Czech Republic: Roma Progress Report

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Amnesty International / Photographer: Jiri Pasz

The discrimination and segregation of Romani children in the Czech education system has been a longstanding and systemic problem.

  • Romani pupils are disproportionately placed in schools for pupils with mild mental disabilities.
  • They are segregated in mainstream education, often ending up in Roma-only schools or separate classrooms
  • Even when integrated into mainstream classes, they often find themselves treated differently by teachers and classmates and frequently report racial bullying and prejudice.

In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Czech Republic was violating these children’s rights not to be discriminated against in their access to education.

For the best part of a decade, only half-hearted and piecemeal measures were taken by national authorities to tackle such violations.

But in 2014, an unprecedented intervention forced the government to take action, when the European Commission started what’s called an infringement proceeding against the Czech Republic for breaching EU anti-discrimination legislation (the Race Equality Directive).

The infringement proceeding proved to be a much needed wake-up call and the Czech government promised more wide-ranging reforms. On 1 September 2016, as the new school year begins, an Amendment to the School Act will come into force ushering in a number of reforms. For the first time, inclusive education for all children appears as a realistic possibility in the Czech Republic provided the government delivers on its promises.

Julek, applicant in DH v Czech Republic, 2007
I don’t want my children to go through what I did – passed from mainstream school to special school and back again, never getting past seventh grade… with teachers saying things like “...be quiet, you have no future anyway".

So what does the amendment to the law stipulate?

The reform package envisages, among other things, support measures for children who have been identified as having special educational needs, including funding, the introduction of a compulsory year of kindergarten for all pupils, and, most significantly, the aim for all children with mild mental disabilities to be integrated into mainstream education. This last measure should mean the end of the programme for pupils with mild mental disabilities and the teaching of a reduced curriculum - which if implemented fully, would remove one of the main filters used in the past to exclude them from mainstream education.

NGOs have welcomed the reforms, but there is still a long way to go. The Czech authorities still need to:

  • Tackle prejudicial attitudes towards Roma by some teachers
  • Provide the necessary resources to support Romani children struggling in school
  • Stamp out the prejudice that many Romani children face from other pupils

The stats

1.4% - 2.8%

of the Czech population is Roma

32%

of children in education programmes for pupils with mild mental disabilities are Roma.

Just 30%

of Roma aged 20-24 have had a general or vocational secondary education, compared to 82% of non-Roma.

Serious action on this issue has been long overdue from the Czech authorities and Amnesty International welcomes these new laws coming into force.

For years, generations of Roma have been denied equal access to quality education, leading to further entrenched social marginalization and other inequalities.

Children are our future. They should be nurtured, not stifled, and that includes all children, regardless of ethnicity. Injustice must end and the new amendment is only the beginning of the fight against discrimination and segregation of Romani children in schools.

Amnesty International and other organisations in Europe will be watching these developments with interest and ensuring that they deliver real and long-lasting change.

We must persevere to ensure that the intention becomes reality, so that the right to education here is genuinely enjoyed by all, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Mark Martin, Director of Amnesty International Czech Republic

"Finally, after decades of systemic failure to provide equal access to education for Roma children, the Czech Republic is taking its first real steps this September toward providing quality, inclusive education for all children. At Amnesty International, we applaud this. Such meaningful systemic change will undoubtedly be a long and sometimes difficult process. We must persevere to ensure that the intention becomes reality, so that the right to education here is genuinely enjoyed by all, regardless of race or ethnicity."

Mark Martin, Director of Amnesty International Czech Republic