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Second and third periodic reports dated 3 November 1994

The material on domestic violence in this report is a summary of "Domestic Violence in Bulgaria," produced in March 1997 by the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights. It is based on a fact-finding mission to Bulgaria. The material on employment discrimination is based on a report provided by the Media Research Group, a Sofia-based NGO.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15, and 16

Women in Bulgaria are reluctant to discuss domestic violence. The United Nations Development Programme in Sofia reports: "It is easy to understand why women beaten by their husbands keep silent on the matter. They feel shame, humiliation and lack of understanding even on the part of their relatives and friends, and finally, the hopelessness of the situation." Several Bulgarian women explained that another important reason for failure to report domestic assault is the view in Bulgarian society that the family is the highest priority-more important than women's personal safety.

The Bulgarian legal system does not provide an effective remedy for women who have been assaulted by their husbands. In fact, the Penal Procedure Code provides that assault perpetrated by family members will not be prosecuted by the state unless they result in grave injury. Assault perpetrated by a stranger, however, is prosecuted if it results in either "medium" or "grave" injury. The practical result of this policy is that if a woman is stabbed with a knife by a stranger on the street and receives serious injuries that do not result in death or permanent injury, the state will prosecute the assailant. If the same woman is stabbed in her home by her husband and receives the same injuries, the state will not prosecute the man.

There are no government programs designed to address the problem of domestic violence. Several government administrators reported that issues such as domestic violence, that are perceived to be gender specific, are not a priority for the government.

Evidence of Domestic Violence from the Health Care Community

The Minnesota Advocates delegation met with health care professionals in Sofia, including staff of the National Centre for Health Promotion, psychologists, doctors from the Emergency Hospital and doctors from Criminal Medicine Department at the Medical Academy in Sofia. The hospitals and the Criminal Medicine Department do not keep official statistics of women who have been assaulted in their homes. The doctors, however, reported that domestic violence is a serious problem in Bulgaria. Health care professionals see first hand the physical injuries resulting from domestic violence. Many were concerned that the problem appears to be getting worse.

Reported examples are familiar to those experienced with domestic violence reporting and advocacy:

  • A man who beat his wife to the point that she required care by a team of doctors-pieces of the stick were embedded in her body, her kidney was ruptured-was not prosecuted for the assault.

  • A doctor who treats children at the Emergency Hospital described a case in which a man tied his wife to a chair to restrain her while he beat their child. When the woman brought her child into the Emergency Room for treatment, she had rope burns on her wrists and a hand mark on her face. The child had many bruises at different stages of healing which, the doctor explained, indicated a pattern of abuse.

  • A psychologist described the case of a woman who had been beaten by her husband, resulting in a broken arm, after her infant child had died from a cardiac illness. The husband had accused the woman and her family of being cursed (citing her sister's previous death from a train accident). In one nine-month period, this same psychologist had counselled two other women with babies in the cardiology clinic whose husbands had beaten them because they blamed them for their children's illnesses. One husband abandoned his wife and their child after beating his wife and taking all the household goods.

  • A physician in the Criminal Medicine Department estimated that since 1989, approximately fifteen women per year have been killed by domestic violence in Sofia. The doctor described a case where a man who stabbed his girlfriend eleven times after she told him she wanted to end their relationship, escaped from prison and has not been prosecuted. In another case, a man broke into his former girlfriend's apartment and stabbed her twenty times when she ended their relationship. (This perpetrator is currently in prison). Another physician noted the common saying among men in Bulgaria that a woman is "better dead than alive with another man."

  • A psychologist reported that she counselled a couple for five months before the women stated that she had been beaten. She noted that it is very common for girls as young as 16 to 19 years old to be beaten by their boyfriends. Many girls she treats are afraid to be in relationships because of the amount of violence that is accepted as normal in Bulgarian society.

  • According to staff of the Criminal Medicine Department of the Medical Academy, which provides the necessary documentation of injuries for evidence in court proceedings, thirty to fifty percent of the cases in the Criminal Medicine Department involve injuries resulting from domestic violence. Many women who have been repeatedly assaulted by their husbands have obtained several certificates from the Criminal Medicine Department. Some women try to use the medical certificates to persuade their husbands to stop the violence. After a period of time, many women give up this process and accept their situation without ever using the certificates in a court proceeding.

  • One doctor stated that a building "bigger than the Sheraton Hotel' would be needed to provide shelter to all the women who are assaulted in Sofia. He believes that women are more likely to be injured by domestic violence than any other type of injury.

The Legal System

1. Criminal Law

  1. Implementation

    For a variety of reasons, domestic violence cases rarely reach the criminal court system. One prosecutor noted that when a woman is battered, she usually does not contact the police or state prosecutors. A family therapist noted that she had several female patients who were victims of domestic violence, and not one had ever attempted to prosecute her batterer. For those women who do seek to prosecute their abusers, the Bulgarian Criminal Code presents unique and significant problems.

    The code establishes three levels of criminal assault based on the severity of the injuries caused by the assault: grave injury, medium injury, and light injury. The state does not participate in the prosecution of assault resulting in "light" injuries, so any victim, including victims of domestic assault, who receives only "light" injuries must personally file a complaint and proceed through the criminal system alone.

    The Penal Procedure Code provides for state prosecution for "medium" and "grave" injuries only where the victim and the perpetrator are not related. Domestic assault victims must proceed through the court system without the assistance of a prosecutor. Although the law on its face applies equally to men and women, it has a disparate impact on women because women are most commonly the victims of domestic assault.

    Several legal professionals suggested that this distinction between an assault by a relative and one by a relative reflects the societal view that the family's interests must be protected above that of the individual. One prosecutor stated, "a woman must decide for herself whether she wants to harm the family relationship through prosecution; the state will not damage the family by assisting her."

    A victim of domestic violence who attempts to prosecute her batterer on her own encounters significant hurdles at every step of the process. She must obtain a medical certificate from the Department of Criminal Medicine documenting her injuries. She also must also find her own witnesses, and police officers, who are often the only witnesses, frequently refuse to co-operate. She can ask the state prosecutor or the judge to help, but they are not obligated to do so, and the prosecutor does not participate in the proceedings. The Penal Procedure Code allows the prosecutor to intervene when the victim is in a position of dependence or is in a vulnerable position, but such intervention is rare. If a victim can afford it, she may hire a private attorney. One Regional Court judge explained the many difficulties that a victim may face while pursuing a case on her own.

    Even if a woman is able to overcome all of the obstacles to prosecuting her abuser and obtains a conviction, he will likely receive a light fine or a suspended jail sentence. Judges are generally reluctant to punish a man convicted of a domestic assault because, as one judge explained, "these men do not pose a danger to society in general." Additionally, a victim of domestic assault may file an action against the batterer for civil damages.

  2. Criminal Court Records

    Minnesota Advocates reviewed 43 criminal cases filed in the Sofia Regional Court between 1990 and 1992, of which many were startling in their brutality and in the court's reluctance to punish the perpetrator. The courts frequently were satisfied if the parties agreed to reconcile. The cases demonstrated the difficulties women face when they must prosecute their batterers without the assistance of a state prosecutor. A Bulgarian attorney who assisted with the review observed: "I never supposed things were so bad... women who really want to prosecute their violent husband do not get any support." Only seven cases (16 percent) resulted in a conviction. Two cases received a not-guilty verdict (5 percent) and thirty-four cases (79 percent) resulted in an abandonment of the criminal procedure (because of absence of the plaintiff at the hearing, or because plaintiff and defendant reconciled).

    The Penal Code provision limiting prosecutorial support to cases of "grave" injury in itself victimises women by allowing for extreme prosecutorial discretion in determining the level of injury. In one case a woman asserted in her complaint that her husband beat her severely, resulting in a concussion and a week's hospitalisation, when she tried to move out of their apartment with her child. She received no assistance from the state prosecutor's office. In another case, a divorce complaint described a history of assaults by the husband, continuing after the couple separated. In one incident, the man beat his wife with a movable wooden door sill all over her head and body and according to a medical certificate she sustained "a large number of massive bruises on both arms, on the body . . . and fracture of the fifth bone of the right palm." But her injuries were categorised as light and medium level so she was not entitled to the expertise of the state prosecutor's office. She tried to prosecute the case on her own but the court found that she did not meet the six-month statute of limitations and declared that the criminal procedure must be abandoned. In both cases, the court asked the parties to reconcile. The abusers promised the court they would have "polite relations" with the women they abused and they had to pay light fines.

    The courts often are reluctant to convict the abusers despite the evidence. In one case, the medical certificate, offered as evidence at trial, documented serious facial injuries and bruises all over a women's body. Even though there were no procedural issues to support a dismissal, and there was also evidence that the abuser acted aggressively against the police who arrived at the scene, the court dismissed the complaint. In another case, the appellate court reversed a lower court murder conviction of a man who systematically abused his girlfriend. On the night of her death, he had beaten the woman for an hour. Despite abundant evidence the appellate court reversed the decision stating that the systematic violence and harassment of a victim could only be the basis for a conviction if the victim was materially or otherwise dependent on the accused. The court also referred to victim's "liberal life" and pointed out that she had "had sex with many men."

2. Police Response to Domestic Violence

The police do not receive any specialised training in responding to incidents of domestic violence. Virtually all of the men and women interviewed express the opinion that the police would not respond effectively, if at all, to a call from a woman who has experienced a domestic assault. One human rights advocate explained, "women will not turn to the police in cases of domestic violence. When they do call, the local police will only call the husband with a warning." A representative of the National Police acknowledged that police do not pay much attention to "domestic disputes." The representative explained that often when a neighbour calls the police neither the man nor the woman co-operates with the investigation when the police arrive.

Even in cases of assault resulting in grave injury, which the law requires the state to prosecute, police may fail to investigate. A surgeon at the Emergency Hospital in Sofia described several cases of domestic assault injuries that he had treated that were not investigated by the police. In one case, a man stabbed his wife in the abdomen and chest causing liver, bladder and intestinal damage. The man came to the hospital and apologised to this wife for his behaviour. The woman was afraid to prosecute her husband because she thought he would kill her if she tried. Because the woman did not file a complaint, the police stopped the investigation.

3. Informal and Administrative Procedures

In some cases, police and prosecutors become informally involved in domestic violence cases. If a battered woman complains to the police about an incident of domestic violence, it is common practice for the police to call the batterer and warn him to stop assaulting the victim. The police create a record of these complaints and warnings. The prosecutor may also call the batterer to stop the abuse and documents the discussion in a record of warning. The prosecutors explained that the purpose of the warning is to appeal to the batterer's social or moral conscience. These warnings, however, are not used as a basis for prosecution nor are they used as evidence against a batterer in court if the abuse continues.

The law provides for involuntary treatment for alcoholism in cases where domestic assault appears to be connected with alcoholism. The prosecutors noted that a significant number of men who undergo involuntary treatment continue to abuse their partners. However, involuntary treatment is usually they only remedy prosecutors are willing to seek in cases of domestic assault involving alcohol abuses.

In Bulgaria, there is no procedure similar to a protective order or an injunction to prohibit an abusive spouse or partner from making contact with the victim of a domestic assault.

4. Divorce Laws

A couple may divorce by mutual consent under Bulgarian law and, in that circumstance, the court does not inquire into the reasons for the breakdown of the marital relationship. If only one of the parties is seeking a divorce, that party must establish fault. Even in divorce proceedings, women are reluctant to discuss violence and will often cite other reasons for the divorce when their husbands are physically abusing them. Therefore, when violence is the cause for divorce, the court may never be aware of it and thus may not adequately consider it in its resolution of a case.


There is no simple explanation for violence against women in the home. Research indicates that domestic violence has its roots in the subordinate role women have traditionally held in private and public life. It is a function of the belief that men are superior and that women are possessions to be treated as men see appropriate. An observer has noted that in this region, "if a husband beats his wife in the presence of neighbours and children, it is considered that he has thereby gained a point to the advantage of his authority. A husband is the master of his wife and its is his right to beat her."

In Bulgaria, many sources reported that domestic violence seems to have increased since Bulgaria's transition to democracy in 1989. They attributed this increase to serious economic problems which create tension in the family. Sources also reported that increased alcoholism since the transition from Communism aggravates the problem of domestic violence.

EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11

Job Advertisements

The Sofia-based Media Research Group analysed job offers in specialised classifieds columns in two Bulgarian newspapers: 24 Hours, a national daily, and Trud, published by the German publishing group VAZ. Both have the highest circulation in Bulgaria. Trud publishes identical job offers in the daily and in Courier , the most popular specialised advertising publication. The Media Research Group analysed 8,180 advertisements over a two-month period from May to June 1997 which provided a representative sample of advertising that appears throughout the year. They found gender and age restrictions in 2,534 advertisements (31 percent of all analysed ads) out of which 354 were for employment abroad.

Job offers for traditionally female occupations, such as cooks and hairdressers, show a clear priority for women, while traditionally male occupations, such as welders and crane-operators, show a clear priority for men. Some traditionally women's/men's occupations do not explicitly mention gender, but they have an age limitation which differs by gender, and is "up to 25" for women, and "up to 35 for men." The offers for qualified labour show a preference for men (104 to 76) and 30 percent of them have an additional age limit.

The Media Research Group found that a large number of offers do not list job characteristics (97 ads). These jobs may contain hidden offer for another type of labour, such as sexual obligations, or contain some type of illegality. Some contained phrases such as "housemaids without prejudices," "intelligent girls for work on the telephone," or "high income for ambitious person." On the other hand, some ads list requirements that are not typical or obligatory for a given profession. For instance, some ads for a secretary do not mention computer skills, but list a requirement of attractiveness and indicate an age level. Although direct statements concerning sexual obligations appear only sporadically in the employment ads, requirements of attractiveness and appeal, including humiliating requirements of descriptions and photos, are common. Descriptions and photos also were required in 52 ads for women to work inside Bulgaria, and in 25 ads for employment abroad.




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