Disabled children abused, starved
Sofia - Mentally disabled children at some state-run institutions in Bulgaria were being abused, neglected and in some cases starved to death, a report released by a human rights watchdog said on Monday.
The non-governmental Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) noted in its report that "at least" two out of three deaths over the past decade were avoidable.
The committee said it had inspected "all social homes for children with mental disabilities in Bulgaria," along with officials from the state prosecutor's office.
"This investigation is unprecedented in terms of its range and results. What we discovered confirmed (...) children were dying from neglect," Yana Buhrer Tavanier of the BHC said during a news conference in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
Chief state prosecutor Boris Veltchev said at the news conference that an official investigation has been launched.
The committee's report showed that of the 238 deaths at 23 institutions countrywide, 31 resulted from malnutrition or starvation, 84 from neglect and 13 from infections linked to poor hygiene.
Six children were found to have frozen to death, drowned or suffocated, while 36 succumbed to pneumonia and died after long-term exposure to the cold or immobility.
Two deaths were a consequence of violence and 15 deaths were never explained, the committee said. In 90 of the deaths, post-mortems were not performed.
Most of the children - 149 - died in the homes that were supposed to care for them. They had not been sent to hospitals despite their failing health and "were left there to die," the report said.
The homes for mentally handicapped children, meanwhile, continue to malnourish and physically restrain their patients, as well as make them undergo therapies involving dangerous drugs, the BHC said.
During the inspections, 103 children were found in a potentially life-threatening state of malnutrition, prosecutor Margarita Ilieva said at the news conference.
Seven cases of sexual abuse were also recorded, according to the report.
The BHC launched legal proceedings against the state a year ago over its reluctance to investigate cases of abuse in the special homes. The pressure resulted in the two sides agreeing to jointly inspect the institutions.