Totalitarian thinking still permeates much of the societal structure in Bulgaria, a post-communist democracy and a member of the European Union since 2007. This attitude is especially visible in the latest legislative attempt at policies against the family.
Last November, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, State Child Protection Agency, and NGOs close to the government announced a new draft Child Law. In public appearances, the sponsors of the new bill have stated that "parents have only duties, no rights;" they do not hide their negative attitude to the "patriarchal family."
In response, grassroots movements in defense of parental rights have reacted strongly. The draft law is dangerous and unnecessary; it is flawed in both its philosophy and letter. I have termed this bill "communist," "fascist," and "national-socialist" on several occasions on national Bulgarian TV. Under the guise of "children's rights," the bill contains a radical view of the state having more rights over children than their parents. If the bill becomes law, the state may use it for arbitrary dealings with its ideological opponents by taking away their children. This was not an unknown practice during communism, which ended not so long ago. Here are some more specifics of the dangers of the new Child Bill:
• Religious freedom is denied to parents. The state can protect any child from "being involved in religious activities."
• The bill cements the state monopoly on education. Parents who do not secure the attendance of their children in state-controlled schools are subject to heavy fines.
• Health and "reproductive" decisions are made by state officials and the child without the parents' consent or even knowledge. Sexual indoctrination from age 5 is mandated in the draft law. The state is mandated to work with NGO's in "reproductive health" and "sexual education."
• Children are given political rights in disproportion; parents only support the child in his or her exercise of those rights.
• In case of violence against a child, filing a report with the authorities is mandatory. The catch is that violence is extremely broadly defined, to include "causing of any pain or suffering," "psychological violence" and "other violence." Psychological violence includes negative talking, underestimation, and discrimination; "other violence" includes anything one can imagine. Anonymous reports of violence are allowed, which is a violation of due process. During any "disagreement" between a child and his parents, the child can call Social Services, and it will assign an expert to "work with the family." One can imagine how many disagreements can occur between parents and their children.
The authors of the law have not published any motivation for the bill-a legal requirement for any new draft law. One statement by a Bulgarian representative of UNICEF sums up the philosophy behind such "child protective" legislature-seeing all parents as incompetent: "We are not against the family; we simply want to give the children to those who can raise them."
Perhaps the worst incident demonstrating the warped values of SCPS, which is a sponsor of the bill, took place as the debates over the bill raged on. An 11-year-old boy from a poor family went missing and was found dead after several days. A suspect was caught and confessed to committing the murder. A local representative of Child Protection Services stated for the press that they have put the family "under observation" in order to decide if the murdered boy's parents can care for their remaining three children. CPS would consider "removing" the children from the family to "protect them." Instead of supporting the family in their grief, CPS is threatening to exacerbate their tragedy-and that after failing to offer the "child protection" they claim to provide.
The public debate on the draft Child Law has been gaining momentum largely due to legal opinions presented by Freedom for All Advocates, the Alliance Defense Fund, and a letter from the Home School Legal Defense Association submitted to all relevant state agencies and commissions in the parliament. In mid-January, a small democratic opposition party and Freedom for All organized a roundtable discussion in the Bulgaria Parliament. Roger Kiska of ADF presented a memorandum on the bill. The public debate forced the sponsors of the new Child Law to abandon their plan for a quick introduction of the bill to parliament.
Thus far, the proponents of the draft Child Law have not stated any reasonable legal arguments in defense of their project. Their arguments have been "there is so much violence against children," "we have worked a whole year on this bill," "social workers do not have the manpower to implement the law," and "we have worked with experts." But these reasons do not hold water because they fail to answer the very clear question of why the bill treats all parents as a threat to their own children.
Although Christian and family values are rarely at the forefront of public interest battles in Bulgaria, the country now has a growing citizen movement for the protection of the rights of parents and children. The head of the MLSP has stated that it will not be in a hurry to introduce the new bill as there is widespread public debate on it. For now, this is a tactical victory-a result of the intervention of Freedom for All, ADF, and HSLDA against the stealth introduction of this totalitarian law. It is expected that the sponsors of the bill-among them foreign bodies including the Council of Europe, the EU, and UNICEF-will continue with their attempt to introduce it in Parliament. However, advocates and parents groups, although largely outnumbered, will continue to oppose anti-family social engineering and radical legislation and will continue to stand for freedom and parental educational rights in Bulgaria.