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Children’s Rights for Roma children

© UNICEF Serbia 2007
(left to right): Ljuan Koka, Secretariat for Implementation of National Strategy for Roma; Ann-Lis Svensson, UNICEF Area Representative; Denis Huber, Special Rep of Secretary General of CoE to Serbia; Ms Cathie, Council of Europe

UNICEF study on the situation of Roma Children in South East Europe and Council of Europe/European Commission’s “Dosta!” campaign

BELGRADE, 16 May 2007 – There are an estimated 3.7 million Roma living in South-East Europe, about 1.7 million of them (46 per cent) are children. UNICEF study Breaking the Cycle of Exclusion: Roma Children in South East Europe  focuses especially on Roma children and covers eight states/entities in South East Europe: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, UN Adminsitered Province of Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.

While the majority of populations are declining in the countries surveyed, the Roma populations are rapidly increasing. In Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Serbia the percentage of the population below the age of 19 is between 29 and 22 per cent for the average population while it is 41 to 47 per cent for Roma. Roma children in these countries are among the poorest and most excluded members of society. They lack access to adequate housing, health care, education and social services. A significant number are not registered at birth. Wide-spread discrimination and physical segregation keep Roma on the margins of society and help perpetuate the cycle of poverty and exclusion from one generation to the next.

"Exclusion deprives children of their childhood and hinders them from fully developing their capacities to contribute in a substantial way to the economic and social development of their country"  - UNICEF Area representative Ann-Lis Svensson

"Exclusion deprives children of their childhood and hinders them from fully developing their capacities to contribute in a substantial way to the economic and social development of their country," said UNICEF Area representative Ann-Lis Svensson.

According to the UNICEF study, predominantly children suffer from poverty, discrimination and a lack of prospects for the future.

  • Poverty: Between one quarter (27 per cent in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and almost two thirds (59 per cent in Kosovo) of Roma live in poverty and, in five of the eight countries/entities surveyed, more than 40 per cent of the Roma population are poor.
  • Health: Two thirds of the Roma households have not enough to eat. Children are less frequently vaccinated and their families cannot afford medicine when they are ill. 20 per cent of the children are not healthy compared to seven percent of children from non-Roma families. Six times as many Roma children are underweight, compared to the average national figures in Serbia. In FRY Macedonia three times as many Roma as the national average are under weight. 
  • School attendance: Roma children are seriously disadvantaged as far as school attendance is concerned. If they are enrolled at all they usually go to “Roma schools” only which are ill equipped and lack qualified teachers. Roma children are very often referred to schools for children with special needs – the reasons for that appear specious.
  • Level of education: A relatively high percentage of Roma children enter school. Unfortunately very few of them complete even primary education. In Serbia, only 13 per cent of Roma children complete primary education. Results from FYR Macedonia show that less than half of the 63 per cent of Roma children who enter primary school complete it. The data shows that the chances of Roma going on to secondary and higher education are much reduced in comparison to non-Roma children.

When children reach school age they stand at a crossroad: they might go into permanent poverty and exclusion, or with the right support, they might still have another chance to break through the barriers and come out of the inter-generational cycle of exclusion. It is urgent to get it right. Childhood is an opportunity that does not come back!

Breaking the cycle of exclusion also means fighting against the stereotypes and prejudices towards Roma that lead to discrimination. Fighting against discrimination towards Roma is the main purpose of the awareness raising campaign “Dosta! Go beyond prejudice, discover the Roma”. Initiated by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, the campaign focuses on breaking down deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes towards Roma. The Dosta! campaign is built around two main axes, one is the recognition of Roma as fully fledged citizens of European countries, while the second one focuses on the recognition of the contribution of the Roma culture to Roma cultural heritage (more information: 

For all additional information please contact:

UNICEF Serbia Office: Ms. Jadranka Milanovic, Communication Officer
Tel: 011/ 3602 100;

Council of Europe Office in Belgrade: Ms. Sophie Kammerer,
Tel: 011/ 30 88 411, extension 120; e-mail:





Related links

UNICEF in Serbia

The State of Children in Serbia 2006 Report – Poor and Excluded Children
Republic Statistical Office in Serbia, Council for Child Rights of the Republic of Serbia and UNICEF Belgrade Office


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