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Europe

Roma rights advocates accuse Czech government of de facto segregation

The leading Roma rights advocacy group, the European Roma Rights Center, has accused the Czech government of failing to stop Romani children being sent to special schools for the mentally disabled.

Romani children

Many Romani children end up in schools for mentally disabled

The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has accused the Czech government of failing to address the problem of disproportionately huge numbers of Roma children ending up in what are defined as special schools for children with mild mental retardation.

Schools in the Czech Republic - and in many other European countries – still maintain a system of de facto segregation for members of the Roma minority, according to the ERRC.

"We didn't necessarily have the smoking gun of the teacher or a school administrator saying we're putting you in these schools because you're Roma, but the numbers speak for themselves," ERRC Executive Director Robert Kushen told reporters.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in November 2007 that 18 Czech Roma children had been discriminated against by being sent wrongly to special schools.

No changes so far

Romani children

De facto segregation also exists in Greece, Croatia and Slovakia

"The number of Romani children in special education in the Czech Republic at that time and today was out of all proportion to the number of Romani children in the population," Kushen added.

The Czech government itself undertook studies after the court decision which confirm that something like 27 percent of Romani children are in special education compared to 2.2 percent of non-Romani children being in special education.

The only real change since the 2007 court ruling, says the Center, is that such schools have been renamed 'practical' schools by the authorities.

Behind their doors, however, the overwhelmingly Roma pupils still follow an academically inferior curriculum, condemning them to a life of limited further education, bleak employment prospects and deeper social exclusion.

Similar situation across south-east Europe

But the Czech Republic is not alone – the Center has since won a similar court case against Croatia, and contributed towards another case in Greece that was brought by the Greek Helsinki Monitor. Both verdicts found that de facto segregation exists in those countries too.

In neighboring Slovakia, for instance, a recent study showed 60 percent of special school pupils were Roma. Stanislav Daniel, a university-educated academic researcher working for the ERRC, said he himself had narrowly escaped being shunted off to a special school as a child in communist Czechoslovakia.

"Interestingly, I was also placed into a class at a mainstream school. In the first year, I was placed in a class with all the Romani children, and this class was for the children where there was a risk they would be placed into special school. And this took place at the time when I was able to read and write. My father, for some reason that I will never understand, taught me to read and write before I went to school."

The European Roma Rights Center says far from addressing the problem head on since the verdict, the new Czech government actually seems to be backsliding on the little progress already made.

Tuesday's briefing was held ahead of a meeting of the Commission of Ministers later in November, who meet regularly to discuss whether European Court of Human Rights recommendations are being implemented. In this case, says the ERRC, it's clear they're not.

Author: Rob Cameron, Prague (ai)
Editor: Rob Turner

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