REYN Italy is a national network made of about 80 Roma and non-Roma practitioners, professionals and para-professionals working with Roma communities in the field of early childhood development (ECD) in the country.
Among them, there are activists and representatives of public institutions, volunteering associations, civil society organizations working with Roma children and families, international human rights organizations, religious charities, pre-schools, primary schools and universities.
REYN Italy exists since 2016 to create a space of debate, reflection and professional development opened to individuals (of Roma origin and other backgrounds), institutions and organizations working with Roma communities, families and minors. We have no knowledge of similar projects existing in Italy in the field of Roma ECD. The network intends also to overcome the fragmentation and conflict existing in the panorama of associations and individuals working with Roma issues in the country.
The objective of the network is twofold:
- supporting Roma children, advocating for inclusive, non-discriminatory and quality early childhood services in Italy.
- Nurturing positive experience and shared understanding among practitioners in the field. In particular, REYN Italy empowers its members by offering them opportunities for professional development, training, study visits and international networking across the ECD sector with a focus on education.
FACTS AND FIGURES
An estimated 120.000 to 180.000 Roma people live in Italy. Almost 60% of them is underage. Due to precarious housing conditions in the slums where they live, Roma children endure strong social and housing exclusion. This leads Roma children to hopelessness and resignation. They ignore their rights and duties and they are not aware about their potential as active actors of change.
A significant number of children are precluded access to education. According to a recent research report that analyzed education policies of the Rome Municipality targeting Roma children between 2009 and 2015, one out of five Roma minors has never gone to school; nine Roma minors out of 10 do not attend regularly school; one minor out of two has a delay in his/her schooling and one out of four drop out at an early age.
Moreover in the past few years, there were no Roma adolescents attending high school in Rome.
The causes of this are several. Many Roma families are too poor to afford either decent clothing, school supplies or to pay transport cost for their children to and from school. In most cases Roma slums are far from schools and are poorly connected via public transport.
Alarmingly, frequent evictions, accompanied by raids and destruction of property and personal belongings interfere with the right to education of children living in unauthorized settlements.
Decades of short-sighted policy making lead to phenomena of housing segregation, exclusion from the job market and social marginalization. This has instigated in the majority of Roma families a feeling of mistrust in the institutions and fear of the mainstream society.
As a result, lots of these families prefer to bring up their children in a protected environment, refusing to send them to school. Due to their irregular status (lack of a regular residence permit and/or other identity documents), some Roma parents prefer to keep their children as “invisible” as possible, fearing to lose their parental responsibility, which is something that frequently happens.
Finally, due to a high level of illiteracy, Roma parents have difficulties both in understanding the importance that school has on children and to complete the administrative steps to enroll them. For instance, we noticed that enrolling their children via online websites is a real problem for Roma parents who have no Internet access.
Another critical aspect is the precarious hygienic-health situation in the slums (both formal and unauthorized). Roma children are often affected by the so-called “ghetto pathologies” such as respiratory problems due to living in dwellings where rooms are very hot in summer and cold in winter, dermatitis, pediculosis, warts and scabies.
Some of them suffer also from major psychological distress. The access rate to healthcare, especially maternal and pediatric care, is really low. As for the school attendance, the difficulties encountered while accessing healthcare services depend on several factors, all related to the condition of social and economic exclusion of the majority of Roma families.
40% of the inhabitants has no registered residence and has no legal status. As a consequence, a high number of people cannot access the national healthcare system and is cut off from the possibility of receiving quality and continuous medical care.
Thanks to the acquisition of the ENI code (for European citizens not registered in the national healthcare system) or STP code (for foreigners temporarily present in Italy), Roma families have access to emergency healthcare but, as many of them reported, doctors frequently refuse to take care of Roma patients.
Worryingly, this happens to children too (despite care being obligatory regardless of their parents’ legal status), in clear violation of the children’s right to health. In addition to the legal and administrative obstacles and even if there are all the necessary conditions, lack of information and a high rate of illiteracy among Roma families prevent their access to healthcare services.
“Anti-gypsyism” is an upsetting and widespread phenomenon in Italy that occasionally degenerates in episodes of collective hysteria (e.g. when in 2014 the news of a”blond girl” allegedly kidnapped by a Roma couple in Greece gained international attention, various blond Roma children where stopped and their IDs checked by the public authorities) or hate crimes (see the hate crime reports of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).
According to data published by the Pew Research Centre in 2015, 86% of Italians have a negative image of Roma people. Politicians from a wide range of parties often use anti-Roma rhetoric in order to gain electoral consensus, while media recur to negative stereotyping and labelling when reporting about Roma. In many cases hate speech against Roma is targeting children or the parenting skills of their families, reinforcing negative stereotyping and stigmatization.
Hate speech is not a zero impact phenomenon, it is not a simple matter of opinions and has real consequences on the life of Roma people. As a result Roma communities are further marginalized, fuelling the vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion that too often entraps and prevents them from reaching their full potential.
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