In the heart of Bulgaria lies a centuries-old tradition that has come under heavy criticism in recent years. The so-called “Bride Market” takes place in the town of Stara Zagora twice a year, in the spring and fall, and sees young girls as young as 13 being paraded in front of prospective husbands.
The girls, dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes, are evaluated and bid on by men who come from all over the country. While technically the girls are not forced into marriage, it’s clear that the tradition violates their human rights and is a clear indication of the gender inequality that exists in Bulgarian society.
Many of the girls who participate in the market come from poor families and see marriage as a way to escape poverty. In some cases, they are even pressured by their families to participate and accept any proposal, regardless of the age or suitability of the potential husband.
If a girl is chosen by a man at the market, she is expected to leave school and her family, and become an obedient wife who takes care of the household and has children. It’s a life of domestic servitude with little to no say in her own future.
The Bride Market is a clear violation of human rights, and it’s high time that the Bulgarian government takes action to end this practice once and for all. While the government has made some efforts to crack down on the market, including passing a law in 2008 that makes it illegal to buy or sell a person, enforcement remains a challenge.
Part of the problem is that the Bride Market is deeply ingrained in Bulgarian culture, and many see it as a harmless tradition. But the reality is that it perpetuates gender inequality, and exposes girls to exploitation and abuse.
There are some signs of progress, however. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in activism and awareness around the issue, with women’s groups and human rights organizations working to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the Bride Market.
In 2019, for example, a group of activists organized a protest against the market, and succeeded in preventing the auctioning of any girls that year. It was a small victory, but an important one, as it demonstrated that change is possible.
Ultimately, it’s up to the Bulgarian government to take meaningful action to end the Bride Market once and for all. This will require a multi-pronged approach, including education campaigns, stronger law enforcement, and support for girls and women who are vulnerable to exploitation.
Bulgaria is a beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage, but the Bride Market is a stain on that heritage. It’s time to end this practice and ensure that all girls and women in Bulgaria have the right to live free from exploitation and abuse.