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Amnesty International: Bulgaria Should Close Children's Institution
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 23, 2004

DZHURKOVO, BULGARIA--In June of this year, a delegation from Amnesty International toured an institution at Dzhurkovo which houses 18 children with Down syndrome and 51 children with cerebral palsy.

In a report issued last week, Amnesty International said the visitors discovered that little had changed for the children since the organization visited 2 1/2 years earlier.

In fact, the researchers determined that the lack of consistent assessment, treatment and rehabilitation by qualified professionals "is profoundly damaging to the development of the Dzhurkovo children and deprives them of their fundamental right to life with dignity and respect in violation of international human rights standards."

The Bulgarian government has pointed out that the children now have individualized rehabilitation plans, which they did not have during the October 2001 visit. But Amnesty International learned that the new plans are generic in nature, that they do not take into account the children's individual needs, and that they appear to have been written merely to satisfy the government's need to have plans in the children's records.

Forty-three of the children continue to spend most or all of their time in bed, with little or no activities or therapies. One bored child who sat chewing on the frame of her bed in 2001 was seen in the same bed, chewing on the same frame.

The delegation also found that, while the institution does have more staff than before, none appear to have training on how to work with children who have disabilities.

The children also lack basic mental health treatment. Some who are on medications for mental illness are visited by a psychiatrist just once a year.

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that Dzhurkovo is located in a remote area, far from emergency medical facilities, and accessible by a mountain road that may not be passable in the winter.

Amnesty International is recommending that Dzhurkovo be closed and that the children moved from the isolated institution and be integrated into other facilities or homes in more urban communities.

For several years, international agencies such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized Bulgaria, which hopes to join the European Union in 2007, for its human rights abuses of children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.

Amnesty International noted, however, that it welcomes a recently-opened investigation into the deaths of 14 children in Dzhurkovo who died during the winter of 1997. Official reports at the time indicated that all of the children died of "acute heart failure". It is suspected that the children instead died of neglect, hypothermia and malnutrition.

Amnesty also published a story from the mother of a man with Down syndrome whom she rescued from an institution -- years after the government told her he had died.

"Children of Dzhurkovo denied life of dignity and respect" (Amnesty International)
"Give the children of Dzhurkovo a chance to realize their dreams" (Amnesty International)
"Monologue of a Mother" (Amnesty International)
"Bulgaria Makes Moves To Improve Mental Health Treatment" (Inclusion Daily Express -- September 20, 2004)


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