Violence Against Women in Bulgaria
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 Population of women: 3,875,100/7,497,300
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 78
School life expectancy of women: 14
Women's adult literacy: 98%
Unemployment of women: 5.8%

Women engaged in economic activity: 48%


Source: UN Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated June 2011








Contributed by Liliya Sazonova, National VAW Monitor for Bulgaria.


Gender Equality

The Bulgarian accession to the European Union on 1 January 2007 required important changes to existing Bulgarian legislation and new legislation with a view toward equal treatment for women and men and the protection of women’s rights in general. In this respect, significant laws aimed at improving women’s rights in the country have been adopted in recent years. Examples of these include the Law on Protection against Discrimination (2004), the Law on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings (2004), the Law on the Ombudsman (2004), and the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence (2005). At the same time, the Bill on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men was twice rejected by the National Assembly in 2002 and 2003. Although a new draft of this Bill was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2006, it has not passed through the National Assembly.

On 1 January 2004, the Law on the Protection against Discrimination (LPD) (unofficial translation), which prohibits all forms of discrimination based on age, gender, ethnic group, national origin, education, family status, and property status, came into force. The Commission for the Protection against Discrimination is charged with ensuring the principle of equal opportunity is applied in practice.  The Commission is also charged with enforcing the LPD by investigating complaints, issuing rulings and imposing sanctions. Although there have been some cases regarding gender discrimination brought under the LPD, individuals generally are not well informed of the right to bring complaints to the Commission or to court.

Domestic Violence

Although statistics are difficult to come by due to underreporting by victims and a lack of accurate statistics from police, prosecutors, judges or other service providers, the U.S. Department of State reported that one in four women have been victims of domestic violence in Bulgaria.

On 16 March 2005, the National Assembly adopted the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence (LPADV) (BGRF's unofficial translation sponsored by the Bulgarian Fund for Women).  The LPADV came into force on 29 March 2005 and is successfully being used in courtrooms across the country. According to Article 2 of the LPADV, domestic violence is: “any act of physical, mental or sexual violence, and any attempted such violence, as well as the forcible restriction of individual freedom and of privacy, carried out against individuals who have or have had family or kinship ties or cohabit or dwell in the same home.”

Under Article 5, “[p]rotection against domestic violence shall be implemented through any of the following: (1) placing the respondent under an obligation to refrain from applying domestic violence; (2) removing the respondent from the common dwelling-house for a period specified by the court; (3) prohibiting the respondent from getting in the vicinity of the home, the place of work, and the places where the victim has his or her social contacts or recreation…; (4) temporarily relocating the residence of the child with the parent who is the victim or with the parent who has not carried out the violent act at stake…; [and] (5) placing the respondent under an obligation to attend specialised programmes….”

A protection order under the first four of these measures may be implemented for up to one year. In all cases of violence, the court shall also make the respondent liable by a fine of 200 to 1000 Levs (100 to 500 Euros). Applications and requests for protection orders must be filed within one month of the incident of domestic violence, and a hearing must be held within 30 days of the filing of the application. However, in situations involving an impending threat to the life or health of the victim, an emergency protection order will be issued within 24 hours of the court receiving the application.

The first protection order under the LPADV was issued on 12 May 2005 when the Regional Court in Russe ordered a husband who was a perpetrator of domestic violence to be removed from the home he commonly inhabited with his wife for a period of one year.  The order also banned him from approaching the home and places where he might have social contact with the victims (his wife and children) for the same period. The LPADV has been increasingly used since it was enacted. According to reports from NGOs to The Advocates for Human Rights, in 2006, more than 2,000 cases were brought and more than 800 orders for protection were issued nationwide. By the end of 2006, 80 cases had been brought under the LPADV in Sofia, and 40 had been brought in Plovdiv. In 2007, 316 petitions for protection orders were initiated under the LPADV in Sofia, 205 of which resulted in orders being issued. In the same period, 132 cases were initiated in Plovdiv and 32 final orders were issued. However, Bulgarian law does not include criminal penalties, apart from an arrest, for failing to comply with a protection order. The LPADV states that, [i]n the event of failure to comply with the court order, the police authority having found such failure shall arrest the offender and notify forthwith the prosecutorial authorities.”

The LPADV provides that the State is responsible for ensuring the implementation of programs aimed at the prevention of and protection against domestic violence, as well as programs providing assistance to the victims. In furtherance of this mandate, on 19 October 2006, the Council of Ministers adopted the Protection from Domestic Violence Program. The Program sought to address the problem of protection order enforceability, to toughen sanctions for repeat offenders, and to open a 24-hour telephone hotline and provide shelters for victims.  In early 2007, domestic violence guidance for police officers was published, national and regional coordinators were chosen, and a case database was made.  However, the services envisioned by the Program continue to be provided by non-governmental organizations only, and the Penal Code has not been amended to penalize non-compliance with protection orders.  Bulgarian courts reviewed more than 2,000 domestic violence cases in 2006, and ruled in favor of about 40% of them.

Overall, police are responsive to domestic violence problems. Police training has improved, but a coherent data collection system is lacking. For this reason, police response to domestic violence incidents varies widely. The Ministry of the Interior created guidelines in March 2007 that will hopefully help the police coordinate efforts and standardize their responses to domestic violence. Notably, the police are also assisting victims file emergency orders for protection, although some advocates state that most of such orders are filed not with police assistance, but through the work of NGOs or lawyers.

The police are also responsible, under the LPADV, to enforce orders for protection. Overall, they are fulfilling that role adequately. But, when violations occur, police officers are not equipped to deal with the problem. Bulgarian law does not expressly criminalize the violation of an order, so police often do not know what to do when such incidents occur.

National funding exists for the creation of domestic violence shelters, but none had been built as of 2007. Because the government was not assisting women with shelter or counseling, NGOs stepped in to fill the gap. The Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, for example, promotes community involvement with domestic violence, including through police and legal trainings. In 2007, only 15 crisis centers existed. More funding is needed to create shelters, fund NGOs, and implement programs for both victims and perpetrators, as required under Article 5 of the LPADV.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in general is not included in the country’s criminal code. However, the Law on Protection against Discrimination may also be used to identify sexual harassment as a type of discrimination.  That law defines harassment as, “any unwanted conduct on the grounds referred to in Article 4, Paragraph 1, expressed in a physical, verbal or any other manner, which has the purpose or effect of violating the person’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or intimidating environment, attitude or practice.”  Sexual harassment is defined as, “any unwanted conduct of sexual character expressed physically, verbally or in any other manner, which violates the dignity or honour or creates hostile, degrading, humiliating or intimidating environment and, in particular when the refusal to accept such conduct or the compulsion thereto could influence the taking of decisions, affecting the person.”

Article 5 of the Law on Protection against Discrimination states that harassment on the grounds of sex, among other statuses and sexual harassment “shall be deemed discrimination.” 

Article 17 requires employers who receive “a complaint from an employee, considering him/her-self a victim of harassment, including sexual harassment, at the workplace must immediately carry out an investigation, take measures to stop the harassment, as well as impose disciplinary sanction in case the harassment has been committed by another worker or employee.”  Article 31 requires the same of “training institutions” who receive complaints from students.  If a student complains about a staff member or another student, the institution, “must immediately carry out an investigation and take measures to stop the harassment, as well impose a disciplinary sanction.”

Nonetheless, anti-discrimination is not enforced effectively.

Sexual Assault

Rape is punishable under Article 152 of the Criminal Code, which has been amended several times over the years.  The elements of rape under Article 152 are that the victim is 1, “unable to defend herself and without her consent,” 2, the act is committed “by compelling her to it by force or threat,” and 3, the act brings “her to a helpless state.” 

The punishment for rape is from two to eight years imprisonment under those circumstances. The punishment rises from three to ten years imprisonment 1, if the victim is under the age of 16, 2, if it is a case of incest, and 3, if it is a second offense.  The punishment is stipulated to be three to fifteen years if “it has been committed by two or more persons” or there is a danger of recidivism.  Finally, the punishment is imprisonment of ten to twenty years if “the rape has caused a serious bodily harm or a suicide has followed.”

However, the European Court of Human Rights held in M. C. v. Bulgaria that rape cases are not effectively prosecuted.  In fact, the Court found that investigative and prosecutorial bodies only prosecute cases when the rape victim fights back against the attacker, leaving those victims unable or unwilling to fight back without the protection of the law. Moreover, the social stigma attached to rape makes it difficult for many victims to come forward after being assaulted. This, according to NGOs, is more of a problem than is the lack of will to investigate rape charges.  Another problem is that spousal rape is not recognized as rape in the law.


Trafficking continues to be a problem in BulgariaBulgaria is used as a point of transit, origin, and, to a lesser extent, final destination. Trafficking mostly involves women and girls who are sexually exploited. Large criminal organizations control most urban trafficking, while smaller groups and individuals usually control rural trafficking.  NGOs point out that people most at-risk for trafficking are women between the ages of 16 and 24 with little education and few family ties, as well as minorities, especially Roma women, and women engaged in prostitution.

Trafficking in human beings has been a criminal offense under the Bulgarian Criminal Code since 2002.  Moreover, on 7 May 2003, the Law on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings was adopted by the 39th National Assembly and came into force in January 2004. The law itself defines trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, concealment, or acceptance of human beings, regardless of their own will, by means of coercion, abduction, deprivation of liberty, fraud, abuse of power, abuse of a state of dependence, or by means of giving, receiving, or promising benefits to obtain the consent of a person.” 

The Law on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings created a National Anti-Trafficking Commission in 2004 which set up as the main policy-making and coordinating body.  The Commission is to ensure that programs, such as temporary shelters and centers for protection and assistance, are implemented on both the national and local level.

The National Program on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for 2005, adopted on 26 January 2005 at a session of the National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking, aims to build administrative structures, increase society’s knowledge of the human trafficking problem, and institute mechanisms for its limitation.

Bulgaria also signed the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings on 22 November 2006. Bulgaria ratified the Convention on 17 April 2007, becoming one of the first ten countries to do so, and the Convention came into effect in Bulgaria on 1 February 2008. This is the first European Convention in the area of trafficking to become effective in Bulgaria, and it provides for the prevention of human trafficking, the prosecution of traffickers, and the protection of victims. The Convention also envisions the creation of local commissions to combat human trafficking. 

Punishment for trafficking ranges from one to eight years in prison and maximum fines of just under US$6,000 (8,000 leva).

Between October 2006 and February 2007, there were 287 indictments under various provisions of the penal code for trafficking in persons. In the same timeframe, 656 persons were convicted for trafficking.  The International Organization for Migration helped around 60 victims in 2007.  Police report breaking up 16 trafficking rings from January through September 2007, and, according to the U.S. Department of State, 71 traffickers were convicted in 2006.

Two police units, the National Border Police and the Chief Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, work to end trafficking, including by partnering with NGOs to identify and assist trafficking victims.  Moreover, there is a 24-hour hotline run by the NGO Animus Association Foundation (AAF) for trafficking-related calls.


In addition to the state enforcement mechanisms described above, the ombudsman serves to reinforce the legal provisions.  The Law on the Ombudsman, in force since 1 January 2004, provides that the Ombudsman shall intervene when the citizens' rights and freedoms are violated through the acts or omissions of the state. The National Assembly appointed Mr. Ginio Ganev as the first Ombudsman under this law in April 2005.

Despite the adoption of the ombudsmen legislation, progress towards its implementation has reportedly been slow. Although legal mechanisms for protection exist, they are reportedly not used. Effective means of cooperation between the different institutions to be established under the various laws is developing and ongoing.

One example is the state-financed shelters for victims of domestic violence. Although the State is to provide shelters and rehabilitation for victims of violence under the Law on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings and the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence, the State has reportedly taken little action to fulfill its responsibility to establish these programs. As of 2007, the government did, however, run three shelters for children that were victims of violence and trafficking.

This lack of implementation is compounded by a lack of adequate funding allocated to achieving the legislation’s goals and implementing the legislation’s programs. Although the laws state that funding is to be designated for the creation of certain programs, they do not designate the amount of the state’s or municipalities’ budget to be allocated to these programs. It is therefore left to the different bodies of the state to determine how much, if any, of their budgets will be allocated. In addition, there are shelters and crisis centers that have closed or are about to close due to the lack of funding after international organizations that supported them began to withdraw. A lack of funding is also apparent in the State’s efforts to provide psychological and legal assistance for survivors of violence, operating hot-lines for victims of violence, and conducting training programs for law enforcement professionals to implement the adopted legislation. All such activities remain initiatives of the non-governmental sector in Bulgaria and rely mainly on external sources of funding. 

Compiled from:

Country Report on Human Rights in Bulgaria, U.S. Department of State, March 2007.

Equal Opportunities for Women and Men: Monitoring Law and Practice in Bulgaria, Center of Women’s Studies and Policies, 2005. (PDF, 67pages).

Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2006, Annual Report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, March 2007. (Word document, 51 pages).

Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2007, Annual Report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, April 2008. (Word document, 50 pages).

Implementation of the Bulgarian Law on Protection against Domestic Violence, The Advocates for Human Rights (2008). (PDF, 71 pages.)

Ministry of the Interior, Completed pre-trail cases, indictments submitted to the court, accused and convicted persons for trafficking in human beings for the period 1 October 2006 – 23 February 2007.

Monitoring the EU Accession Process, Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Executive Report for Bulgaria, Open Society Institute, 2002. (PDF, 8 pages).

Violence Against Women: Does the Government Care in Bulgaria?, Open Society Institute, 2007. (PDF, 79 pages). 

Women 2000 - An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, 2000. (PDF, 19 pages).