News

The situation of young Roma children in Europe – a new milestone in early childhood research

Although there is a concern for Roma inclusion at the European level, there is a significant knowledge gap about the status of children under the age of six, particularly the youngest. This lack of data impedes the development of responsive policies and programmes to revert their situation. 

To address this issue, Roma Early Years Network (REYN) Initiative is launching the REYN Early Childhood Research Study, a study that sheds light on young Roma children and their parents throughout Europe. The study brings together unprecedented Roma-related early childhood data from 11 countries. It catalyzes solid evidence for urgent and effective policies and programs enabling each young Roma to reach their full potential – to grow and thrive!  

REYN Early Childhood Research Study showcases a unique way of conducting research on Roma-related topics. The study, led by Roma researchers, involved Roma and non-Roma country researchers and early childhood experts gathering data in the 11 countries where National REYNs operate.   

The lack of evidence on young Roma children in Europe picturing their status and needs makes the REYN Early Childhood Research Study a unique piece of evidence reinforcing the importance of early years as well as influencing the agenda of prioritization and investment in young Roma children.  

REYN Early Childhood Research Study initiated in 2021 and has been done in partnership with the Roma Studies Groups (CEG) at CREA – University of Barcelona. 

Covering five key areas that impact a child’s development such as health, hygiene and nutrition, safety and security as well as early learning and living environment, the study analyzes structural and emerging issues that might have widened during the COVID-19 crisis, leading to an increase of inequality and social exclusion. 

In the coming weeks, country data will be available and disseminated via our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and REYN newsletter. Stay tuned and subscribe today!  

Up to 75% enrolment target for young Roma children in ECEC in Slovakia

Specific Steps of the Slovak Roma Inclusion Strategy 2030

The Strategy for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of Roma 2030 was approved by the Slovak Government on 7 April 2021. This framework material forms the basis for action plans, which will always be drawn up for a three-year period, i.e., 2022-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030. Representatives from REYN Slovakia have been actively involved in the development of the Strategy and Action Plans.

The Strategy is a framework document that defines the direction of public policies in order to achieve a visible change and improvement in the field of equality and inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. It presents a set of starting points and objectives that aim to stop the segregation of Roma communities and to make a significant positive turn in the social inclusion of Roma.

“The areas of employment, education, health, and housing are key to the fulfillment of the Strategy’s objectives, and special emphasis is also placed on stepping up interventions to combat anti-Roma racism,” state the submitters of the material from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

The subsequent Action Plans propose measures in the same five priority areas that were previously stated in the Strategy.

Strategy and Action Plans

Education


The vision of the Strategy in the field of education is to increase the real participation of children from marginalized Roma communities in care and education. The share of the youngest Roma children under three years of age participating in early childhood education and care programs is to reach at least 30%.

“The proportion of Roma children aged 3-6 in pre-primary education is to be increased from the current 25 to 75%, ” the submitters state.

The Strategy also aims to halve the proportion of children from the marginalized Roma communities who repeat a year in primary or special primary schools, as well as halve the proportion of pupils from the marginalized Roma communities who drop out of school. Conversely, the proportion of Roma with completed upper secondary education is to be doubled to 45% for males and 40% for females.

In the education field, the proposed action plan focuses on the need to improve the results of children from marginalized Roma communities. Besides, it aims to improve the quality and number of teachers and assistants in the education of Roma pupils, to increase the capacity of schools and kindergartens in areas with Roma communities, and support measures for children and pupils from Roma communities with insufficient knowledge of Slovak, which is not their mother tongue.

Housing

The Strategy aims to eliminate significant inequalities in housing between members of the marginalized Roma communities and the majority population of Slovakia.

“By 2030, all residents of the marginalized Roma communities, and therefore all citizens and residents of the Slovak Republic without distinction, should have proper access to safe and potable water. Closely related to this challenge is the gradual legalization of technically compliant dwellings and the settlement of land on which illegal dwellings of marginalized Roma communities residents are located,” the material states. 

With regard to segregated settlements, the vision is to reduce the proportion of Roma living in segregated communities, as well as to reduce the total number of segregated settlements.

As stated in the proposal of the action plan, priority tasks in the area of housing are to reduce the number of illegal dwellings, to improve technical infrastructure and amenities in localities of marginalized Roma communities, but also to implement measures aimed at reducing residential segregation of Roma, for example through the promotion of rental housing in municipalities.

Employment

The Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of Roma aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor already in education from the current 68 to 40%, as well as to increase the employment rate of Roma aged 20 to 64 from the current 20 to 45%. In particular, the Strategy and its action plans will address the issue of Roma women’s employment, which is significantly lower than that of men.

The proposed action plan defines measures to increase the chances of Roma on the labor market, but also, for example, targeted support for equal access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, for persons from marginalized Roma communities.

Health

The global objective of the health strategy is to reduce health inequalities between Roma and the general population of the Slovak Republic, with the aim of reducing the gap in life expectancy between the general and Roma population by 50% over the course of a decade.

The tasks related to health in the action plan are designed to improve health conditions at the community level, and also aim to strengthen the professional qualifications of community health promotion workers.

Anti-Roma racism and support of participation

Besides, the Strategy sets targets for eliminating anti-Roma racism, with the ambition to halve the proportion of Roma who have felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. The Strategy will also use supportive anti-discrimination instruments to reduce the proportion of Slovak citizens who would not want a Roma neighbour from the current 54 to 20%. The aim is also to increase by 30% the confidence of Roma in the police.

In the proposed action plan, the section on combating discrimination against Roma and increasing their inclusion in mainstream society calls for anti-Roma racism to be legally recognized as a specific form of racism. One of the other measures proposed is to increase the participation of young Roma and Roma women in policy-making at all levels.

The Strategy and action plans were developed by thematic working groups in each area, with representation from different government departments and institutions, NGOs, the academic sector, and local authorities.

After a long period of participatory preparation of all materials, and a recent personal change on the position of the Plenipotentiary, the drafts of action plans proposing measures in five priority areas for the period 2022-2024 have been submitted by the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the inter-ministerial comment procedure.

More information about the materials and recent developments can be found here.

Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

Call for Action: Priority Actions for Decision Makers in Europe 

A call on behalf of young Romani and Traveller children living on the margins

In times of pandemic and global health crisis, it is important to remember the most vulnerable – and often invisible – young children and their families.

The Roma population is the largest minority in Europe. Eighty percent are children and families at risk of poverty, who live without adequate housing, in crowded and unhealthy formal settlements or precarious informal slums, many of them without access to electricity, running and drinking water and sewerage. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges that many Roma communities face.

We urge European leaders and country leaders to provide every child with the proper conditions to ensure protection and support in all aspects of life.

NEWS – Dutch Travellers protests against ‘Extinction Policy’

A row concerning the basic ‘right to settlement’ emerges in the Netherlands. Several Traveller groups, including Roma and Sinti, have occupied vacant trailer lots that were once appointed to their community. So far, 34 former Traveller locations have been occupied with moveable caravans.

The travelers peacefully protest against the so called ‘Extinction Policy,’ enduring, but quiet assimilation efforts of local governments, that prevent younger generations from taking up trailer lots left vacant by deceased or departing community members. At the end of this process, Travellers, Roma and Sinti are pressured into accepting regular housing.

Community break up

It so appears that local governments aim to break up the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community. Crime or troublesome relations with community inhabitants are named as reason for such efforts. However, no evidence or numbers are given to underpin claims of nuisance to the overall society.

In an interview with NOS, occupants in the southern Dutch village Mill make their case: ‘The Council of State has purposed this area, and many other areas, for the settlement of Travellers. Yet, we are denied single permits to place a home and restart a community here.’ The occupants hold up the Mill lot for the 24th day in a row now, at a fine rate of 5.000 EUR per 24 hours. They are willing to take up the case to the highest court.

Human Rights

The situation may very well develop in favor of the occupants. The state mandates that spaces are to be granted to the traveler community, a right given in the 1960’s to a generation of Travellers, Roma and Sinti that is now steadily aging. Still, municipalities have no right to push young Traveler generations into regular housing. Also, the right to specifically live in a trailer has firm legal roots. In 2014, trailer settlements were acknowledged as part of the Dutch cultural heritage.
The National Ombudsperson and Human Rights Council have therefore openly rejected the Extinction Policy practices, stating that governments are insensitive to the cultural roots and needs of its Traveler population. Minister Kasja Ollongren (D66, Interior Affairs) made dubious statements on the subject. She does acknowledge the rights of the Traveller community, but claims at the same time that local governments can repurpose their soil at their convenience. ‘The right to settle does not justify this random occupation,’ so she says.

Traveling fairs

Many Travelers are part of a vivid community that make a living off of traveling fairs, which are highly popular throughout the Dutch and Belgian community. Most of them; however, work regular jobs, they are educated well and they are all subject to taxes. Unemployment is not part of the perceived problems.

Closeness of friends

Most of the protesters are involved in the occupation because they fail to find their way in regular housing. Piet Soering told NOS: ‘It may be hard to understand for non-Travelers, but the walls truly moved in on me. I’ve tried six different places. But my place is here. This is us.’
The Travellers notably do not reject the regular community in any way. It is – so they say – that they miss having their friends and family nearby, a strength so characteristic for the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community.

The issue will be debated on the 18th of October 2018 in the national House of Representatives.

 

  • Following contact with NOS reporter Mattijs van de Wiel, ISSA was told that the Municipality of Mill was unwilling to respond to the developing situation.
    – Jolanda Clement for ISSA

    About ISSA
    ISSA is the driving force behind REYN. At ISSA we commit ourselves to the development of every child, across all domains. Ever since ISSA was founded as a network in 1999 we have grown significantly – sharing knowledge and tools to improve the quality of Early Childhood Development and its workforce. In (pre)schools, creches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for young children and their families. As a network, we gather and generate prominent studies and insights on child development and learning and convey them to our peers, member organizations and policy makers, so they can put them to good use.

EDITORIAL – A Clear Compass for a Forgotten People (longread)

- News

We are happy to share some extracts of a longread that our host, the International Step by Step Association (ISSA), recently published on their website.

ISSA, tackled the issue of why people suddenly feel less interested or less compelled when it concerns the fate or betterment of the lives of Roma & Traveller people.

“The past doesn’t lie, but important happenings are sometimes forgotten or diminished. As a continent with clear messages of inclusion, and a post war history of fighting the front line for the betterment of its people, one people surely fell off Europe’s map. It is hard to figure out why, since when it comes to exclusion – or simply forgetting people – one rarely asks themselves why…”

in line with REYN’s strategy, ISSA supportS QUality in early childhood education and care and diversity in the workforce:

“REYN advocates for the betterment of all people – especially the tiny ones – and advocates passionately with and for the Roma and Traveller people to be included in such improvements. With and for. An important distinction to all involved! We make sure policies are being designed with them in the room, part of plan and process, for they are the ones who will advocate the new policies amongst their ranks and take ownership of the following steps. And in addition, we do not only share knowledge on quality improvement in Early Year systems, we teach them how to do it themselves.

We are closing in on the twentieth anniversary of ISSA’s careful first steps to help Romani gain a better future, and neigh on the sixth anniversary of the REYN initiative. It has become a growing network of enthusiast, passionate advocates and practical teachers from within and outside the Roma and Traveller communities. The many small victories justify the path ahead. The struggles have made us wiser, more consistent. And as we are steadily breaking through this negative cycle, learning every step of the way, a clear and shiny compass is emerging from all of it. It is pointing away from thoughtless behaviors and forgetful minds, leading towards fully engaged equity and inclusion. And though we still have a long way to travel, we are without a doubt in the right company to do so.”

Read the whole editorial here.

Getting Out to Dream: simple dreams of home

- News

In 2007, after my university studies and a short experience of working in a segregated Roma community in Slovakia, I started my internship at the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre. Among my very first tasks was being sent on a mission to Rome to map the situation of Roma, seeking better living conditions, who were arriving there from other parts of Europe. I saw extreme living conditions, people literally living just from day to day, harassed by the police and still hoping for better lives for their children. I saw big men crying and concluding that even if it was difficult, it was worth it.

Many years have passed since those times, but the recently published report by Associazione 21 Luglio reveals very little, to no, improvements at all. In many aspects, the situation of Romani families, in formal (designed and managed by authorities) or informal (established spontaneously) camps may have worsened significantly. According to findings of Associazione 21 Luglio a Roma child who is born in this environment has almost zero chance of going to university and their chance of going finishing high school remains below 1%.

Research estimates that in Rome alone there are approximately 4,100 Romani children, of different nationalities, living in horrendous conditions: as many as 1,350 of them under six years old. These children are growing up in alarming, unhygienic conditions, among piles of waste which represent a constant threat to their immediate well being and their healthy development.

In addition to abysmal conditions, Associazione 21 Luglio has also pointed out how a lack of security of tenure for Romani families living in camps increases their vulnerability. In 2013 the number of recorded force evictions in Rome of Roma families was 54. In 2014 the figure dropped to 34 evictions but rose aggressively in 2015 when a total of 80 forced evictions from informal camps – which affected 1, 470 people, of which 810 were children – was recorded.

Difficult living conditions may serve as determinants for low school attendance. Mapping of school year 2014-2015, shows that among the Romani children enrolled in school, one out of five never showed up in class.  Out of approximately 1,800 children enrolled, only 198 attended classes regularly. With a new law in place, which implies that children with low attendance may not be admitted to the grading meeting, 90% of Romani school children are at risk of failing the year and having to repeat it. In this situation, where children do not have access to primary – mandatory – education, early childhood services are virtually non-existent.

The report by Associazione 21 Luglio  “Getting Out to Dream” and is a compilation of dreams. Simple dreams of home – of not seeing your home destroyed-  and dreams of going to school, makes brutal reading as the children fantasize about the fulfillment of their fundamental rights. Only by fulfilling their fundamental rights can children dream of higher and better things and only then can they imagine a fulfilling and fulfilled future.

Associazione 21 Luglio is the host of Romani Early Years Network Italy. Check their website, become a member and see how you can help.

You may want to start by signing a petition against forced evictions.

Only parents can beat segregation

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

On the 6 month anniversary of the birth of his son, Stanislav Daniel Junior, REYN Co-ordinator, Stanislav Daniel reflects on what it means to be a parent standing up for your rights.

 

A year ago we published a blog post about the legacy of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, the case that brought the segregation of Romani children on to the international agenda. On November 13, another anniversary will pass and another cohort of young Romani children in the Czech Republic, and elsewhere, will start their schooling in segregated schools, learning from their very young age that, because of their ethnicity, they will be put on a different track: a slower one.

Nine years have passed since the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. Since then, Court rulings on segregation of Romani children have been issued against Greece, Croatia and Hungary.  A number of domestic courts, for instance in Slovakia, put segregation outside of the legislative framework. For years, civil society organizations and international institutions have been pushing for the implementation of these judgments. Recently, the European Commission joined in these efforts and started infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia for segregating Romani children.

Reading through the 2007 judgment, a lot of attention was given to the role of parents who consented and sometimes even requested their children to be enrolled into segregated school. Their reasons for doing so included avoiding abuse from non-Romani children, keeping the children from the neighborhood together, but sometimes – even if not explicitly – lack of interest in education. But should they to be blamed?  In the atmosphere of omnipresent discrimination preventing even qualified Roma from getting adequate jobs?  Frustration, not tradition, stood behind their decisions.

But as long as we admit that segregation is rational, the cycle of poverty and exclusion will not be broken. In most countries, parental consent is required to place a child into a particular school. Simply put – if parents do not agree with segregated school, they can object and schools or any other authority should not push them. Most of the issues, also those listed above, can be addressed if parents get organized and demand their rights, for their children and for themselves. As hard as it may be, we must stand up and reject discrimination in all its forms.

On the day that I write this blog, my son turned 6 months old. Today, I do not write as coordinator of Romani Early Years Network, but as a father who wants the best for his child. I refuse to believe that other Romani parents do not want the same and we need to demand it now. If we are afraid that our children will be discriminated at schools, we should address discrimination, not take our children to low-quality segregated schools.

As an activist, I have spent years in advocating for better living conditions for Roma, particularly young children and their families. But being a father brings a different perspective to my approach. Strategies and action plans may provide us with a framework for doing the right thing. Strategies and action plans may provide us with framework for inclusion. But we need to insist on inclusion in the first place. And we can only do it if we always ask for nothing less than the best for our children. Be it quality early childhood services, inclusive primary schools, high schools developing their talents or colleges increasing their chances to turn their talents into a living.

Let’s invest in young children, they will pay us back.