Bulgarian Prosecutor to tackle early marriages

27 April 2011

 

On 21 April 2011, a spokesperson of Bulgarian National Prosecutor declared on national channel BTV, that the judiciary is confronting the silent practice of routinely adjourning cases of early or forced marriages. Steliyana Kozhuharova said that a new notice and guidelines for dealing with early marriages had been distributed to all prosecutors in order ensure cases are taken to court, in stead of being dropped in accordance with unwritten internal rules that the practice of early marriages remain unsanctioned under the pretext of belonging to ‘certain traditions’

The news was welcomed by the Roma women of the Sandanski Mother Center – established with support of Integro Association and ERGO Network. In November 2009 they initiated a petition against the neglect of judicial authorities regarding early marriages in Roma communities. An open letter to the responsible authorities requested them to take all necessary measures to equally enforce existing law – which prohibits underage intercourse, forced marriage and marriages under 16.

The Sandanski Mother Center came in action after a girl that frequented the centre was – at the age of 14 – married to a much older man, after which she dropped out of school. They launched an internet petition, pointing out they resisted the view that the practice of early marriages can be accepted with the explanation that it is part of Roma culture and traditions. "Children need to go to school at that age to prepare for their future and role in society. The law needs to be respected and all need to take their responsibility: teachers, authorities, parents, but also the community. People need to realize it is wrong to encourage or condone early marriage," says Lili Makaveeva of Integro Association in a reaction. 

In December 2009, the Sandanski Mother Center, Integro Association jointly organized a roundtable with the Agency for Child Protection and the National Council for Ethnic and Demographic Issues to discuss how to overcome the unacceptable hesitation of authorities to enforce existing legislation in such cases and the need of a broader awareness raising effort to prevent these practices. In March 2010 followed a working meeting at the Ministry of Social Affairs on the issue.

Ms Kozhuharova said on TV hundreds cases of forced marriage and child pregnancies were left pending indefinitely or were quietly suspended. The vice Executive Director Darinka Jankova of the Agency for Social Support, who joined the TV-debate, stressed that efforts of the judiciary needed to be accompanied by active work in Roma communities.

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