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Millions of European children still denied an education – new global report

15 July 2009

Although Europe boasts high standards of education, for children from minority communities segregated classes, obstacles to mother tongue education and difficulties with integration are resulting in discrimination and sometimes exclusion, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in a new report released today.

The State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009, themed on education and prepared this year with UNICEF’s collaboration shows that of the world’s 101 million children out of school, between 50 and 70 per cent are from minorities or indigenous peoples.

In developing countries with the largest number of children out of school, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan minority and indigenous populations enjoy far less access to schooling than majority groups.

In Europe overcrowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, poor teaching and language barriers are seriously hampering the education of minority children. The report says that in Europe Roma children are the most threatened by a lack of access to proper education. In many cases such as in Kosovo or Turkey, their enrolment in schools is impeded by problems in civil registration.

In numerous other cases in Europe, such as in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, or Slovakia, Roma children are placed in special schools with very low standards of education. Further problems are that for example in Italy, mainstream politicians at local and central level became the champions of hate speech and intolerance. Crimes perpetrated against the Roma went unpunished.

‘Integration is difficult to achieve when national and local authorities fail to implement relevant court decisions and adequate educational policies’, says Snjezana Bokulic, MRG’s Director of Programmes.

According to the report, government policies to end segregated schooling are in many countries subverted and defied by local authorities responsive to local prejudices. MRG states that governments must overcome their own resistance to integrating minorities and start to monitor the needs of different ethnic groups through data collection. In Macedonia for example, although Roma account for only 2.6 per cent of the population, in 27 special schools 30-70 per cent of students are Roma.

‘Lack of disaggregated data is a problem across Europe and beyond, such as in France or in Hungary. There will be no steps forward unless the impact of official policies is effectively measured’, adds Bokulic.

Governments often place obstacles in the way of mother tongue or multilingual education. Issues such as the geography textbooks with toponyms in Slovak for ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia or the fact that education in mother tongue is not provided for Caucasians, Kurds, Laz and Roma in Turkey are just a few examples of violation of the internationally recognised minority right to education.

‘Governments must implement clear programmes to overcome growing xenophobia and violence. Attacks on migrants and minorities across Europe highlight that a clear methodological approach is badly needed to identify hate crimes. Otherwise, children will find their futures blighted’, warns Bokulic.

Notes to Editors

  • Click here to access the report.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide
  • About UNICEF: UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information or to pre-arrange interviews with Snjezana Bokulic, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].

For interviews with a representative of a European Roma minority organisation, please contact Nadir Redzepi, Executive Director, Roma Democratic Development Association Sonce, Macedonia ([email protected]).