What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in Bulgaria.
According to the National Statistical Institute, there were 481 marriages of Bulgarian girls under the age of 18 in 2015, and trends have been increasing since 2009.
According to a 2016 study, girls from remote, segregated Romani communities in Bulgaria continue to marry at a young age. The cohabitation of young girls is also common in Romani areas, including Burgas, Varna, Haskovo, Pazardzhik, Plovdiv, Sliven and Stara Zagora.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Bulgaria, child marriage is also driven by:
- Traditional customs: Some parents from Horahane Roma groups in Eastern Bulgaria reportedly marry off their daughters because they are scared they might be stolen. According to UNICEF, decisions around marriage are often made by a girl’s grandmother or mother.
- Traditional attitudes: 2013 research highlights that social workers and teachers think that child marriage among Roma communities cannot be solved, and that such attitudes stand in the way of addressing the complexity of the situation.
- Poverty: A 2016 study shows that for some Reshetari and Koshnichari groups, child marriage is driven by poor living conditions and a lack of family finances.
- Pre-marital sex: In Nikola Kochev district, child marriage is reportedly considered “possible” if a girl becomes pregnant or engages in pre-marital sex. In the Shumen region, relationships between girls and boys are regularly practiced and considered acceptable as long as the girl maintains her virginity.
- Level of education: Some girls drop out of school in order to take on household duties and marry, and some families reportedly lack the motivation to keep girls in school beyond primary level.
What has this country committed to?
Bulgaria has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Bulgaria co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights.
Bulgaria co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2016 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Bulgaria signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Bulgaria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1982, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Bulgaria agreed to examine recommendations to eliminate all forms of child marriage and raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.
During its 2016 review, the UN Child Rights Committee recommended that Bulgaria establish a system to track all cases of child marriage within ethnic groups, particularly among Roma girls, and to provide survivors with shelter and rehabilitation.
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
Three family centres are running programmes to prevent child marriages and promote access to secondary education for Roma adolescent girls. These programmes, which transform attitudes towards gender, have reached hundreds of Roma adolescents to date with health and education advice and support.
The government has been criticised by NGOs for addressing child marriage from an ethnic Romani perspective rather than addressing it as a broader gender problem.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
The minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men. Under the Family Code 2009, in exceptional cases, a person can enter into marriage at 16 with judicial consent.
European Roma and Travellers Forum, Making early marriage in Roma communities a global concern, 2013, (accessed May 2018)
Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage, [website], 2015, (accessed February 2018)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014,(accessed April 2018)
Pew Research Center, Marriage laws around the world, 2016, (accessed May 2018)
UNICEF, Roma Children, [website], undated, (accessed May 2018)
UNICEF Bulgaria, Research on the social norms which prevent Roma girls from access to education, 2016,(accessed May 2018)
UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria, 2016, p.9, (accessed May 2018)
UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Bulgaria, 2015, p.21, (accessed May 2018)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)
United States State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016, Bulgaria, 2017, (accessed May 2018)
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)