Decision in Equal Rights Trust v Bulgaria published by European Committee of Social Rights

On 27 March 2019, the European Committee of Social Rights (the “Committee”) published its Decision on the Merits of the complaint Equal Rights Trust v Bulgaria (No. 121/2016), which was lodged by the Trust on 25 April 2016.

In the complaint, the Trust alleged that three legislative measures under the Bulgarian Family Allowances for Children Act – which stipulate the circumstances under which monthly family allowances are to be paid, suspended and terminated – are in breach of Articles 12§3 (right to social security), 16 (right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection for the family), and 17§2 (right of children and young persons to appropriate social, legal and economic protection) of the Revised European Social Charter (the “Charter”). Moreover, the Trust argued that these measures are racially discriminatory, in that the Roma community is more likely to be adversely affected than other ethnic groups, as well as being discriminatory against women, in violation of Article E taken in conjunction with Article 16 of the Charter.

In its Decision, the Committee held that whilst there was no violation of the Charter arising from the mandatory provision of in-kind family allowances (rather than cash payments) for mothers under 18 years old, the suspension or termination of family allowances when a child stops attending school (even if the child returns to school) and the termination of family allowances when the child becomes a parent were in violation of Article 16 of the Charter. Moreover, these latter two measures were held to amount to discrimination against Roma, and in particular Roma female minors, in violation of Article E in conjunction with Article 16 of the Charter. The Committee took note of evidence submitted by the Trust regarding the very high birth rate among Roma mothers under 18 years old, compared to the rest of the population, as well as the high school drop-out rates of children from Roma communities, in concluding that “the legislation has a disproportionate impact on Roma and on female minors”.

Joanna Whiteman, Co-Director at the Trust, has stated: “We welcome the decision of the Committee and, in particular its recognition of the discriminatory nature of the provisions. The Committee’s recognition of the existence of intersectional discrimination in this case, through its acknowledgment of the particular impact of the measures on Roma female minors is important. However, whilst the Committee’s decision is a positive outcome, it is not the end-point, and the Trust is committed to working with its national partners to seek implementation of the Committee’s decision.”

Vania Kaneva, Head of Projects and Advocacy at “For Our Children Foundation”, has been working closely with those affected by the measures and, together with her colleagues, provided valuable support with the bringing of this complaint. On receiving the Committee’s decision, Vania emphasised the challenges that remain in Bulgaria: “Rather than taking note of the Committee’s decision and repealing the measures in question, the Bulgarian government is currently proposing to extend these measures by introducing an even more restrictive regime, which would see all child benefits being terminated for a whole year if a child skips more than three lessons in school or kindergarten without an official reason. If adopted, this will have a highly discriminatory impact on children from the poorest and most marginalised social groups.”

The Trust is extremely concerned about these legislative proposals and urges the Bulgarian authorities to take steps to implement the Committee’s decision by repealing the impugned measures.

The Trust is particularly grateful to Tom Royston of Garden Court North Chambers, who represented the Trust on a pro bono basis.

To read the full judgment, click here.

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