The Fight Against Domestic Violence in Bulgaria: A Chance for Real Progress or Another Missed Opportunity
On 20.06.2022 The Ministry of Justice published a project for alteration and elaboration on the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence and opened it to public discussion. If it gets approved, Bulgaria has a chance to achieve real progress in the fight against domestic violence – to work towards the prevention of violence and to provide a defense to those who suffer from it. If it does not get approved, this will be another missed opportunity by another Bulgarian government to protect its citizens. And what can be a bigger priority for any governors than the topic of human life?
Domestic violence and violence against women affect every third woman in the world according to data by WHO and The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The situation in Bulgaria is similar and according to information from media publications, in 2021 alone, at least 22 women were killed by close to them men. It is important to recall that the statistics about the number of murders throughout the years are entirely based on media publications and the number of killed women is likely to be much higher. There is no clarity as there are no official statistics collected by the state institutions. Simultaneously, research shows that gender-based violence (against women) and violence in an intimate relationship directed toward women cost Bulgaria respectively more than EUR 4,4 and EUR 2,3 billion annually.
Over the past 18 years, the Bulgarian Fund for Women has been working towards a systematic and more effective fight against this serious and complex problem that affects the whole society, and that requires political will in order to be addressed. That is why we hope that the current project for the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence provides an opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in the current regulatory framework. The proposed alterations match, although not fully, a number of conditions and recommendations given to Bulgaria by different European and international institutions and organizations involved in tackling the issue.
What will change for the better?
1. A National Council for the Prevention of and Protection from Violence will be established
The establishment of the National Council for the Prevention of and Protection from Violence will respond to the need for coordination between the authorities responsible for fighting domestic violence as well as create and implement state policies for the prevention of and protection from domestic violence.
The existence of a single specialized and constantly working body will help for the creation of a common policy and its effective implementation from all stakeholders aiming at prevention and fight against domestic violence in Bulgaria.
The development and implementation of a Coordination mechanism for help and support for those who suffered domestic violence are among the anticipated responsibilities of the National Council. This is a long-awaited change that will lead to timely and enhanced care and protection for those who are affected as well as to clear responsibilities, rights, case work rules and coordination between the competent authorities.
2. Extension of the deadline for filing a request for immediate protection
Extending the deadline for filing a request for immediate protection from one to three months is in the best interest of the women who make up most people suffering from domestic violence. The longer deadline will guarantee that even in the most severe cases, the affected will have the opportunity to seek protection from Court.
3. Central register for domestic violence cases
The creation and regular update of a Central Register containing the entire information about domestic violence cases will respond to a number of challenges. The lack of a single set of national statistics makes the formation of precise assessment of the size and spread of the domestic violence phenomenon impossible. It challenges the development and monitoring of the effect and adequacy of measures aimed at responding to the needs of the affected and their families, and at supporting the Bulgarian society to overcome the problem.
4. Extending the National Program for Prevention of and Protection from Domestic Violence
In the project for elaboration of the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence is proposed an extension of the National Program for Prevention of and Protection from Domestic Violence from one to three years. In our opinion, the current one-year duration is highly insufficient, and the intended measures will be unable to respond to the needs of the affected people, the professionals who work with them, and of the competent institutions. The proposals for the extension of the Program, the legal regulation as well as the provision of enough resources for the development and implementation of specialized programs and services that support people affected by domestic violence, will ensure a higher reach and clearer identification of the existing measures for support and prevention.
What can be further improved to ensure better protection for all Bulgarian citizens
1. Clearly defined types of violence
We believe that clear definitions regarding the types of violence (psychological, physical, economic, etc.) will help improve the work of the responsible institutions as they give clear recommendations and common and same understanding regarding what can and cannot be considered violence. This prevents diverse interpretations and does not allow for individual interpretations of cases based on personal experience and attitudes towards domestic violence. The inclusion and legal definition of these terms will allow covering more dimensions of the domestic violence phenomenon, providing more effective protection for more affected people.
2. Replacing “Cohabitation” with “intimate relationship”
The current term “Cohabitation” excludes the people who are in an intimate relationship but do not share a common household and budget, and thus prevents one of the groups at the highest risk from seeking protection. We believe that changing the word “Cohabitation” to “in an intimate relationship” will guarantee the expansion of the number of people who can seek and receive more effective protection within the legal framework.
We at BFW believe that the proposed alterations to the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence will have a positive impact, contribute to the improvement of the already existing system for protection from domestic violence, and respond to some of the recommendations given to Bulgaria, bringing us a step closer to the international standards that we are aiming at.
However, it is necessary to address the above-mentioned gaps in the proposed project that are disadvantageous to the affected people.
On multiple occasions the Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova made a public commitment to fight against domestic violence. Now the decision is in the hands of the members of Parliament. BFW hopes that while discussing the project they will consider the statements submitted by the organizations and specialists working on the first line in the fight against domestic violence and gender-based violence who best know the context, challenges and needs of those affected.
The Bulgarian Fund for Women’s statement can be read here.
Image source: BFW.