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Czech ministers want to speak with Roma about truancy

Litvínov, 3.9.2010 16:09, (ROMEA)

Lidové noviny (LN) reports that Roma families living in North Bohemia will receive an unusual visit on Monday afternoon. Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek (TOP 09) and Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš (VV) will travel to the region together with Czech Human Rights Commissioner Michael Kocáb to explain why welfare benefits depend on children’s school attendance.

“We are going to convince Roma mothers that they can actually kill two birds with one stone. They can reclaim their welfare benefits, which are important for their families in and of themselves, and at the same time they can invest into their children’s future,” Dobeš told LN. In his view, parents should ensure their children attend the final year of nursery school and then maintain regular school attendance. “We want to apprise people of the fact that the point of this is not to take their support away, but that if the state is supporting families, we want those families to behave responsibly.”

The ministers’ itinerary was proposed by Kocáb on the basis of his experience with the Roma issue. The first stop will be at 14:00 in Ústí nad Labem, an hour and a half later the ministers will visit Teplice, and at 17:00 they will arrive in Litvínov. No one can predict how the meetings with Roma, mayors and school representatives will turn out.

Linking welfare to children’s school attendance is not new in North Bohemia. In Litvínov, for example, it is a common practice. “If the city police or social affairs department catch a truant, we start a proceedings to halt welfare,” Litvínov Mayor Daniel Volák (ODS) told LN. The same applies if a child does not come to school. Parents can either lose their welfare entirely or receive just the minimum for subsistence of CZK 2020 (EUR 82) per person per month. “The number of truants has fallen dramatically,” Volák said in praise of the measure.

According to Kumar Vishwanathan, chair of the Life Together association in Ostrava, school attendance cannot be addressed separately from the issue of housing. In Ostrava, more and more of the poorest Roma have no housing and are constantly moving between hostels, relatives’ homes, and the street. “We recently came across a family with five children who were sleeping down by the river in a tent,” Vishwanathan told news server Romea.cz. In his view, this is due to the lack of a state housing concept. “A free, undistorted apartment market – such as exists in England, for example – does not exist in the Czech Republic, and Roma have no chance to acquire housing on the regulated market, because very often no one will rent to them, for racist reasons as well as others.”

Since more and more Roma are falling to the bottom of the barrel for various reasons, Vishwanathan believes it is necessary to more precisely define the conditions under which parents would lose their welfare due to their children’s truancy. “These families really do move several times during the month and it is completely understandable that the children do not go to school during those moves, so it is necessary to better define truancy in relation to the onerous social situation of these families,” Vishwanathan says.

“The idea is a good one. I just don’t understand how they can be so sure that Roma in the excluded localities in North Bohemia are somehow not sending their children to school more often than anywhere else. There are Roma people not on welfare whose children normally attend school living there as well,” says Anna Chválová of the Romodrom civic association, which focuses on Roma education among other matters.

"I generally agree with the idea. Whoever does not meet their obligations, in this case by not sending children to school, should be sanctioned for that. Education is one of the tools for improving the position of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic - but this does not only concern Roma. The rule applies to everyone,” Zdeněk Ryšavý of the ROMEA civic association says.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, fk, Lidové noviny, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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