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On 31 March 2015, the Center for the Study of Democracy held a national seminar to present the national report on Bulgaria “Child trafficking among vulnerable communities”. The participants in the event were experts from the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB), the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP), the Agency for Social Assistance (ASA), Chief Directorate “Border Police” (CDBP) and Chief Directorate “Combating Organized Crime” (CDCOC) at the Ministry of Interior, State Agency for National Security (SANS), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Central Commission for Combating Juvenile Delinquency (CCCABMA), representatives of Roma NGOs and social service providers and guests.

The seminar was opened by Dr. Alexander Stoyanov, Director of Research at the Center for the Study of Democracy. Dr. Stoyanov outlined the international initiative under which the research was conducted. The study, coordinated by CSD, was carried out in partnership with organizations from Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Greece. CSD authored the research methodology, coordinated the country studies and conducted the research in Bulgaria.

The authors of the report Kamelia Dimitrova and Yva Alexandrova, senior experts at CSD, presented the empirical data on the profiles of the victims and key vulnerability factors, mechanisms of recruitment and exploitation and made recommendations for improving the effectiveness of mechanisms for care and support of the victims. The report looks at three specific forms of trafficking in persons: child trafficking for begging, for pickpocketing and for sexual exploitation of boys and the way they manifest themselves among Roma communities.

The report outlines the profiles of victims stressing that most often victims of trafficking for begging are girls and boys aged 8-16 years. Such reference point is missing with regards to boy victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. Against this background, the research established that transgender youth providing sex services to men in Bulgaria and abroad are victims of exploitation and abuse but remain outside the radars of identification of trafficking victims. Court decisions for the period 2011-2013 show that boys are between one fifth and one third of the underage victims trafficked for debauchery, with between 10 and 14 such cases registered each year. However, the research established that boy victims of sex trafficking abroad are not referred to assistance by national authorities and service providers and therefore they do not have access to mechanisms for support. The report outlines the key factors of vulnerability that make the Roma minority a group at particular risk of exploitation. The study concludes that there are no specific culturally ingrained practices that make Roma vulnerable to trafficking. Rather, socio-economic factors such as poverty, large-scale unemployment and low levels of education, resulting from a history of social exclusion of the Roma, make the minority group especially vulnerable to trafficking. The study presents empirical data regarding the mechanisms of recruitment and exploitation of victims. Early marriages are a common strategy for recruitment of Roma child victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing and begging.

The general recommendation of the report is that the available infrastructure for social assistance should pay specific attention to the need for further development of facilities related to the protection and assistance of children victims of trafficking and of abuse. Thus, Community Support Centers, Family Type Accommodation Centers and Family Consultation centers should be established in places where crisis centers for children victims of trafficking and of abuse exist. One of the specific recommendations of the authors is to include community representatives in the expert groups of LCCTHB and NCCTHB.

Along with the recommendations outlined in the report, experts from CSD proposed community based response mechanism for assistance of Roma child victims of trafficking and their families. The response mechanisms is devised to address two significant gaps in victims assistance provided to Roma child victims of trafficking: lack of sustainability of the support and lack of involvement of the Roma communities in the assistance and protection of child victims of trafficking and their families. Community based centres operating in Roma communities could be involved in the pre-departure phase of assistance in the conducting the social and family assessment prior to return of the child or soon after his repatriation to his home country. A more elaborate, contextual assessment of the family and social environment would support a more accurate risk assessment and consequently – a more informed decision based upon the child’s best interest. Community based centres could also play instrumental role in the durable solution phase of assistance. Social workers from the Roma community could offer assistance and mediation to the families in dealing with public services and institutions (health, education, social assistance) in order to ensure that the child’s basic needs are met. They could provide feedback on the reintegration process to the Child Protection Departments.

Ms. Milena Dyankova, expert at the State Agency for Child Protection, said that according to SACP there are 36 cases of children trafficked for sexual exploitation last year. Key countries of destination were Greece, Sweden, the UK and France. Ms. Dyankova reported a decline in the number of reported cases compared with previous years, but did not elaborate on the possible reasons.

Representatives of the two organizations which were actively involved in conducting the fieldwork – Mr. Gancho Iliev from "World without Borders", Stara Zagora, and Ms. Maria Nikolova from Womens Roma association "Hayachi" and Family Consultation Centre for Children and Parents in Novi Pazar both shared their impressions of the fieldwork during the study and their visions on how the support for child victims could be improved. They both concluded that the most effective service which could be involved in the support of Roma child VoT would be a community based center, operating in the Roma neighbourhood and staffed with representatives from the community.

A general conclusion of the NGO sector is that much more work and a set of measures for reintegration of child victims are needed. Non-governmental organizations that support or work in crisis centers noted that in practice the crisis center is perceived as "a final stage of assistance" for the victims. “We are working really hard with the victims and sometimes we achieve very good results - children begin to think about their future in perspective, but then they leave the crisis center and return to their families who have exploited them before or enter into another institution where they receive very little support or no support at all. We should really focus on the long-term reintegration,” said Ms. Lydia Zagorova, ECPAT representative in Bulgaria. Ms. Zagorova pointed out that on an international level there is a will for the establishment of common procedures for support, and that it is “very difficult to explain to the partners from countries such as Italy, Greece and the Netherlands why in Bulgaria things are so complex and why the state does not know how and exactly where are the Bulgarian children victims of trafficking”.

Mr. Georgi Apostolov, Program Coordinator of the ARC Fund, stressed that the Internet is a major recruitment method for trafficking cases and that there is no system for collecting and sharing information about this type of crimes. He expressed his doubts of having only 36 cases of children trafficked for sexual exploitation in 2014 and took these statistics as an example for the challenges in the system for collecting and sharing the data. Mr. Apostolov expressed his concern that "human trafficking actually deprives our country of human capital and having in mind the demographic situation in Bulgaria we simply cannot afford not to combat it actively".

The representative of the Chief Directorate "Border Police" in the Ministry of Interior Ms. Dimitrina Boyanova stated that "Border Police" has no power to suspend the right of free movement of EU citizens. Thus, in cases where the child has a signed by their parents or guardians mandate to leave the country the employees of CDBP can do anything to stop child’s free movement. Ms. Boyanova assured that CDBP keeps a constant contact with notaries who sign the documentation of the children but if the verification reveals that the documents are legal, they must allow them to cross the border. CDBP employees have developed an indicators based questionnaire aiming to identify any discrepancy in the stories of the child and the adult. However, even if the employees suspect that they are dealing with a case of child trafficking they do not have the right to stop the free movement of the children.

Ms. Milena Dyankova discussed the need for more intensive preventive work by mediators, social workers, representatives of the local police stations and all stakeholders directly involved in working with the community on prevention of the factors leading to cases of trafficking. She confirmed that the Agency has a mechanism for collecting data on cases that applies only when repatriated. Ms. Dyankova informed that currently they are testing a new electronic system developed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in which data will be collected from the Child Protection Directorates, the Centers of family type accommodation and other social services. In addition, the expert from SACP assured that the state has made serious efforts to introduce integrated social services but in order to be efficient the municipalities must be the active stakeholders since the planning is done at local level. In response, Mr. Gancho Iliev from "World without Borders" noted that although there are many social services, none of them are community-based. Mr. Iliev said that the mediators could be best described as the "sms/text message to the community". "Community does not need to be sent a text message but rather to be worked with actively in the field. What is the benefit of the modern offices in the city centers when none of the community representatives will go there? Social services must be based in the community".

* The report was carried out under the project "Combating new forms of trafficking of Roma children with the participation of the community" (CONFRONT) funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Commission.

Participants in the Seminar "Combating child trafficking among vulnerable communities"
Ms. Kamelia Dimitrova and Ms. Yva Alexandrova (left to right), Senior Analysts at CSD
Participants in the Seminar "Combating child trafficking among vulnerable communities"
Mr. Gancho Iliev, "World without Borders"
Ms. Lydia Zagorova, ECPAT representative in Bulgaria

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