SLOVAK REPUBLIC: Slovak Republic: Romani children denied equal education free from discrimination

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15 Nov 2007
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group
“Children here are mentally retarded. There is a tendency to integrate Romani children in primary schools, but pupils with mental and social retardation stay the same. Children from a socially disadvantaged environment suffer from social and mental retardation.”Head teacher of a special school where 95 per cent of the pupils are Roma
Huge numbers of Romani children are still being placed in special schools and classes for children with mental disabilities and learning difficulties, or segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools across the country, Amnesty International said today.

The organization's report, Still separate, still unequal: Violations of the right to education for Romani children in Slovakia, reveals that Romani children placed in special schools receive a reduced curriculum and have practically no possibilities of reintegrating into mainstream schools or advancing to secondary education.

The reports calls on the authorities of Slovakia to state unequivocally their determination to eradicate the widespread segregation in the education of Romani children and to take swift measures to reverse it.

"Regardless of their individual abilities, Romani children receive a sub-standard education in segregated classes. The failure of the government to provide adequate education for them blights their future employment prospects, and adds to a cycle of marginalization and poverty for Roma people," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is concerned that the way assessments are conducted and the criteria used to place a child in a special school or special remedial class within mainstream schools could amount to discrimination as they do not take into account effectively cultural and linguistic differences. Evaluations of the process revealed that up to 50 per cent of Romani children in special schools or classes had been placed there erroneously.

"A child living in a shack with no electricity or running water in the middle of nowhere will not know how to flush a toilet or use a bathroom. Such a child would not know how to hold a pencil or draw a picture or speak Slovak but this should not deprive them of their basic right to proper education," Nicola Duckworth said.

A further concern to Amnesty International is the widespread existence of Roma-only schools and classes. In some parts of eastern Slovakia, 100 per cent of schools are segregated. According to Slovak law, parents have the right to choose their child’s school. This policy, taken at face value, appears neutral - but, in fact, contributes to segregation. Freedom of parental choice has reportedly resulted in increased withdrawal of non-Romani children from schools predominantly attended by Romani children. Parental choice, coupled with the lack of free transportation for Romani children to school has influenced segregation and radically reduced interaction between Roma and other children in Slovakia.

Although the government of Slovakia insists that segregation is not official government policy, so far it has failed to recognize it as a problem or genuinely commit to stopping it.

Amnesty International welcomes the special measures that the government of Slovakia has introduced, such as preparatory classes, the employment of teaching assistants, financial incentives for mainstream schools to integrate Romani children, as well as some training for teachers working with Romani children. However, all these measures are not compulsory and in many cases they are not implemented at local level.

The right to education is linked to other important human rights, such as the right to adequate housing. Approximately one third of the Romani population in Slovakia live in settlements situated outside towns and villages, with limited or no water or electricity supplies, sanitation systems, paved roads or other basic infrastructure. The inadequate housing of Roma has a significant impact on the ability of Romani children to exercise their right to education. Katarina Kru?tenova from the Roma settlement near Letanovce in Eastern Slovakia told Amnesty International delegates: "We have one candle and we want the children to study at home, but it is over very quickly...".

"The Roma have the same aspirations as the majority population in Slovakia. The government must assume responsibility and promote, protect and fulfil the right to education of Romani children. It must also make the Roma segregated and impoverished settlements a thing of the past." Nicola Duckworth said.

"It is very important that the European Union, of which Slovakia is a member, supports the government in all genuine efforts to address the systematic violation of the right to education of Romani children. The European Union can do so by providing necessary financial and technical assistance and ensuring the participation of the Roma community in all stages of taking and implementing policies and programmes affecting their lives."

Still separate, still unequal: Violations of the right to education for Romani children in Slovakia, AI Index: EUR 72/001/2007

Slovakia: Roma and the right to education, Factsheet, AI Index: EUR 72/005/2007

Europe: Discrimination against Roma, AI Index: EUR 01/012/2007

AI Index: EUR 72/000/2007
15 November 2007

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