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Abandoned Children in Bulgaria
Sofia, Bulgaria
By Simon Letellier
29 Sep 2014

Bulgaria is one of the countries in the world most affected by the abandonment of children. Every year, 2,000 babies are placed in state institutions, while over 7,000 infants and teenagers live without parents. This practice of abandoning children is a by-product of the family policy in the countries that were part of the Soviet Union. In these countries, the state or "homeland" acted as the surrogate mother for abandoned children and took care of families. As a result, thousands of children in Bulgaria have grown up without proper care and affection. The shocking images of the Rumanian orphanages in the eighties opened the eyes of the authorities and public opinion about these child prisons. In 2009, a BBC report showing wild children in Bulgaria fighting for food and living in terrible conditions greatly upset the population. Over the last few years, NGOs, the European Union, and Unicef have mobilized in an effort to close these orphanages. The state of Bulgaria also decided on a national plan to close the institutions. The authorities made a commitment to provide alternative housing and care for these children, which involves developing a network of host families, facilitating adoption processes, helping the biological families financially to encourage them to keep their children, and creating small institutions to help handicapped children (42 % of the abandoned children suffer from a disability). But what really needs addressing is the causes behind the high level of abandonment. Poverty, lack of access to healthcare (among the Roma minority in particular), poor sexual education, and the high price and inaccessibility of contraceptives are all issues that contribute to the problem. This is a colossal challenge for the poorest country in the European Union, compounded by corruption. Another angle to the story: ‘Mothers in Chains’ After being abandoned, the child has to grow up without a mother. Placed in an institution, they are surrounded by women who will give them care and affection. Nurses, nannies, volunteers and, in the best cases, a family assistant if there is placement in host family or foster mother if they are lucky enough to be adopted. To make up for the absence of the biological mother, surrogate mothers' chain is going to be set up. Who are these women who devote themselves to taking care of these abandoned children? How do they work? What are the aftereffects on the children after having so many different maternal relationships?

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Shumen
By Simon Letellier
02 Jul 2014

A nurse plays with two children in the garden of Shumen Institution, the oldest institution in Bulgaria. Built in 1935, it has previously housed hundreds of children. Because of de-institutionalization, they are now less than a dozen children within its walls, all with disabilities. Children with lighter disabilities come to spend the day there before heading back to their homes at night.

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Abandoned Children 13
Shumen, Bulgaria
By Simon Letellier
02 Jul 2014

Shumen Institution is the oldest one in Bulgaria. Built in 1935, it has previously housed hundreds of children. Because of de-institutionalization, they are now less than a dozen children within its walls, all with disabilities. Children with lighter disabilities come to spend the day there before heading back to their homes at night.

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Abandoned Children 12
Targovishte, Bulgaria
By Simon Letellier
01 Jul 2014

Zlatka Rizaeva, a nurse at the Turghovist Institution, takes care of a young disabled boy in the room where all the seven disabled children sleep at the institution.
As Rizaeva introduces us to the seven children, a girl holds on her two legs. Others spend their days sleeping, coiled in their colored sheets, sometimes unable to move. "It is very hard this work with them," admits Rizaeva. "They need a lot of care. And then, our job is often depreciated. People have difficulty understanding our everyday life here. They do not think of the many positive things this kind of institution offers."