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Early childhood exclusion strikes harder than pessimists thought

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Earlier this week, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a report showing that only half of Romani children attend early childhood education. This is rather alarming as such, but what is even more important is that it only took into account children attending preschool (four years of age to age of compulsory education). Looking at particular countries, numbers are still alarming – for instance, with just 28% of Romani children attending preschool in Greece, while the national average reaches 84%.

The report ‘Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Roma – Selected findings‘ presents findings from nearly 8,000 face-to-face interviews with Roma, and their households, accounting for almost 34,000 persons. It has been highlighted during the launch of the report that the data needs to be interpreted carefully as it relied on self-identification of interviewees. Still, the findings present a very clear, yet very negative image of situation of Roma in nine EU member states – Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain.

Here is one major finding: only half of Romani children attend preschools. Unfortunately, the study does not specify how many children from Roma families have access to other forms of early childhood education and care, at younger age in particular. In many countries, education systems for children under three years of age are not well developed and are often inaccessible to most Romani families, especially those in excluded neighbourhoods, camps and ghettos.

At Romani Early Years Network (REYN), we work with comprehensive understanding of early childhood development. REYN is concerned about the situation of Romani children and their families as depicted by the study. FRA has also found that 80% of Roma families surveyed are at risk of poverty (EU average is 17%): 30% live in households with no tap water. One third of Romani children grow up in households where someone went to bed hungry at least once in the previous month. In Romania and Bulgaria, countries with the largest Roma populations in Europe, only 45% or 54% respectively have health insurance coverage.

The situation is clearly not positive. But what is the most worrying? These findings are from member states of the European Union, the most productive economy of the world. With vast majority of EU Roma facing risks of poverty there is no reason to be optimistic about countries below EU economic indicators. In poor countries, Roma are the poorer. When medical care in not available, it is definitely not available to Roma.

We all know that systemic measures are lagging behind, even where good practices exist. And we know that there is a need for more advocacy efforts at all levels. It is crucial to make use of data in our efforts. At REYN we benefit from a wide network of practitioners who use data and case studies to bring change at local level. And that makes our evidence based advocacy stronger.

Follow the channels of Romani Early Years Network, we will bring more.

Download FRA’s report ‘Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Roma – Selected findingshere.

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