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Bosnia and Herzegovina: new data reveal barriers to Roma education

© UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina 2005
A Roma girl in a UNICEF-supported inclusive school in Sarajevo

December 2005: Around 80% of Roma children in Bosnia and Herzegovina who are not in school do want an education, according to new research carried out by the NGO Budimo Aktivni, supported by UNICEF and  the European Commission.

Researchers spoke to Roma and non-Roma children and parents, unveiling the widespread discrimination and prejudice experienced by the Roma minority.
The research finds that poverty, coupled with the fact that many Roma parents missed out on schooling, are the greatest obstacles to the education of today's Roma children. The research also uncovers the very different attitudes of Roma and non-Roma parents on perceptions of education and the future of their children.

Most of the children covered by this research cited learning, education, professional development and "to become somebody" as the main reasons for schooling.  "To have a job and not be a beggar or thief“  was one of the answers given.

Outlining their reasons for not going to school, Roma children highlighted lack of money and the need to work, while some stated that their parents would not allow them to go to school. Importantly, some were anxious about the kind of reception they would receive at school. As one girl said: “I was nervous. I thought that someone would beat me.“ Only two children said that they did not go to school because they didn't like it.

Around half of the Roma parents interviewed had not completed primary school. While this is not necessarily an obstacle to sending their own children to school, problems arise when parents are unable to help their children with their homework.

Most of the Roma children who were enrolled in school also work with their parents in market places with them or collect raw materials for sale. Children who were not enrolled in school often earned money by begging, passing the money to their parents or buying food for the family. However, the study also revealed that around 25% of non-Roma children also work, at home or on the farm, in order to earn pocket money or boost family income.

The happiness factor

Children were also asked whether they were happy, and if so, why. Roma children reported feeling unhappy more often than non-Roma children. "I feel unhappy when I have nothing to eat” replied one Roma child.

Asked about their fears, one child said: "I am most afraid of my brothers, they beat me to a bloody pulp, until they see blood, they do not let me go.” Parents cited poverty, poor living conditions and arguments as the source of bad relationships within families. 

All children who attend school, whether Roma or non-Roma, want to become lawyers, doctors, teachers or merchants when they grow up. However, the Roma children who don't attend school did not aspire to any profession requiring a higher or vocational training, tending to focus on manual work.

The scale of prejudice

Whether attending school or not, Roma children reported being exposed to verbal, physical and other forms of violence -- including insults -- far more than their non-Roma peers. "When Nikola touches me by accident, he says he needs to take a bath immediately” said one Roma girl.

Roma children state that their non-Roma peers are verbally abusive towards them. They feel that non-Roma children are different because "They have more friends and better life“. However, Roma children who attend school sometimes proudly stress the difference between themselves and other Roma who are not in the classroom.

The teachers examined admitted that schools can rarely cope with the education needs of Roma children. They displayed a wide range of attitides, from prejudiced to positive, and often lacked the professional skills needed to provide high quality education to Roma children. 

Non-Roma parents often expressed disturbing levels of prejudice, describing Roma people as "dirty and unkempt, cheerful and fun, irresponsible, lazy”. Around half of them thought that Roma people had a tendency towards crime, while most felt that Roma were only fit for menial, simple jobs. Not surprisingly, when asked "how much do you know about Roma culture, habits and tradition“, half of the non-Roma parents answered "Nothing at all“. This lack of knowledge may well be fuelling deep-rooted prejudice.

All respondents agreed that the Roma were held in low esteem and agreed that this situation could be improved if the State would ensure employment for adults and education for children. They also stated necessity of having Roma political representatives in government institutions. 

"The experience and practice of countries that have addressed the issue of Roma inclusion in education could be used in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We need to put simliar efforts into the education of Roma children by stressing the necessity of education, but also be struggling against the deep-rooted prejudice towards Roma," said Ms. Helena Eversole, UNICEF's Representative in BIH.

The recommendations from the research include the inclusion of Roma children in preparatory classrooms and the development of school materials that promote Roma language and culture.

UNICEF supported this research in order to get solid information about the real situation in education of Roma children to guide action.

"Together with our partners, UNICEF implements various activities related to education and health protection of Roma population," said Helena Eversole. "However, it is necessary to have all the relevant institutions involved in an integrated approach to resolve the problems. We have to break the vicious circle of poverty and lack of education threatening the majority of Roma children -- this is the only way to contribute to the achievements of their rights, rights that are same for all children in BIH and over the world. “

About the Research

The research, "Inclusion of Roma Children into the Education System in Bosnia and Herzegovina" was conducted by the NGO Budimo aktivni with financial support from UNICEF and the European Commission. It examined attitudes towards education, define behavioural models, examine attitudes towards the Roma population, their skills and abilities and to determine their genuine learning potential.

The research, conducted in Sarajevo, Kiseljak, Kakanj and Modrica, covered a total of 303 children. These included 107 Roma children who do not go to school, 93 Roma children who do, and 103 non-Roma children. The youngest examinee was five years old and the oldest 18. Additional data were gathered from 253 parents of Roma and non-Roma children and from 89 teachers.

For more information

Nela Kacmarcik, Communication Officer, UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tel: (+387 33) 66 01 18, email:



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