Let's Unite for Children!
This issue of the Newsletter looks at the challenges faced by the Roma community in Romania. By some estimates, the Roma account for about 10 percent of the country's population. While clear-cut information on their conditions is often difficult to obtain, there is enough evidence to show that they are seriously disadvantaged vis a vis the majority population in terms of income, employment, health and education. Generally, families tend to be larger, unemployment higher, jobs mainly of the unskilled variety and living conditions below average. Roma frequently suffer segregation in schools, discrimination in society and are at high risk of poverty.
The Government and civil society have taken many initiatives over the years, and continue to do so, in order to address the social exclusion of the Roma. The Government's National Agency for Roma and several Roma and non-Roma NGOs work hard on the implementation of a broad range of political, economic, social and cultural initiatives. UNICEF and other organizations have long supported measures to improve the situation of Roma children. The Joint Memorandum of Social Inclusion prepared as part of the EU accession process clearly sets out the steps which the Government says must be taken to create a society in which the Roma enjoy the same opportunities and living standards as the population at large. The National Development Plan 2007-2013 sets out priority actions including the generation of employment, full school attendance, more vocational training, better access to health care and promotion of anti-discrimination measures.
While there has indeed been progress and there is clearly a lot of goodwill and good intentions in society, there is nevertheless a long way to go before the Roma can attain the equal status in society to which they aspire.
This newsletter tries to take a fresh look at the situation. It asks two women activists to give their perspective on being a Roma, and what can best be done to work towards social inclusion. Another article wonders why we don't hear the voice of the Roma child. So the theme of the newsletter is really about listening to the voice of Roma and what they think should be done... as opposed to telling them what to do. Perhaps if our approach changed to a more participative, inclusive one, we would see faster progress towards a society that guarantees the same health, education, equality and protection for Roma as much as any other citizen.
“Participation” is one of the founding principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Perhaps its time we learned to practice it more and made Roma participation a standard element in the design and implementation of all initiatives aimed at improving their conditions.
This issue also reports on a successful attempt by UNICEF Romania to raise funds for children in another country. In partnership with the TV station Antena 2, an appeal was made for funds to buy zinc tablets to help combat the scourge of diarrhoea in Bangladesh where 47 out of every 1,000 children die before their first birthday, often as the result of diarrhoea. We hope that this will be the first of other appeals to the generosity of the Romanian public and private sector to help the cause of child survival and development in poorer countries.