Education without Discrimination: Roma Children's Rights in the Czech Republic
During a workshop at Amnesty UK's AGM in April we asked people to pick their top 10 articles from the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is not an easy task. The Convention, has 54 articles, the first 42 setting out rights for every child - narrowing this down to just 10 is incredibly difficult. If you want to have a go, you can find the articles of the Convention here.
Of course, everyone has different opinions on the most important issues, but across all groups the right to education was included in the top 10. Everyone was in agreement - the right to education is vital for children. Education has an enormous impact on children's lives and futures - access to education can open doors, whilst a denial of education slams them shut.
For Roma children in the Czech Republic, it is discrimination in education which closes doors, limiting children's opportunities to learn and participate and keeping them segregated from their peers - an early example of the marginalisation threatening to affect them for the rest of their lives.
Discrimination and Segregation
Amnesty's new report 'Must Try Harder: Ethnic Discrimination of Romani Children in Czech Schools' describes how Roma children are segregated in education. Many find themselves in Roma-only classes or schools, or are even placed in schools for pupils with 'mild mental disabilities', called 'practical schools'. This segregation really limits the opportunities for Roma children, as well as reinforcing prejudice and discrimination. Additionally, Roma children who do attend ethnically mixed schools often experience bullying and harassment.
In November 2007 the European Court of Human Rights found that the right of Roma children not to be discriminated against in their access to education had been violated. This was because of the disproportionate placing of Roma children in special schools for children with mental disabilities. An action plan and reforms followed the court's decision. These measures included recognition of the need for inclusive education for all and reforms to the diagnostic procedures for children to be placed in practical schools.
However, there has been no acknowledgment of the prejudice against Roma, which is the underlying cause of continuing discrimination. A 2014 survey found Roma still over-represented in practical schools and educational programmes for pupils with mild mental disabilities.
'Making idiots of us'
Andrej is a 15 year old boy included in Amnesty's report. He is a native Slovak speaker and so he struggled with the Czech language when attending a mainstream school. Andrej was given no additional support and then, when he failed his Czech class in the 5th grade, he was sent for psychological assessment. Andrej described the test as 'so simple' and said it felt like they thought he was 'an idiot'. However, after the test he was recommended for transfer to a practical school. He describes the school as a strange place, and says: 'They are making idiots of us there. The school is really easy...They teach slower because it's a special school.' Andrej would have liked to go to high school and then university, but he has been told it will be impossible for him to get to a school offering the qualification needed for university entrance. For Andrej, as for so many Roma children in practical schools, the route to university education is closed to him.
Amnesty International is calling on the Czech government to acknowledge the discrimination against Roma in education and take important measures to reform education and ensure inclusion, not discrimination and segregation. You can read Amnesty's recommendations in more detail in the Must Try Harder report.
Education is such an important and essential right for children. Roma children should not be spending their childhood learning lessons of prejudice and discrimination. Instead they must have the opportunity of a good education, learning with their peers and sharing classrooms across the Czech Republic.
You can email the Czech Prime Minister, calling on him to take action to end the discrimination against Roma children in education.
There are also opportunities for creative actions and for children to get involved in the campaign. If you would like to find out more about how you can take action and get involved with the campaign please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.