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UNICEF statement at the XIV International Steering Committee Meeting of the Decade of Roma Inclusion

© UNICEF Serbia/2005
A Roma child, Serbia.
BELGRADE, Serbia, September 2008 - The XIV International Steering Committee Meeting of the Decade of Roma Inclusion was held in Belgrade on 4 - 5 September 2008.

Serbia is the first non EU-member state that has taken over the Decade presidency. The focus of  the Roma Decade under Serbian presidency (1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009) is on housing and education. In addition, cross-cutting issues include the work on better data, indicators and monitoring mechanisms, continuing to work towards a European Roma Policy and the invitation to new countries to join the Decade. 

The XIV meeting gathered high level delegations of the Decade member states: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia and Bosnia and Herzegovina whose Prime Minister on this occasion formally signed the Decade Declaration.

The following statement was delivered by UNICEF Area Representative Judita Reichenberg.

© UNICEF Serbia/2008
From left to right: Serbian Minister of Human and Minority Rights Svetozar Ciplic, World Bank Serbia Office Country Manager Simon Gray and Judita Reichenberg UNICEF Area Representative during the Decade of Roma Inclusion Steering Committee Meeting.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of UNICEF let me join in the congratulations to the Government of Serbia for taking decisive steps in these early days of the Decade Presidency and to Bosnia and Herzegovina for joining the Decade.

The Decade movement has already achieved an important step. It has broken the “spell of silence” that has been surrounding the facts of lives of Roma across Europe for very long time. Recognizing the reality is the crucial step towards commitment to change it.
However, one fact does not seem to be so well known yet. And that is that Roma – in every country - are considerably younger than the majority population. In Serbia, for example, children account for only 20% of the population, however among Roma  almost half of them are children. Hence, when we think of Roma, we must think of children.

And when we think of Roma children, we must go beyond the first association of “poor children who need special services for their special problems”. We must think of them as of children - with all the potentials which can be developed if the conditions are right.

All three priority areas for action of this Presidency - Housing, Education and Systems of Monitoring and Evaluation - represent exactly the opportunity to start creating favourable conditions for Roma children. How could this be done?

First of all, good and reliable data are of vital importance. Here in Serbia, for example, UNICEF jointly with the National Statistical Office has carried out a large Household Survey which has also gathered the much needed data on Roma children living in settlements. The findings were very sobering, pointing to great disparities, not only in the areas of health and education but also in opportunities for children to play in a safe environment. It goes without saying – for strategic action, we need good data, reliable baselines, sound indicators and robust monitoring systems to measure the change.

This Steering Group Meeting is focusing on housing situation of Roma. For children, poor housing in segregated neighbourhoods is a real barrier to their development: children are not only less healthy and have more accidents, they might not have a space to do their homework or play with their friends. Good quality services may be far away, and so children face the risk of becoming another generation that is excluded. Hence, it is essential to look at the housing situation also from the perspectives of children. Today’s solutions must be favourable to children!  

Education will be the topic of the next International Steering Group meeting and the Working Group is already working full steam. The questions on: how to move towards more inclusive school systems, how to overcome the barriers that marginalised children face, how to document and evaluate what works, how to increase accountability, monitor the change - are making it to the top of the Working Group agenda.

UNICEF is committed to make a contribution at the regional level and in the country. We are undertaking a regional research to document successful initiatives in inclusive education. We believe that lessons learnt will help in design of most effective approaches to increase access of Roma children to quality education services. 

As a member of the Organizational Board and the two Working Groups - on Education and on Monitoring and Evaluation - we stand ready to make the contribution to the implementation of the agreed action plans.

It will take more than one year to make a difference, but there is no doubt that Serbia has made a commitment to use the year of the Presidency to make a decisive step forward. 

But let us not forget that only if we take children into account, the change will be sustainable! 

Thank you!

Judita Reichenberg
UNICEF Area Representative, Serbia and Croatia




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