Research on the social norms which prevent Roma girls from access to education

The educational status of Romani girls, including those married at child age, has been increasing over the last 15 years

Ромско момиче учи в класна стая, заедно с други деца. Старята е светла и приветлива.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2013/Pirozzi


The educational status of Romani girls, including those married at child age, has been increasing over the last 15 years. The number of child marriages and early births decreased as an absolute value and as a percentage from all marriages and births in the country.

In 2001,6181 girls under 18 years of age were in cohabitation, 2283 of them aged under 16. For a 10-year period the number of girls in cohabitation under 18 decreased by about 30% and in 2011 their number was 4334. The decrease in the number of 16-year olds in cohabitation was more than 33% (numbered at 1505 in 2011). The number of mothers under 16 and under 18 years of age having given birth to a first child has also decreased during the last several years, a trend explicable by a decrease in the number of child marriages and cohabitations. In 2013, 2705 girls under 18 have given birth to a first child, 790 of them aged under 16. The number of girls under 18 having given birth to a second and a third child is still high, but nevertheless is also decreasing. 54% of the married minor girls have either primary or lower education.

A positive trend is observed in terms of increasing the number of those having completed primary education. The percentage of girls under 16 years of age in cohabitation and with primary education was 23,5% in 2001 and increased to 27,5% in 2011. In 2001, it was observed that 42% of 18-year-old girls completed primary education, and by 2011 this percentage was 45%. Child marriage is a frequent but not the sole reason for Romani girls dropping out of school.

The number of female drop-outs is considerably higher than the number of those married at child age. Research conducted on Romani educational status and the attitudes in the Romani community towards education show that if marriage was the main reason for dropping out of school for the elder generation, in the last two decades the major problems have been related to the socioeconomic status of the family, lack of financial means, the existing low educational status, the poor interest on behalf of the parents, and all these reasons in correlation. Some girls drop out before they complete primary school because they expect to get married. For others, dropping out from secondary school is not related to getting married but to concerns of the parents in case their daughter studies outside the village or neighbourhood. There is no single unified “Romani model” in terms of age for marriage and educational status.

Generally, there are three models among different Romani groups: 1) a widespread practice is that girls get married at the age of 12 to 15, and the eighth grade is the highest possible educational status that can be achieved (however, not by all girls); 2) completing primary school is the norm, starting secondary school is an option, and 16 years of age is acceptable for getting married; 3) completing secondary school is the educational minimum and, generally, the marital trends do not differ from the ones in the surrounding majority. Therefore, it is important that the steps to be applied locally should be based on thorough knowledge and a mapping of the concrete situations and problems within a Romani group. Similarly, there is no single, unified opinion among the Roma in Bulgaria concerning compulsory education of children and that of girls in particular. The majority of Roma appreciate education and realise that it gives possibilities for a better life. However, others do not perceive the education to the age of 16 as compulsory (which is the case in Bulgaria).

The lack of affirmed models for higher educational status within the family and the community hinders the realization of the right to an education among the groups that do not accept it as social capital for their children’s betterment. Nowadays the majority of Romani girls marry after reaching full age. The access to education for girls is not only related to child marriages or to the ethno-culture of the Romani communities, but also to some more general problems and trends in the macro-society. These are problems of the educational system, such as the lack of secondary schools in the place of residence, the low level of education in the “Gypsy schools” (which demotivates students and parents), the lack of extracurricular activities, and the overall devaluation of education in the country. The widespread unemployment and discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin when applying for a job are also reasons for the low interest and motivation on behalf of both parents and children.

Cover of the report - social norms which prevent Roma girls from access to education-english
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Bulgarian, English