Young people, at risk or in conflict with the law in Bulgaria are meeting regularly in Rousse, in order to voice their opinion on the justice system, and to contribute to the development of training material for justice professionals. They have mentioned emphatically how much abuse they have experienced from authority figures, like police.
As part of the EU-funded AWAY project Children's Advisory Boards have been set up, as an area where children and adolescents can be informed about children's rights and children's justice, as well as understanding what is the deviation from criminal proceedings, to what extent and how it is done in project countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania). The Bulgarian Board gathers in Rousse (a district town in the North Bulgaria) and, has the task of giving information of its members on the topic, hearing children and young people's voice on children's rights and justice, as well as encouraging the sharing and reflection on personal experience from meetings with law enforcement institutions that, it turns out, are not unknown for the children.
The topic of abuse of power is very interesting for young people. It was raised as a result of several shared personal stories about the brutal attitude of police officers who were sent to them or who were involuntary witnesses.
-"Yes, it is true that we have been wrong, but they do not have to offend us and call us epithets," says a girl at age 16. She tells a story where a friend of hers - a driver committed a traffic violation. The car was stopped by a traffic police officers, who demanded - using an agry tone of voice and using insults- why the violation was committed.
What children see is an abuse of power and misconduct of people in their job roles. The experiences of children in such situations, especially when these are frequent or represent the first meeting of the child and the institution (through the adults they represent), persuade the child that this institution cannot be trusted and that she should not really care about them. Such convictions are often seen in children who violate the law.
Boards’ meetings continue all through the year. There are also shared discussions with representatives of various professionals - judges, prosecutors, lawyers, as well as an exchange meeting with students from America.
The project AWAY is co-funded by the European Union.