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Governments urged to ensure inclusive early childhood programmes for Roma children to address continuing social exclusion

BRUSSELS, 6 March 2012 – Young Roma children are being denied access to health services, child protection interventions and preschool education opportunities because of systematic discrimination, according to a report launched today on the situation of Roma children in Central and Eastern Europe.

National kindergarten, preschool and primary education systems are failing to reach out to, enrol, include, retain and educate Roma children. Only 8 per cent of children in socially excluded Roma settlements in Serbia, for example, are enrolled in early childhood education services for 3 to 5 year olds as compared to 44 per cent of the majority, non-Roma population.

The rates of Roma children’s attendance and completion of basic education remain staggeringly low. On average, only one Roma child completes primary school, as compared to every four non-Roma children.

Education systems are failing to reach out, enrol, include, retain and educate Roma children.  

This analysis is drawn from an overview report entitled Roma Early Childhood Inclusion, launched today and presented to representatives from the European Parliament, European Commission Directorates General, international donors and agencies and wider civil society, including Roma non-governmental organizations, working to advance the rights of the Roma community.

The overview report, together with four new studies conducted in the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, were jointly commissioned by the Open Society Foundations, the Roma Education Fund and UNICEF.


UNICEF Deputy Regional Director Kirsi Madi and partners at the report launch in Brussels.

The reports reviewed the adequacy of policies, the effectiveness of basic services with regard to Roma communities and young Roma children in particular, and identified good practices in early childhood care and education.

The underlying causes of discrimination are detailed in these reports. They include extreme poverty, intolerable living conditions, low educational levels of mothers and exclusion from the employment market, all of which undermine Roma family life and ultimately the health and development of infants and young Roma children.

Social inclusion

The evidence is compelling and timely, demonstrating as it does that Roma social inclusion policies in Europe cannot be effective unless fundamental challenges are addressed. It paves the way for a clear recommendation: early childhood provision and services aimed at the Roma must be developed in partnership with them, be more comprehensive in their implementation and promote social inclusion in order to foster tolerance, diversity and inter-cultural understanding. In each of the four country studies, local Roma researchers and experts cooperated in building a detailed picture of early childhood policies, strategies and initiatives, highlighting the barriers and opportunities to improve access for young Roma children, to high quality early childhood services.

"Ensuring that young children from excluded and vulnerable groups enjoy equitable opportunities to access and use comprehensive and high quality early childhood services is high on UNICEF`s agenda," said Kirsi Madi, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. "UNICEF has participated actively together with national governments and European Union delegation for the development of National Roma Integration Strategy." (To read her full speech, click here).

The overview report presents a comparative summary of the respective policy frameworks, political contexts and current initiatives in all four countries.

The research design for the studies was developed by Dr. John Bennett, an internationally acclaimed expert in early childhood development policy and author of the report. It is published in the framework of a programme entitled the Roma Good Start Initiative, partially funded by the European Union.

The twenty-seven European Union member states and states seeking accession to the European Union are presently engaged in developing and refining their 2014-2020 National Roma Integration Strategies and assuring their coherence with the wider national reform programmes for education, poverty reduction, and social and economic development.

Early childhood development Special attention needs to be paid to prioritize young Roma children from disadvantaged communities and to use available funds to improve early childhood development services for them. The Open Society Foundations, the Roma Education Fund and UNICEF, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and together with regional and national partners, are actively engaged in advocating for measures to promote early childhood development as a foundational building-block towards the social inclusion of Roma children and their families.

To download the overview report, the country studies and other resources, please click on

For more information, please contact:

Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Programme Roma ‘Kopaçi’ Initiatives Adrian Marsh, +44 207 031 0232,

Roma Education Fund Erzsebet Bader, +36 1 235 80 32, 

UNICEF Brussels Office Laure Maissa Fargelat, +32 (0)2 213 00 75,

UNICEF CEECIS John Budd, +41 22 909 5429 or Lely Djuhari, +41 22 909 5433,  





Resource website

Click on the icon to see more research and resources on Roma children.

To see videos, photos and posters on how early childhood development can help break the cycle of deprivation and social exclusion, click here.

Download the report

Download the report as pdf by clicking on the cover.

Serbia Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey

The full report is here.

Key highlights can be found here.

New infographics in pdf format here.  

More photos

To see more photos on the day of the launch please click here to go to UNICEF CEECIS Facebook album.


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