Friday, January 15, 2010

Amnesty International Slams Czechs For Roma Schooling

If your a Roma, or Gypsy, kid growing up in the Czech Republic, it's not just back of the classroom for you.  According to Amnesty International, the Czechs continue to place Roma kids in schools for pupils with "mild mental disabilities."  This despite a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights calling on Prague to stop giving Roma children a sub-par education, and therefore limiting their future opportunities.  And here, as well as elsewhere, the Roma live like it was sub-Saharan Africa.

"Systematic discrimination against Romani children in education continues despite repeated international and national exposure. The Czech authorities must end the segregation of Roma children in schools and act to tackle the underlying causes of discrimination," said Nicola Duckworth, director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Programme.

The Czechs did do something, according to Amnesty.  They changed the names of the schools.  Really, I'm not making this up. 

So, good bye "special schools", hello "practical elementary schools."

That's were the Czech efforts end, according to Amnesty, which says much of the old system of subpar schooling remains intact. 

"Recent measures to support Romani children in mainstream education announced last November by the Czech authorities do not go far enough as they are neither comprehensive nor legally binding," said Nicola Duckworth.

Amnesty International visited several schools in Ostrava, where in 1999 18 Romani children initially filed the court case, which eventually led to the European Court judgement.

The organization found Romani children are still over-represented in so-called practical schools and classes intended for pupils with "mild mental disabilities," due to the failure of mainstream educational establishments to meet their needs.

In some places, Romani children make up more than 80 per cent of the students of practical elementary schools.

Romani children are also segregated in Roma-only schools which often offer a lower quality education, limiting their future education and employment opportunities.

If it's bad in the Czech Republic, it's worse in neighboring Slovakia to the east as the Guardian reported three years ago. 

But studies from Amnesty International and the philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute (OSI) confirm that similar discrimination is rampant in Slovakia. "Segregation happens in two ways," said Amnesty. "Huge numbers of Roma continue to be segregated into Roma-only schools and classes. Many are also inappropriately placed in 'special schools' for children with physical and mental disabilities ... As many as 80% of children placed in special schools in Slovakia are Roma."

The OSI study found that Roma children in Slovakia are 28 times more likely to be put in special schools than non-Roma pupils, and in the Czech Republic 27 times more likely.

Discrimination in schools, is far from the only problem Roma face in the Czech Republic.

In 2008, riot police fought running battles as hundreds of skinheads tried to march on a mainly-Roma housing bloc in the northern town of Litvinov.

In September 2009, a Roma home was burned to the ground after youths hurled a petrol bomb through a window.  A toddler was seriously burned in the attack.

However, Western media reports paint a picture of a peculiar former East Bloc problem

True, the Roma have been hit hard by the collapse of Communism with many of the manual jobs they relied on now gone with some of more offending smokestack industries. 

But, the Roma have faced discrimination and worse in Western Europe as well. 

In May 2008, in the Italian city of Ponticelli, a xenophobic mob set attacked and set fire to a makeshift Roma camp after stories began to circulate that a gypsy girl had tried to steal a baby elsewhere in the city.

A task by teachers to their young students showed how deep the hatred of the Roma runs in Italy. 

In drawings, many of the children, aged between 9 and 11, expressed support for the vigilante action. 

However, the views of children merely mirrored those of adults.

Some say 'political correctness' makes it impossible to talk openly about the Roma 'question.' 

They say their negative views of the Roma are based on experience not prejudice.  They fault the Roma for failing to integrate.

In one Slovene village, locals said the rape of a 12-year-girl was brushed under the carpet because the alleged assailants were Roma. 

Here's a Slovene news report with a poor English subtitled translation.   

Bridging the gap of distrust and fear on both sides will take a long time, if ever.   

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