Governments urged to ensure inclusive early childhood programmes for Roma children to address discrimination, exclusion
BRUSSELS, 6 March 2012 – Young Roma children are being denied access to early childhood, health, protection and education services because of systematic discrimination, according to a report launched today on the situation of Roma children in Central and Eastern Europe.
National kindergarten and primary education systems are failing to recruit, include, retain and educate Roma children. Only 8 per cent of children in Roma settlements in Serbia are enrolled in early childhood education for 3 to 5-year-olds compared to 44 percent of the national population. For the region, rates of attendance and completion in primary schools remain staggeringly low. Only one Roma child completes primary school to every four non-Roma children.
This analysis is drawn from an overview report entitled Roma Early Childhood Inclusion launched today to representatives from the European Parliament, European Commission Directorates General, international agencies and civil society, including non-governmental organizations working to advance the rights of the Roma community.
The overview report and four new studies conducted in the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were jointly commissioned by the Open Society Foundations, the Roma Education Fund and UNICEF. They reviewed the adequacy of policies, basic services and identified good practices in early childhood care and education.
The underlying causes of discrimination are elaborated in the report on the exclusion of Roma children and they include such mitigating factors as extreme poverty, substandard living conditions, low educational levels among mothers and a lack of employment that undermines Romani families' lives and harms the health and development of infants and young children.
The evidence is compelling and timely and paves the way for a clear recommendation: to make early childhood services more comprehensive and inclusive to foster tolerance and support for inclusion by governments and society.
In each of the four studies, local Roma researchers and experts built a detailed picture of early childhood policies highlighting the barriers and opportunities for improving the access of Roma children to appropriate and high-quality early childhood services. The report presents a comparative summary of the respective policy frameworks, political contexts and current initiatives in all four countries. The research design for the studies was developed by Dr. John Bennett, an internationally acclaimed expert in early childhood development policy. He is also the author of the overview report.
Ensuring that young children from excluded and vulnerable groups enjoy equitable opportunities to access and use comprehensive and high-quality early childhood development services is high on the agenda of international organizations. European Union Member States and States seeking accession to the European Union are engaged in refining and implementing National Roma Integration Strategies, and assuring their coherence with their National Reform Programmes for education, poverty reduction, and social and economic development. Speakers highlighted the fact that EU Member States, in facing the challenge to design their Operational Programmes, should pay special attention on proper usage of available funds (ESF, ERDF) as the main sources of improving early childhood development services for disadvantaged Roma children. The negotiation period about the priorities of the new programming period (2014‒2020) is approaching, and structural reforms are envisaged related to use of structural funds. Special attention is paid to equal access by marginalized Roma communities to quality education.
In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Open Society Foundations, the Roma Education Fund and UNICEF, together with regional and national partners, are actively engaged in advocating for measures to promote early childhood development as an entry point to foster the social inclusion of Roma children. The publication of the overview report was funded by the EU-UNICEF Joint Management Project the Roma Good Start Initiative.
To download the overview report, the country studies and other resources, please click on http://www.romaeducationfund.hu/sites/default/files/publications/reci-overview-final-web.pdf