Roma students face lasting repercussions from discrimination

Lydia Gall [Staff Attorney, The European Roma Rights Centre]: "In a Romani settlement in Slovakia, a boy attending a mainstream school was awarded a small scholarship for being a gifted student. He dreamed of growing up and being an auto mechanic. Later, following a dispute with a teacher, he was placed in a special class for pupils with mental disabilities attended only by Romani children, as a punitive measure. No psychological assessment preceded the decision and neither he nor his parents were informed of or consented to his placement in the special class. This decision affected the remainder of his academic career, his educational prospects and his opportunities to access meaningful employment. Graduating from the special school made him ineligible to attend the technical school to train as a mechanic. In the boy's own words: "They [the school] took my dream away from me. They made me stupid."

Unfortunately, his story is commonplace in Europe. Europe's highest human rights court has ruled on this issue three times; each judgment expressly condemns discriminatory practices targeting Romani children in education. The nature and justification for the segregation differs in each case. In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) issued a landmark judgment in D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, finding the placement of Romani children in special schools for pupils with mild mental disabilities to be illegal discrimination. The following year, in Sampanis and Others v. Greece, the Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 14, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF] (the Convention), on the basis of State failure to provide schooling for the applicants' children and of their subsequent placement in separate classes because of their Romani origin. Most recently, in Oršuš and Others v. Croatia, the Grand Chamber of the Court went further and overruled a decision by the Chamber, stating that alleged language difficulties may not be used as a pretext for segregating Romani children.

Despite this progress, problems of segregation, inequality and inferior curricula remain the norm for many Romani children in Europe as implementation of these judgments in the respective countries has been virtually non-existent. In the Czech Republic, the fast tracking of Romani children into special schools for pupils with mild mental disabilities continues. For example, in some regions Romani students are today 27 times more likely to be placed in a special school than non-Roma. New cases have also been filed against Greece before the Court. Research by the European Roma Rights Centre and Greek Helsinki Monitor in 2010 revealed that in 21 out of 50 communities visited, Romani children are not in school at all. Where they do attend schools, they are often placed in segregated facilities. In Croatia, Roma are still segregated based on language concerns.

But segregation and inferior education are issues beyond the Czech Republic, Greece and Croatia. The widespread problem spans the continent. For example, according to a 2009 survey in Slovakia, at least three out of four pupils attending special schools for children with learning disabilities were Romani; across the country, 85 percent of children in special classes were Roma (Roma Education Fund, "School as Ghetto," Budapest 2009, p. 23). In Hungary, the ERRC joins the Chance For Children Foundation in filing cases in domestic courts concerning Romani children placed in special schools based on flawed evaluation tests. In February 2010, the Macedonian Ombudsman's Office published a report confirming the overrepresentation of Romani children in special schools for children with mental disabilities in several locations. Similar problems of segregation and overrepresentation in special schools or classes exist in Serbia and Romania.

In the European Union and in several EU candidate countries, persistent practices separate Romani children from non-Romani children. Whether they are simply not enrolled, are placed in special schools or classes for pupils with mental disabilities or are segregated due to alleged language difficulties, Romani children are segregated because they are Roma. Such policies and/or practices continue to condemn generations of Europeans to a life of poverty, bereft of the right to equal and inclusive education, leaving them with little or no chance of securing meaningful employment. Above all, the failure of governments to change their policy and practice denies generations of Roma the opportunity to pursue their dreams."

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