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    Bulgaria's Absent 'Skype Parents' Fostering Lost Generation

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    On International Children's Day, the Bulgarian press notes that over one quarter of its schoolchildren will mark the occasion by contacting their parents who work overseas using Skype, and not in person.

    The number of Bulgarian schoolchildren who have one parent working overseas has reached 26 percent, according to an investigation carried out by Risk Monitor, a Bulgarian research group. The report also  found the children to be at higher risk of social and developmental problems than their peers whose parents were living at home. 

    According to the study, funded by the children's charity UNICEF, children with both parents working overseas experience the greatest difficulties. The children perform worse at school, are more likely to be held behind a year in class, and fall ill more often. They also drink and smoke more in comparison with their peers. 

    "The most alarming fact is that 40 percent of children, whose parents are working overseas, get in trouble with the police. Their crimes are connected, above all, with the abuse of alcohol or marihuana," Dr. Petra Kabakchieva, a sociologist and one of the researchers of the study, told Radio Bulgaria on June 1, International Day for the Protection of Children.

    "This happens because they are being looked after by relatives, and there is a lack of control," says Kabakchieva, who explains "more often than not their guardianship is not legally regulated, and this becomes a problem when the child falls ill, or commits a crime."

    "Their grandmother or grandfather, who more often than not looks after these children, is not their guardian in the legal sense, and so can't take responsibility in such cases. There needs to be a change to the Family Code to institute 'temporary guardianship,' that is, to regulate the rights of people who are looking after these children." 

    Consultation groups to work with children, with their absent parents, and with their guardians in Bulgaria are necessary in order to deal with the issue, say the researchers, who also noted that the volume of calls to counselling services hot-lines from the children of parents working abroad has also risen in recent years. 

    Dr. Kabakchieva also presented the results of another study, which investigated the problems affecting the lives of so-called 'mobile' children, some of whom leave the country and go to school abroad for a time, or leave with their parents in April for summertime, seasonal work and return in October.

    Kabakchieva reported that their situation is not helped by the demands of Bulgarian schools, which suffer from "documental fetishism," and require at least seven documents from children who have missed school, often leading to demotivated children having to repeat the school year.

    According to data from the World Bank, Bulgaria's net migration for the five years to 2012 was minus 50,000. Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007; on January 1 2014 the last restrictions on the free movement of Bulgarians and Romanians in the European Union were lifted, enabling them to join the more than 3 million people from the two countries already living in other member states.

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