Amnesty International: Discrimination of Romani children in the Czech Republic has lasted decades and must end
In the Czech Republic, everyday discrimination of Romani children in education is persisting because the Czech Government is still not succeeding in coming to grips with deeply-rooted preconceptions about Romani people in the schools. Those are the findings of a report published today by the international organization for the protection of human rights, Amnesty International (AI).
AI has found that the Czech Republic is violating both EU laws and the human rights of Romani people. In a response sent to the Czech News Agency, the Czech Education Ministry points out that the Government has reecntly adopted many pro-inclusive measures, first and foremost an amendment to the Schools Act.
On a recent trip to the Czech Republic, Salil Shetty, the Secretary-General of AI, visited the city of Ostrava and other locations and said at a press conference today that the Government's promises are not much believed by those in the field. According to the co-author of the report, Barbora Černušáková, the research found that education legislation is not being successfully implemented in practice.
Cases of the successful inclusion of Romani children into mainstream schools are the work of individual efforts of school directors and educators, not a result of systemic pressure, according to Černušáková. The AI research team visited 24 mainstream schools and four practical schools last year in Brno, České Budějovice, Děčín and Ostrava.
Researchers spoke with dozens of Romani parents, pupils, and school directors and educators. "The widespread segregation of Romani children is an example of systematic, prejudicial behavior. Schools subject Romani children to discrimination at a very early age," said Shetty, who participated in the launch of the research report in Prague.
"Because the Czech Government is not sufficiently solving this problem, it is violating not only European human rights legislation, but also limiting the life opportunities of tens of thousands of Czech citizens. Let's call things by their real names: This is racism, pure and simple," he said.
According to the report, Romani children in the Czech Republic are customarily enrolled into "practical schools" for pupils with "mild mental disability" and reduced capacity to learn. Today Romani children comprise almost one-third of the pupils in what were formerly called the "special schools" even though the Romani community comprises less than 3 % of the population of the Czech Republic.
The report also said that discrimination in mainstream schools is also significant. In some localities, all it takes for a school to become popularly labeled as "Romani" is for 30 % of the children to be Romani.
Many parents from the majority society exercise their right to choose their children's school and, once more Romani children begin attending a particular school, they begin to re-enroll their own children into schools outside that local catchment area. "The problem of anti-Romani prejudice is a societal one," commented Černušáková.
According to the Czech Education Ministry, however, the Council of Europe has recently expressed appreciation for the measures adopted by the Government of Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). "The amendment to the Schools Act is among the most essential steps in this direction, as it introduces support measures for all disadvantaged pupils and regular, periodic investigations by the Czech School Inspectorate regarding the assignment of pupils into certain educational programs," the ministry said.
Other steps include the option to establish preparatory classes for all children prior to first grade and the planned introduction of a mandatory final year of preschool education. The ministry says that the diagnostic tools used to assess pupils will also be made more precise.
Shetty acknowledged that Sobotka's administration has demonstrated greater political will to solve this problem than preceding ones. However, he still believes there is a very long way to go.
"We see the unfulfilled promises regarding the reform of the Czech schools. Discrimination against Romani children has persisted here for decades. The time has come to end it," he said.
According to AI, the report is being released at a time when the European Commission (EC) is preparing to evaluate what the Czech Government has done on this question recently. Last September the EC initiated infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for violating EU anti-discrimination laws, and the Czech Republic could face trial at the EU Court of Justice over the matter.
Dienstbier: Romani Integration Strategy agrees with AI's recommendations
Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier expressed appreciation for AI's activities and welcomed the report. "Understandably, we are aware of the vast majority of the problems mentioned and we see this report as confirmation of the fact that it is necessary to find appropriate measures to correct the situation. We are holding a dialogue with the relevant ministries and calling for change. We have produced the Romani Integration Strategy to 2020 which, like the Amnesty International report, points out the weak spots in the education of pupils with specific needs. The recommendations of that strategy are in unequivocal agreement with those of the AI report in many respects," the minister said.
Eight years ago the European Court for Human Rights ruled in the "D.H. and Others vs. the Czech Republic" case that Romani children were being wrongly assigned to what were previously called the "special schools". The AI research team met with some of the plaintiffs in that case during their visit to Ostrava last year.
"It is sad that their younger siblings or other relatives are continuing to face the same treatment. It has been eight years since that judgment," Černušáková said.
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