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ROMA CHILDREN - why can't we hear their voice?
by Eugen Vasile Crai - Social Policy and Advocacy Specialist

Although the lives of Roma communities around the country are getting better, much more remains to be done for Roma children...

Without a decent education it is very hard to get a job.Without a job, it is hard to achieve th ings in life, get a home, or even be free... This much is selfevident. But when it comes to Roma children, the picture gets complicated.

A survey(1) conducted last year in 90 schools in Bucharest and nine other countries found that in 67 per cent of these schoo ls. Roma children weresegregated. Another survey(2) from 2007 revealed thatin Romania's Roma communities, 23 per cent of respondents had no education whatsoever, and afurther 27 per cent attended primary school only. Some 52 per cent of children from non-Roma households go to pre-school, compared with only 20 per cent of Roma children.

© UNICEF Romania /Benno Neelaman/
Ferentari neighbourhood in Bucharest

Some will rush to blame the parents. Sociological studies have demonstrated that a child 's performance in school is directly influenced by the educational attainment of its mother. Given how few Roma girls are in school and gaining a higher level of education, the out look is even bleaker.

But while it may be easy to blame the parents, or the"subculture of poverty: we should take a second look. Anyone going through the bureaucratic procedure ofen enrolling a child in school knows exactly what we mean. School staff often ask parents to provide more than the law stipulates before they admit a child to school. For example, they often ask to see a birth certificate, even though it is not required by law. Another example is the medical check, which is an obstacle in a community most of whose members have never heard of a family doctor and where no family doctor has ever heard of them either...

© UNICEF Romania /Benno Neelaman/
Ferentari neighbourhood in Bucharest

The probl em s faced by Roma children are many and complex, and there are no quick fixes. All research on housing in Roma communities has found that Roma children live in substandard conditions which pose a direct health hazard. The health of Roma children results in many not enrolling in school or subsequently dropping out. Severe poverty also affects enrollment and attendance. It is not easy for a large family living in poverty, as many Roma families throughout the country do, to bear the hidden costs of education. Clothing, books, shoes and so on are often so un affordable to such families that they become luxuries rather than essentials. If the family has no income, the adults may seek to remedy this by sending their children out to work at a young age. Older children may be charged with taking care of their younger siblings.These are just a few of the many health and protection issues that conspire to keep Roma children out of school. "Have you noticed, when a Gypsy walks into the room, people say that the Gypsy smells?'" and I always fee/like shouting, "Professor, can you tell that there is a Gypsy in the classroom now?"(3) [Testimony of a Roma student]

But we also need to focus on another set of subtler challenges. Are schools prepared to receive the Roma children? Are the other children ready to socialise with their Roma classmates?, have a teacher who says,  The dramatic impact of th e stigma attached to Roma communities drastically affects Roma children.The
survey conducted in 2007, entitled "Roma the quest for self-esteem", (4) revealed how Roma children and adults rntemense this stigma and, as a consequence, lower their aspirations.Teachers, too, have lower expectations due to the various negative stereotypes that are so wide spread in society. And this has a severe knock-on effect on how Roma children expect to perform in school.

© UNICEF /Hartley
Children from Copsa Mica

A colleague of mine was even under the impression that I lived in a tent (during high school) [...] I said "Corne and visit me to see where I live,"and she had to come to convince herself that I did not five in a tent" (5)[testimony of a Roma student] The harm done by the social injustice of discrimination has left its mark on Roma children. We all have the duty to change things. There can be no excuses. Public efforts started a decade ago, and many positive steps have been taken to improve the situation of Roma children and to promote their rights, along with the rights of all vulnerable
children. But progress has not been as quick as expected, for many reasons.

UNICEF, in close partnership with the MoERI and a mix of Roma and non-Roma NGOs, has piloted several programmes aimed at helping to get Roma children into school, the key to breaking the vicious circle of exclusion (starti ng with the very first step: access to early education and parenting programmes).To bring about a lasting change, we
have supported the following measures:

  • Capacity building of Roma NGOs in children' s rights, education and protection;
  • Development of strategies at local and central levels to stimulate supply and demand for social services for Roma children;
  • Innovative baseline research on the situation of Roma children;
  • Quality of services and service availability. A model project " Education Priority Areas " was tested and educational day centres were developed in the most vulnerable communities;
  • Training opportunities for Roma and other teachers working in Roma communities;
  • Content of educational material in literacy programmes and development of educational manuals and auxiliary materials for Roma children;
  • Socioeconomic wellbeing of Roma children in projects aiming to reduce early marriage and early pregnancy; promotion of Roma children's participation in public life and the fight against child labour;
  • Social awareness and combating discrimination through advocacy campaigns to promote equal opportunities for Roma children, monitor the segregation of Roma children in the education system and put forward plans for desegregation.

Today, the way ahead involves three key steps: a) focusing on the implementation of the policies developed and adopted by the relevant Romanian authorities; b) scaling up best practice taking into account the specifics and diversity of Roma communities (there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but similar conditions, similar interventions can be
scaled up) and c) monitoring the situation of Roma children and the progress achieved by the various interventions. 

(1)Monitorilarea aplicarii masurilor impotriva segregarii scolare in Romania - 2008, UNICEF, Romani CRISS
(2)Barometrul incluziunli societe a romilor - FSO Romania
(3) cautarea stimei de sine, UNICEF, Centrul Rromilor "Amare Hromentza", 2007, pg . 91
(5)Ibidem, pg . 91






Unite for Children
No 4, 2009

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