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Sofia 13 Aug -- The drive along the main road from Varna to Bourgas is beautiful. It winds its way past some beautiful scenery. Lush forests, golden fields of corn and occasional glimpses of the shimmering Black Sea abound.
About 20km outside of Varna, close to the village of Avren, there is scenery of a different kind. Attractive young girls line the roadside touting for trade from passing drivers. The first time I saw a girl standing alone near a lay-by, I thought she was waiting for a bus. Admittedly, I thought her dress sense needed some attention, but it was a boiling hot day and so hot pants were not that out of place. A kilometer further on I saw another girl wearing a bright red mini dress and she beckoned the car in front to stop.
After that, I knew that these young ladies were prostitutes, not local girls on a shopping trip to Varna. In Bulgaria, prostitution, like corruption, is much more open.
It does not confine itself to seedy ghettos or ads in phone boxes, nor is it organized into a "red light area" as it is in Amsterdam and Hamburg. Most of the girls come from the destitute Roma population. They are usually organized by a local pimp, who takes a percentage of their earnings and chauffeurs them to and from their spot on a busy main road each day. They stand there for hours on end in freezing winter winds and burning hot sunshine. They relieve themselves in nearby hedgerows and are responsible for taking along their own food and beverage.
A poll carried out by the Bulgarian Centre for Gender Studies suggests that the lack of cash and job alternatives is the leading motive for girls who take up prostitution. In the resorts, the pimps are often nightclub bouncers, hotel workers or cab drivers. All of the girls I have seen soliciting are over the age of consent, which is 14 in Bulgaria, most are in their late teens and early 20s.