Mr Palm's speech during the National Conference on Roma Empowerment on 31 March 2011
National Conference on Roma empowerment: an approach for inclusive development
Honourable Ministers, Ambassadors, Colleagues and Participants,
Exclusion starts at birth. A child born to a young mother from a poor family has a much harder time to keep up with other children. Well-to-do and literate parents will ensure their newborn child is registered at birth, because they know this is a right, and will help to access many other services later in life. A young, inexperienced, poor and possibly illiterate mother may not even know that something like birth registration exists. And even if the form is filled out in the maternity ward, she may not know whether the hastily written names on the form are correct so as to ensure a smooth and useful registration process.
Once the registration at birth is missed, many services are difficult to get. But even if this first hurdle is taken by a Roma child, the next hurdle is around the corner. Instead of being safe and well-fed at home, the baby might be taken onto the street to attract the compassion of others. By the age of three, the development status of a child born to very poor parents may be that of a two year old.
And so it continues. As other children grow and develop, learn and socialize, a Roma child faces additional hurdles. This is so when it comes to access to a crèche, when it is time to be vaccinated, or when it is time to go to pre-school, when the child is expected to enrol in its first class and on until it is time to find a job.
At all these and many more steps, a Roma child faces a different challenge. And once a step is missed, it is impossible to catch up later. Disadvantages accumulate, and cannot be made good later in life.
If we are serious about social inclusion of disadvantaged groups, we have to invest early in life. The number of Roma families in Albania is relatively small, as a percentage of the population. It should be possible to accompany these children, from the day of their birth, with social services able to follow up when a step is missed, and with a modest investment that help the young Roma to grow into optimistic, productive and socially integrated citizens.