Legislative framework

Bulgarian national legislation

Criminal Code

Section IX of the Criminal Code criminalises trafficking in human beings setting out the elements of the crime of trafficking in human beings, both in-country and cross-border (see the definitions).

In addition to the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and accepting individuals or groups of people for the purpose of exploitation, punishable is also the use of victims of trafficking for debauchery, forced labour or begging, for the removal of an organ, cell, tissue or bodily fluid or for being held in forced servitude regardless of their consent.

The Criminal Code also contains a non-punishability clause (Article 16а of the Criminal Code) of victims of trafficking for the criminal acts they were forced to commit while in a situation of trafficking.

Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act

The Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act (CTHBA) generally defines the statutory obligations of State institutions in charge of countering trafficking in human beings and their interaction. It determines the status and tasks of shelters, centres and commissions for providing protection and assistance to victims of trafficking in human beings as well as the measures of protection and support to victims of trafficking in human beings, especially women and children.

The CTHBA also provides for special protection for victims of trafficking in human beings who cooperate with the investigation (see rights of victims).

The CTHBA does not set out an express reflection and recovery period for victims of trafficking. It is entailed by the provision of Article 26 which provides that after victims of trafficking in human beings have been identified, the pre-trial authorities (police, prosecutor’s office, investigation) are obligated to inform them immediately about the possibility to obtain special protection if, within one month, they state their consent to cooperate in the detection of the crime. This term may be extended to two months if the victim of trafficking is a child.

Criminal Procedure Code

The Criminal Procedure Code sets out generally the rights of victims of trafficking in human beings in criminal proceedings to detect the crime and punish the perpetrators.
Victims of trafficking may take part in the criminal proceedings as witnesses, civil claimants and/or private prosecutors.

As witnesses, they give witness testimony in pre-trial proceedings. At this stage, it is essential to avoid victimisation and trauma for the victims; to this end, use may be made of the possibility set out in the Criminal Procedure Code to interrogate victims in the presence of a judge in order to avoid repeated questioning of the victims during the trial in criminal proceedings.

The Criminal Procedure Code introduces the concept of “specific protection needs” of a witness in relation to their participation in criminal proceedings. Such are in place when additional means of protection are required against secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation and retaliation, emotional or psychological suffering, including preserving the victim’s dignity during questioning.

The specific needs for protection are established through an expert examination.

The questioning of a witness with specific needs takes place only after having taken measures to avoid contact with the person accused, including via video or telephone conferencing.

A victim of trafficking may be constituted as a civil claimant in judicial proceedings and claim compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as a result of the crime (see Compensation). To this end, however, the victim of trafficking needs to be supported by a lawyer (see Legal aid).

A victim of trafficking may also be involved in proceedings as a private prosecutor. This allows for further possibilities to examine the circumstances of the case objectively. In addition, a private prosecutor is not bound by the indictment of the prosecutor (public prosecution) – if the prosecutor states that the prosecution does not maintain the indictment, the private prosecutor may continue the case. Victims of trafficking however need a lawyer to exercise this right.

Pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code, criminal proceedings may end with a plea bargain between the prosecutor and the person accused which is approved by the court and has the effect of a sentence. A plea bargain is allowed for a certain category of cases but not for grave intentional crimes or such where death has occurred. A prerequisite for plea bargaining is the restoration or compensation for any pecuniary damage caused as a result of the crime. Another prerequisite for a plea bargain during the trial in criminal proceedings is the consent of all parties to implement it. In other words, if the victim of trafficking has been constituted as a civil claimant and/or private prosecutor, the victim needs to consent to the plea bargain.

The Criminal Procedure Code also allows for the possibility to impose restrictive measures with regard to the person accused to avoid contact with the victim of trafficking, for example, a prohibition to go near the victim, to come into contact with the victim or to visit certain places which the victim visits.

The Protection of Persons at Risk in Relation to Criminal Proceedings Act

envisages special protection for the participants in criminal proceedings, including their relatives and kin. The measures include personal physical security, accommodation in a safe place, change of residence in the country, relocation to another country and the most radical one – change of identity.

The Crime Victim Assistance and Financial Compensation Act

sets out the terms and procedure for providing support and financial compensation from the State to victims of crime. Victims of trafficking may claim – if they have not obtained compensation in the criminal proceedings or in separate civil proceedings after the end of the criminal proceedings – compensation for pecuniary damage of up to BGN 10,000. The procedure is administrative. Applications are reviewed by the National Council for Assistance and Compensation to Crime Victims with the Ministry of Justice (see Compensation).

The Legal Aid Act

sets out the terms and procedure for free legal aid – legal advice or procedural representation.
Victims of trafficking are entitled to free legal aid for consultation and preparation of documents to lodge a claim. If they do not avail of financial means and wish to be appointed an ex officio lawyer, they are entitled to request one. The decision is taken by the prosecutor’s office or the court depending on the stage of the criminal proceedings (pre-trial or trial) (see Legal aid).

Asylum and Refugees Act

Third-country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings may obtain protection from the State if they meet the requirements to be granted refugee or humanitarian status.

Refugee status is granted to a foreigner who reasonably fears persecution based on race, religion, nationality, affiliation with a social group or political views and/or convictions, is located outside their country of origin and, due to these reasons, is unable to or does not wish to benefit from the protection of that country or to return to it (by virtue of the 1951 Refugee Convention).

Victims of trafficking may also be granted humanitarian status if they are forced to leave or stay outside their country of origin because, in that country, they are at risk of actual danger of serious infringement such as:

  • Death penalty or execution;
  • Torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

A foreigner who has been granted humanitarian status has the rights and obligations of a foreigner with a permanent residence permit in the Republic of Bulgaria.

The Asylum and Refugees Act also lays down a prohibition for return in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention. A foreigner who entered the Republic of Bulgaria to request protection and who was granted protection may not be returned to the territory of a country where their life or freedom is at risk based on race, religion, nationality, affiliation with a social group or political views and the person is at risk of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Third-country victims of trafficking are deemed to be foreigners from a vulnerable group. This special situation needs to be taken into account at every stage of the procedure for granting international protection, including with respect to the placement in reception centres and the provision of medical assistance and support.

Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act

The Act sets out the terms and procedure for foreigners to enter, reside and leave Bulgaria. Third-country victims of trafficking in human beings may obtain a long-stay permit if they have been granted special protection status under the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act. To this end, they need to have consented to cooperating in detecting the crime and punishing the perpetrators (see Rights of the victims of trafficking).

Social Services Act

The new Social Services Act (effective as of 1 July 2020) introduced generally accessible and specialised social services. Generally accessible are the services related to information, advice and training which are provided for a period of up to two months; specialised are the services which are provided if there is a risk for one’s health and life or development, they are provided for a period of up to three months, one year or three years.

Pursuant to the Act, the right to social services is accorded to any person who needs support for prevention and/or exercise of rights, regardless of their age, health situation, education, income, social and property situation. Any discrimination in the provision of social services is prohibited.

Generally accessible social services are used without referral and preliminary needs assessment. Specialised social services are used upon referral from the Social Assistance Directorate, including with respect to the victims of trafficking in human beings.

If urgent support is needed for victims of trafficking in a crisis situation, the social services are provided without referral and the service provider notifies the Social Assistance Directorate immediately (Article 77, paragraph 3).

The Act sets out explicitly (Article 104, paragraph 1, item 6) that victims of trafficking do not pay a fee for social support services and shelter. Pursuant to the Additional Provisions, the provision of a shelter is “temporary accommodation in a safe environment” for victims of domestic violence and trafficking in human beings.

Child victims of trafficking where a parent or another person entrusted with providing care for the child is involved in the trafficking are placed outside the family at social services for child victims of trafficking.

When a social service provider reaches the maximum number of clients and is unable to accommodate more persons at one shelter, a waiting list shall be drawn up and services shall be provided according to the list. However, this does not apply to cases where urgent support is required for persons in a crisis situation as well as victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

Child Protection Act and its Implementing Regulations

The Child Protection Act envisages special protection for children at risk (Article 5). Pursuant to the CPA, a “child at risk” is a child whose parents have died, are unknown, deprived of parental rights or whose parental rights have been restricted or the child is left without their care; a child who is a victim of abuse, violence, exploitation or any other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in or outside their family; a child with respect to whom there is a risk of harm to their physical, mental, moral, intellectual and social development; a child with respect to whom there is a risk of school dropout or who has dropped out of school. A coordination mechanism with the Social Assistance Directorate ensures the protection of children at risk and child victims of violence and exploitation. The team is led by a social worker and must include representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the district prosecutor’s office and the municipality. If the team leader deems necessary, invitations may be extended to other specialists, for example a medical doctor, a representative of the educational institution for the child, a representative of the regional educational department etc. (Article 36d of the CPA).

In case the violence was committed by a parent, a person entrusted with the care for the child or a person to whom the child is entrusted, the child victim may be placed outside the family at a social service for child victims of violence or trafficking. In such cases, the Social Assistance Directorate may turn to the court or the prosecutor’s office to take measures with respect to the perpetrator under the Protection against Domestic Violence Act (Article 36e, paragraph 4).