Rights Groups Concerned About Educational Facilities for Roma Children in Eastern Europe

by Savitha C Muppala on  April 9, 2010 at 11:35 PM Lifestyle News
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Some rights groups have expressed concern over the plight of Roma children in Eastern Europe who dont have proper access to quality education.

Campaigners were taking stock on the eve of the second European summit for Roma, which will open Thursday in Cordoba and run for two days.
 Rights Groups Concerned About Educational Facilities for Roma Children in Eastern Europe
Rights Groups Concerned About Educational Facilities for Roma Children in Eastern Europe

"Though some progress has been made lately, school segregation is still very widespread in the region," Costel Bercus, chair of the Roma Education Fund board, active in several countries, told AFP.

But according to a study by UNICEF, the United Nations organisation for children, this is common practice in south-eastern Europe.

Certainly, the European Court for Human Rights has in recent years condemned the Czech Repubic and criticized Hungary for enrolling Roma children in classes intended for people with learning difficulties.

In January, the court contacted the Hungarian government about a case in which two Hungarian children of Roma origin were transferred into a class for those with "mild intellectual disabilities" according to a court document.

An expert hired by their lawyer dismissed this assessment and the European court was asking the Budapest courts to look at the case again.

"Roma children remain excluded from quality education in many member states," said Jozsef Berenyi, a rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

"They are either segregated into Roma-only classes, unjustly considered unfit for normal classes or, even worse, they cannot attend school at all," he added.

Official figures in Romania suggest that the number of enrolled Roma children has more than doubled over the last 20 years.

But a study conducted in 2008 showed 19 percent of Roma aged 18 to 29 had never attended school, against barely 1.8 percent for other children.

In Poland, the percentage of non-enrolled Roma children is estimated between 10 percent, according to one group working in the area: 30 percent, according to the government.

In Slovakia, only 3.0 percent of Roma children graduate from high school with only 0.3 percent getting a university degree.

And in neighbouring Hungary, while 60 percent of them complete primary education, only 5.0 percent finish their secondary studies.

The obstacles include poverty, a poor knowledge of the official language and mistrust of the state's institutions.

But campaigners say the Roma also have to contend with the indifference and sometimes outright intolerance of the rest of the population, not to mention the authorities.

For rights groups say that official promises to improve the situation have mostly remained on paper.

That is why many such groups run their own schemes to try to remedy the problem.

In Romania for example, a rights group, Romani Criss, runs a programme to raise attendance rates and promote integration in 100 schools near Roma communities.

"We are carrying out all sorts of activities, ranging from puppet making to contests to debates on minorities' rights," programme coordinator Raluca Petcut said.

At Darvari, 30 kilometres west of Bucharest, school attendance has improved while Roma and Romanian children play together and help each other with their homework.

"You will see no discrimination here," teacher Iuliana Stoian said.

But there is only so much they can do, say the campaigners.

"Schools attended mostly by Roma count the highest number of underqualified teachers and are very poorly equipped in libraries, labs and computers," Gelu Duminica of the Romanian Impreuna association said.

Pledging to improve its rights record, the Czech Republic has invested 39.5 million euros (53 million dollars) in programmes meant to give children equal chances and launched a "national action plan" to encourage desegregation.

But some politicians have suggested more controversial solutions.

In March, Slovakia's prime minister Robert Fico provoked outrage among rights groups when he said Roma children should be "put into boarding schools and gradually detached from the life they live in Roma settlements."

Branislav Tichy, head of Amnesty International Slovakia, retorted that "Any further segregation of Roma children from the common educational system would be a violation of their rights."

Source: AFP

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