"Every Roma Child to School" campaign under way in Macedonia

18/10/2006

Many obstacles block Roma from receiving a good education, including a lack of required paperwork and the inability to prove citizenship.

By Zoran Nikolovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje – 18/10/06

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Young Roma beggars smoke in Skopje's city square. A survey by the UNDP found that Roma continue to be among the poorest people in the Balkans, with 44% of Roma households living in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty. [Getty Images]

Roma NGOs in Macedonia have been conducting a campaign aimed at boosting the number of Roma children who attend school. The UNICEF-supported campaign has been implemented in towns with large Roma populations such as Skopje, Kumanovo, Prilep and Stip. The slogan is "Every Roma Child to School".

Roma children face a variety of hurdles in their schooling. This year, around 2,000 who should have started first grade on September 1st were not able to, because they lacked the right paperwork or because their parents do not have the money, according to the National Roma Centre.

In many cases, it cannot be established whether the children and their parents are Macedonian citizens and are entitled to a free education. School principals say they are in a bind, as without proof of citizenship, they may be in violation of the law.

Another problem is that Roma children often drop out of school early. Sometimes it is because their parents do not have money for books and other school materials. In other cases, it is due to the tradition of getting married at age 12 or 13. While as many as 72% of Roma children attend primary school as full-time students, the figure drops to 31% after age 15.

Similar conditions prevail across Southeast Europe. Throughout the region, Roma enrollment in primary schools is 20% to 30% lower compared to non-Roma children, while dropout rates are more than twice as high.

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Research conducted in 2000 by UNICEF and the World Bank found that, among Roma, males tend to be better educated than females. Only 21% of women completed their schooling, compared to 44% of men, the research found.

Nor is the problem unique to the Balkans. According to a study published in August by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, Roma children lack equal access to educational capacities in EU member countries. Some 12-15 million Roma live in Europe, with 7-9 million of them in EU member countries, the study noted. That makes them the largest ethnic minority on the continent.

A new report by the UNDP, meanwhile, found that Roma continue to be among the poorest people in the Balkans, with 44% of Roma households living in poverty. Out of that, 15% live in extreme poverty.

The UNDP said Roma in Macedonia have the highest percentage of unemployment (70%), while 22% face denial of healthcare services because they lack proper documentation.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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