In 2018, across almost 50% of European Union states, children held the “highest risk of poverty or social exclusion.” More specifically, Bulgaria has the highest rate of child poverty in Europe with more than half of children living in or “at risk of poverty,” according to SOS Children’s Villages. Many factors contribute to child poverty in Bulgaria, including malnutrition and deficiencies, lack of education and child discrimination.
Malnutrition negatively affects the mental and physiological capacities of children. This can cause poor productivity levels, which can increase the risk of widespread poverty in a country. In 2019, 144 million children younger than five suffered from stunted growth due to inadequate nutrition globally. Children in Bulgaria are especially at risk. Two out of five Bulgarian children do not have access to daily protein-rich meals such as meat, chicken or fish, which equates to a type of material deprivation. In 2017, about 42% of these children became at risk of poverty.
Vitamin deficiencies from food also contribute to child poverty in Bulgaria. Due to low income, many families of low socioeconomic status find themselves searching for energy-dense foods that are often nutrient-poor. Some of these nutrients may include vitamins B and C as well as calcium and iron.
According to a 2013 research study, in the Bulgarian population, 21.3% of individuals are deficient in vitamin D, a vitamin the body uses to build and maintain bones. In a study on vitamin D deficiencies by the McCarrison Society in 2015, “Children adopted from Ethiopia, Peru, India, Bulgaria and Lithuania were at significantly higher risk” of having a vitamin D deficiency than children from other countries. Without adequate vitamin levels, children may not be physically capable of escaping poverty as they may lack the energy and vitality to attend school or work a job.
Lack of Education
Schools in low-income municipalities of Bulgaria struggle to maintain a good quality of education. Even though the Bulgarian government mandates provision of cost-free pre-primary education, many areas do not have the resources to provide this education free of charge. Furthermore, Bulgarian municipalities with limited finances are unable to guarantee sufficient heating in all rooms during the winter. Without the guarantee of high-quality education in an environment conducive to learning, it is difficult for children to escape generational poverty.
The education of parents and family members is also an important factor in child poverty in Bulgaria as higher education can help individuals secure skilled, higher-paying employment opportunities. The Social Assistance Agency reported the abandonment by parents of more than 1,000 Bulgarian children in 2018 and a major factor in many of these cases is low income, among other factors.
In 2017, the parents of 80% of Bulgarian children at risk of poverty had either no education or just primary level education. Furthermore, children in Bulgaria with parents who did not receive tertiary education are five times more likely to endure poverty.
Many young children in need of early childhood care and education (ECCE) are excluded from the system, especially disadvantaged Roma children. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, has segregated schools for Roma children “where the pass rate is low and the dropout rate high.”
Bulgarian children with disabilities are also at high risk of discrimination in their personal and school lives. They are more likely to face family separation, “live in institutional care” or face exclusion from mainstream schools. In 2018, 90% of the children ages 0-3 in Bulgarian infant homes had a disability. Furthermore, “a poll conducted in September and October 2009 among 2,000 elementary school parents and teachers” in Bulgaria shows that almost 40% of parents think that having a disabled student in their child’s class negatively impacts their child’s education.
SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria
SOS Children’s Villages recognizes the high level of child poverty in Bulgaria and has provided support to vulnerable Bulgarian children and families as early as 1990. The organization works to help children access medical care while helping parents secure jobs to support their families.
The organization provides support to Bulgarian youth by helping them develop skills to achieve independence while they attend “further education or training.” SOS Children’s Villages also empowers unaccompanied refugee and migrant children by helping them secure an education.
Today, SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria works with agencies in three locations and is making a difference in the lives of children across the country. In 2017 alone, SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria was able to help 200 children under family-based care.
Child poverty is a serious issue across Bulgaria with many causes. Malnutrition, lack of education and child discrimination are just some of the factors feeding into the loop of child poverty in the country. However, organizations like SOS Children’s Villages are working to put an end to the high levels of child poverty in Bulgaria.
– Katelyn Rogers