SOFIA, Bulgaria?Nearly 170 children died from lack of care in Bulgarian homes for the disabled in the past 10 years, including malnutrition and accidents, according to a report released Monday.
Children in the state-run homes were also tied to their beds or wheelchairs, or "chemically immobilized," and there were claims of sexual abuse, according to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) report.
Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Boris Velchev said Monday that about 200 investigations were opened this month into the alleged abuse, with most of the deaths never reported to police or authorities, or subject to autopsies.
The BHC report was based on investigations by prosecutors and human rights experts since March at all the country's 26 social care homes, which shelter 1,350 disabled children.
From a total of 238 deaths at these institutions in the past 10 years, three-fourths could have been prevented, the report said.
Preliminary findings concluded that 166 resulted from "lack of care" by personnel at the institutions.
According to the report, these included 31 deaths from malnutrition, 84 from neglect, 13 from poor hygiene, six from accidents such as drowning or freezing, 36 from pneumonia and two from abuse.
In 15 cases, the experts could not determine the cause of death.
"Some 238 children died (in social care homes) over the past 10 years but neither police nor investigators were informed about 80 percent of these cases and no autopsies were executed," Velchev told a press conference.
"The documentation (on the cases) was jumbled or manipulated," he added.
Checks at eight of the homes found at least 17 cases of "illegal physical immobilization of children through tying their arms and legs or binding them to their beds or wheelchairs to control them," BHC said.
It also recorded 90 cases of "chemical immobilization" in which children were given strong tranquilizing drugs.
"During the checks we also found 103 children suffering from malnutrition," said BHC lawyer Margarita Ilieva.
The prosecution is also probing an additional 27 cases of assault as well as some cases of sexual abuse in the homes.
"We are determined to conclude the investigations and punish those responsible," Velchev added.