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Truancy widespread among Romany children

Kosice, East Slovakia, 6.2.2007 10:17, (CTK)

Some children from Romany shanty villages in eastern Slovakia skip as many as 90 percent of school classes, local mayors and headteachers told CTK today.

Neither schools nor the local authorities are able to settle the problem, they added.

This is so although the authorities can deprive the parents of truants of welfare benefits since 2003.

"At our school, there are 70 children who skipped 200 lessons without excuse in the past six months. Some of them missed as many as 95 percent of classes," Tibor Oros, headteacher in Kecerovce, told CTK.

Romanies account for 80 percent of the village population and the school is attended by over 670 pupils.

"The school tackles the problem of school truancy through the local authorities. However, the situation is not improving, the truancy rate is still high," Oros said.

A similar situation is in the village of Velka Ida, in which one-third of residents is of Romany ethnic origin.

"There are frequent cases when a child has 15 missed lessons a month. If this recurs, we can cut the parents' welfare benefits," Mayor Frantisek Snir told CTK.

However, such a step is to no avail. "If we do not pay the benefit in cash, we must give them an equivalent in kind, mostly as food," Snir said, adding that the law was inefficient.

The town hall should sue the parents whose children neglect their school attendance. "We have no means for this," Snir said, adding that not even fines would change the state of affairs as the children are from disadvantaged families, their parents are unemployed and the fines could not be exacted.

The highest truancy rate appears in the Kosice and Presov regions, Education Ministry spokeswoman Viera Trpisova said.

"In 2005, children in the Kosice region did not attend almost 30 percent of classes and in the Presov over 26 percent. This is much higher than in other regions," Trpisova said.

In the Bratislava region, the average truancy rate is a mere three percent.

The situation in eastern Slovakia has been steadily bad. "In our village, there has not been a single Romany pupil to finish at least a vocational school for three decades," Snir said.

According to the Romany organisations, both children and parents lack a positive example that they can improve their living standards through education.

Government spokeswoman for Romany affairs Klara Orgovanova said that the situation was to be changed by EU-funded projects. The first money is to arrive in Slovakia in 2008.

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