REYN Bulgaria






Roma people in Bulgaria

Roma are formally Bulgaria’s second largest minority group, representing approximately 325,343 or 5% of those who declared their ethnic identity during the 2011 census[i]. However, estimates range widely and some sociologists claim the actual number of Roma in Bulgaria to be more than twice the official statistic.

Roma began to settle in Bulgaria as early as the 13th century, coming from the Middle East and subsequently also from places such as Wallachia and Moldova. The three main groups of Roma today are Yerlii, Kardarashi and Rudari. Each is divided into subgroups, distinguishing themselves mainly by the dialect spoken and the traditional male craft.

Romani Children

While Bulgaria has achieved considerable reductions in infant mortality, its rate is still over 80% higher than the EU average (6.6 vs 3.6 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015). There is a significant fluctuation among regions and in settlements with concentrated Roma population, with levels up to 200% higher than the national average[ii].

Pre-term births account for half of all infant deaths in Bulgaria and limited access to prenatal healthcare is one of the leading risk factors. In regions with a high percentage of Roma, less than half of pregnant women receive prenatal checkups before the third lunar month.[iii] The young age of these mothers additionally increases the risk of preterm birth. Ten percent of all live births in Bulgaria are teen pregnancies (compared to 1% for the EU), and this is an issue that disproportionately impacts the Roma.

Malnourishment is another health risk that puts Romani children at a disadvantage. The level of anemia among Romani children aged 6-11 months is 61% compared to 37% among ethnic Bulgarian children. The relative share of Romani children aged 0-3 with growth delays (measured based on the World Health Organization’s criteria for height-to-weight ratio) is 30% compared to 8% for ethnic Bulgarians. Stunted growth results in susceptibility to infectious diseases as well as in poorer cognitive, motor, social-emotional, and neurophysiologic development[iv].

Half of Bulgaria’s Roma live in illegal neighborhoods, with 80% of all residents in these neighborhoods lacking access to sewage and hot water. Many homes also lack running water and electricity[v]. Many live in fear of eviction[vi]. These deplorable conditions result in high incidences of preventable and chronic diseases among Roma children. They also affect their school attendance and economic potential.

Early childhood education and care

At present, 23% of new entrants into Bulgaria’s labor force are Roma or individuals living in marginalized communities[vii]. Roma currently experience great gaps in educational outcomes, with only half finishing junior high, less than 15% completing high school, and less than 1% earning a university degree. Cost barriers, teacher discrimination, pressure from social norms within Roma society, a lack of professional role models, and outdated curriculum and teaching methods all influence this outcome.

To prepare for a possible future where Roma and individuals living in Roma communities make up 46-50% of Bulgaria youth[viii], it is essential that targeted and long-term projects and policies address and reduce these educational gaps. The importance of early education in providing an equal start to school has been gaining recognition in recent years, with two years of preschool currently being mandatory.

The country’s 1,894 kindergartens and preparatory groups at primary schools provide preschool education to 79% of all 3-6 year-old children[ix]. Impressively, enrollment among Romani children has increased from an estimated 45%[x] in 2011 to 68%[xi] in 2015. Today, one in ten municipalities offer free or low-cost kindergarten during at least the two mandatory preschool years. Yet in the absence of a national policy to remove kindergarten fees, financial constraints continue to limit the participation of many children from disadvantaged communities[xii]. The ongoing optimization of educational infrastructure in response to urban migration has resulted in a 10% reduction in the number of kindergartens during the period 2011-2016[xiii]. Villages, where Roma are concentrated, are particularly affected by this process. Urban ghettos suffer disproportionately from a lack of free places at kindergartens.

For Romani children to achieve better cognitive, social, and emotional competencies, the learning environment and kindergarten teacher preparedness may need to improve[xiv]. Currently, 50% of kindergarten teachers are aged 50 and older[xv], and there are few high quality professional development opportunities available. Discriminatory attitudes persist among one in every five kindergarten teachers[xvi]. Very few teachers are of Roma origin, yet entire kindergartens are attended by only Romani children. Greater emphasis may be needed on working with Romani parents to sustain their engagement in children’s learning after enrollment in kindergarten[xvii].


As one of the newest members of the international family of REYN networks, REYN Bulgaria strives to:

  • Offer positive role models in the early childhood development of Roma children by encouraging and supporting students from Roma communities in their pursuit of a career in professional fields such as teaching and nursing
  • Improve the quality of services for young Romani children through professional development opportunities such as training, local and international exchanges, and the dissemination of international best practices
  • Integrate healthcare and early education more effectively, such as through the production of handbooks for educators on how to help parents maintain a healthy diet for their children using easy to prepare, low-cost recipes
  • Unite advocacy efforts to improve access, quality and results for Roma children by supporting its members in promoting success stories and by becoming a respected source for policy recommendations and thought leadership.
Go to the Trust for Social Achievement’s website at


[i] National Statistical Institute (2011). Population Census Main Results 2011. Retrieved on 30.6.2018 from

[ii] OECD/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. 2017. България: Здравен профил за страната 2017, State of Health in the EU, OECD Publishing, Paris/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, Brussels.

[iii] UNICEF (2011). Children and Women in Bulgaria – 2011: Situation Analysis

[iv] NCPHA, RHI (2007) National Nutrition Survey of infants and young children up to age 5.

[v] Dimitrov, D., Grigorova, V., Decheva, D. 2013. Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Bulgaria.

[vi] Mihailova, D., Kachamov, A. 2017. Roma Evictions and Demolition of Roma Houses: A Sustainable Solution for Roma Integration or a Problem of Roma Discrimination in Bulgaria?, at

[vii] de Laat, J. (April 2010). Economic Costs of Roma Exclusion. World Bank

[viii] Ilieva, N. (2016). Projection of the Roma Population (2020-2050). Trust for Social Achievement.

[ix] National statistical institute (2017). Kindergartens, children, pedagogical staff, places and groups in the kindergartens by statistical zones, statistical regions, districts and municipalities Downloaded on 19.04.2018

[x] The World Bank. Toward an Equal Start: Closing the Early Learning Gap for Roma Children In Eastern Europe. 2012.

[xi] Huillery, E, de Laat, J. Gertler, P. (2017) Supporting Disadvantaged Children To Enter Kindergarten: Experimental Evidence From Bulgaria. World Bank Group.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] National statistical institute (2017). Kindergartens, children, pedagogical staff, places and groups in the kindergartens by statistical zones, statistical regions, districts and municipalities

2016/2017 year. Downloaded on 19.04.2018

[xiv] Huillery, E, de Laat, J. Gertler, P. (2017) Supporting Disadvantaged Children To Enter Kindergarten: Experimental Evidence From Bulgaria. World Bank Group.

[xv] National statistical institute (2017) Pedagogical staff in kindergartens by age Downloaded on 19.04.2018   от

[xvi] The Psychological Society of Bulgaria. (2011) National representative survey: Stereotypes and Prejudices in textbooks, teaching aids and educational programs and plans preparatory and basic education. Commission for Protection against Discrimination

[xvii] Huillery, E, de Laat, J. Gertler, P. (2017) Supporting Disadvantaged Children To Enter Kindergarten: Experimental Evidence From Bulgaria. World Bank Group.