficient reasons to allow anonymous child abuse denunciations to be reported to the state social services. A more appropriate form of a prevention against a domestic violence is the support for the responsible parenthood and the prevention of the domestic violence through a educating for a responsible implementation of parental rights, rather than the building mechanisms for a self-referring by the social institutions to intervene in family relationships between parents and children by a subjective assessment of the presence of risks to the child or poor economic conditions. The assessment of a risky family environment, related to the financial status or standard of living in a household, is not a sufficient reason for bringing out children from their family and depriving them of a parental care and an emotional attachment to their biological parents. All of these measures encourage the possibility of unlimited abuses by child protection services, without taking into account the specific family relationships or the means of positive self-regulation of family life, which are natural and should be considered for inviolable with a view to private space.

5. MEASURES FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE CHILD AND DEPRIVATION FROM  A FAMILY ENVIRONMENT

The state strategy and policy in the field of the child protection and the measures for an ensuring of conditions for personal development, a healthy family environment and for a guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the child should be consistent with the basic legal and moral principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and the specialized national legislation, while attempts to establish „good European practices“ in the field of the legal protection of the interests of the child inside the family or in the public space, should not contradict themselves and create a collision with parents’ rights. These measures cannot be a reason for thoughtless and one-sided experiments with the Bulgarian children and families. Such a direction of development of the policy for the protection of the interests of the child creates an internal split in the family and opposes parents to children, which could cause detrimental consequences of destruction of the Bulgarian family. The measures to protect the child with a view to protecting its rights and legitimate interests in the health, morals and life of the child, seizing the functions of the parents, might be both legitimate and humane only in some limited circumstances, but should not be legislated as a system, including standard policies, which are enforceable to all parents and families. The criminal acts of violence or a mental harassment by individual parents or legal guardians against children in the family should be considered as an isolated, special case and cannot be reason for a mistrust in all Bulgarian families and parents, including their treatment as potential risks’ carriers for the mental and physical health of their children. The depriving of the children from the family under the Convention is admissible only in 2 hypothesis – in case of “ involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents (Article 9, 1 of the Convention), viz. in criminal acts of the parent. The Strategy creates the possibility of a depriving the child of its family, including for material reasons.

6. THE ROLE OF THE STATE SOCIAL SERVICES ON THE CHILD PROTECTION AND THE PARENT’S RIGHTS

Some of the suggested child protection measures in the presented NSC’s draft and the related public policies and practices, providing opportunities to child care professionals to interfere in the family life and it leads up to a restriction on the rights of parents, which is inadmissible without an explicit judgment, and is a gross interference with the inviolability’s regime in the family privacy. These measures are disproportionate to the pursued aims and inconsistent with the basic principles of the  Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and other international treaties, to which the Republic of Bulgaria is a party, and in such a suggested form, therefore, they pose a risk of a legal chaos and creat serious collisions in the field of the Bulgarian law, without providing the necessary legal certainty and not guaranteeing the rights of all family’s members. The accepted philosophy of the NSC’s draft presumes that the parental subordination to a total state control at every stage of child development would be of benefit to the child and the society as a whole. The Bulgarian legislation and the state policy on child protection should be prevented from a delegating of powers with an unlawfully large scope in relation to the social services and from an empowering of the child care professionals at the expense of the rights of parents, because the state and its social services and institutions cannot be a better parent to the child than its true parents. These are extreme measures, which, according to the Bulgarian law, should not be submitted to administrative bodies, because they are only issued by a court decision.The Holy Synod believes that a disproportionate increase in the rights of the state in the field of the childcare and upbringing should be avoided. In this connection it is necessary the provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be mentioned, according to whose Art. 12: „No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy“. The inculcated deprivation of the rights of the parents by state officials and social institutions beyond the family should be carefully reconsidered in the NSC. The NSC’s draft would be acceptable and useful for the Bulgarian society if it fully respected the constitutional rights of the parents, which should not be easily replaced by the alternative care of the social workers. According to Article 16, paragraph. 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: „The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State“. Article 47, paragraph 1 of the Bulgarian Constitution states that: „The raising and upbringing of children until they come of legal age shall be a right and obligation of their parents and shall be assisted by the State.“ The state assists parents in the raising and upbringing of their children, but has no right to impede, restrict or deprive the parents of the exercising of this right, except in cases provided by the law.”

7. MORE IMPORTANT CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A DISCUSSION IN THE ADOPTION OF THE NCS’s DRAFT

 On the base of these present proposals and recommendations for a public discussion, with the necessary corrections and revisions in the text of the new National Children’s Strategy, lies our love and care for the Bulgarian family, our support for Bulgarian parents and Bulgarian children. Let us remember that the Church and the family are institutions, which are established by God for a prosperity and a gracious salvation of man in this life and in the eternity. Just as the Church is a spiritual family of believers, who are involved in the deep bonds of love with one another, so too the family is a „small home church“ (1 Corinthians 16:19), in which God laid His unchanging laws of love and care in a ministry for the good and the beneficial to all its members. The eternal laws of the love, freedom, and responsibility for the fellow man, of the care and ministry for the youngest and the most defenseless children of God, should not be replaced by dubious „visionary“ projects or ideological concepts and social constructs for the child and family of XXI century.

1. The laws of the matrimonial love and the spiritual foundations of the marriage, as a voluntary and God-blessed union of a man and a woman, the laws of the parent’s love and the care of the child, according to which the family is organized and functions, must not be violated by transient and volatile political ideologies or ideological projects on a redefining the family, on a rethinking the parenthood, or on a reformatting the rights of the child, which deviate from the basic legal and moral principles of the Constitution, the laws and the traditions of the Bulgarian family.

2. There are no priority goals and tasks in the aims of the NCS 2019-2030, related to an improving of the spiritual and moral state of the Bulgarian child, which is undoubtedly an important factor for „an improving of the quality of life of the child“ (p. 7, NCS `2019-2030). There also are no written mechanisms and measures for the prevention of children’s cyberdependence and of internet child safety, for a protection from the pervasion of destructive ideologies via the virtual space, a sectarian influence, a cult of violence, aggression, pornography and other asocial behaviour.

3. We confirm the expressed standpoint on the issues of the rights of the child and the support of the family in Bulgaria, adopted by the Holy Synod (Prot. No 20/21. 06. 2012) that the Child Protection Act of 2000 and the Family Code, along with their other Bulgarian laws, including the newly adopted Pre-school and School Education Act, 2016, have not exhausted their importance with regard to the protection of children’s interests and the protection of the rights and interests of adolescents, and we ,therefore, consider that the „innovative“ approaches and „visionary“ provisions do need of an additional justification and a compulsory preparation of the necessary supporting documents to the Strategy, including an analysis of the impact on the legislation and financial justification, and only after this more detailed preparation the suggested strategy and its accompanying documents should be subject to further and wider public discussion and a thorough and substantial public debate before their final adoption.

4. The suggested current draft of the NCS’s project does not fully comply with the basic principles and texts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. More precisely, the following ones could be point out: “Art. 27, para. 3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing. Art. 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention. Art. 7, para. 2. States Parties shall respect the rights and obligations of parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, to provide guidance to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the development of the child’s capabilities. Art. 16, para. 1. – No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation. . Art. 16. para. 2. – The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.“ The Holy Synod supports the willingness of the state to adopt in the long run a new comprehensive national child strategy, which shall lie down as the basis for a new national child protection system. This strategy should be in line with the international standards and relevant legal norms, but also with the Constitution and national interests of the Republic of Bulgaria. It should be prioritized in the context of a previously approved and established unified state policy in the field of the family and the upbringing of the children. If necessary representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate,to participate in the discussion of the specific measures and texts of the NCS, we are ready to state in more detail our views, critical remarks and recommendations on the specific texts and measures of the discussed strategy.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF THE HOLY SYNOD OF THE BULGARIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – BULGARIAN PATRIARCH About a draft of the NATIONAL CHILDREN STRATEGY: https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=286900

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Project of the National Group “Parents United for the Children”

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