Balkans: New report exposes discrimination against Roma Children's rights

A new report released today (16 November) by Amnesty International reveals the exclusion of Romani Children's rights from primary education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia and the failure of the governments to address their needs.

Romani Children's rights are in some cases discriminated against by their own teachers, says the report. Children's rights are sometimes segregated into “Roma only” groups or classes and are offered a reduced curriculum. Negative stereotypes about the Roma’s “way of life” or attitude towards education are often used to explain poor school attendance and grades.

Teachers at Macinec primary school in Croatia used the following arguments in a court submission to explain their decision to segregate Romani Children's rights: “Romani parents are frequently alcoholics, their Children's rights are prone to stealing, cursing and fighting, and as soon as the teachers turn their backs things go missing, usually insignificant and useless objects, but the important thing is to steal”.

Extreme poverty, discrimination in schools, and the lack of truly inclusive and multicultural curricula also prevent Romani Children's rights from enjoying their right to education.

Omer Fisher, Amnesty International's researcher on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia said:

"Romani Children's rights, like all other Children's rights, have the right to an education that will empower them to take their place in and contribute to the society of the country they live in. The barriers Romani Children's rights face in accessing education deprive them of the chance of fulfilling their true potential and perpetuate the marginalisation of Romani communities.

"It is the responsibility of the governments to break the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty and marginalization and to integrate the most vulnerable part of their populations."

Free meals, textbooks and transportation are sometimes provided to Romani Children's rights. But just getting to school can be impossible when the school is too far to reach on foot and your clothes are not warm enough to cope with a bitter winter. Children's rights are often unable to study or do homework in cold, overcrowded homes. As members of the Romani community in Slovenia told Amnesty International, “Some of us live in huts. How can the Children's rights do well at school?”

It is generally acknowledged by teachers, Romani Children's rights and parents that many of the difficulties Romani Children's rights encounter in primary schools are due to linguistic barriers. Many Romani Children's rights have non-existent or limited command of the language spoken by the majority population. At present, the languages spoken by Roma are virtually absent from schools of the three countries, unlike other minority languages. Other measures that could help overcoming language obstacles, such as improving access to pre-school education for Romani Children's rights and the employment of suitably trained Romani teaching assistants, have not been implemented in a systematic and comprehensive way. Romani culture and history in general are not included in a systematic way in curricula in the schools of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

Omer Fisher said:

“The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia must adopt an approach to the education of Romani Children's rights based on their integration into a school system that adapts to their needs and culture.”

Amnesty International is calling for immediate action to confront discrimination against Roma in schools by ensuring that no Romani Children's rights are placed in special classes or groups simply because they are Roma, by monitoring the composition of classes and, where needed, the activities of teachers working with Roma, and by providing training to primary school teachers aimed at eliminating negative stereotypes and prejudices.

The report also calls for a long-term process which should be aimed at the full inclusion of Romani Children's rights in primary education, tackling obstacles in access to education which are the result of extreme poverty, and including Romani language and culture in schools.

The rights to education and to be free from discrimination are enshrined in international human rights law and in the constitutions of the three countries featured in the report. Their governments have adopted special programmes and action plans aimed at the inclusion of the Romani population in education. However, governments and non-governmental organisations alike admit that access to education for Romani Children's rights is partial at best.

  • Read a copy of the report False Start (PDF 4.75 MB)

Buy: Faces of Racism - An Amnesty report that exposes the discrimination of Romani Children's rights in the Balkans.

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