Introduction to Roma in Romania
Romania has a total population of 20121641, according to the most recent census, conducted in 2011. There are 18 recognized minorities, including 6.5% Hungarians and 3.3% Roma. Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007. The GDP (Gross domestic product) per capita in PPS is 54,1 which is the second lowest in the European Union. The HDI (human development index) of Romania is 0.786.2
The official number of Roma people living in Romania is 621573, but unofficially the number of Roma is estimated to be 1.5-2 million. Roma in Romania have been historically subject to discrimination and social exclusion. After centuries of slavery, Roma in Romania have been set free with no additional measures for integration (1856). Roma in Romania have been victims of genocide (Porajmos), during World War II, when they have been deported. Tens of thousands have died due to inhumane living conditions.
A recent study conducted by Romani CRISS indicated that 33% of the respondents felt discriminated against by police representatives, when searching for a job and when dealing with the municipality representatives. 20% of the respondents felt discriminated against when interacting with justice and 27% of the respondents experienced discrimination when addressing the health care system (“Stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination: The perspective of the Roma”, Totem Communication for Romani CRISS, 2011). The latest report on Romania of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlights that the Romanian political discourse includes frequently stigmatising statements against Roma. The same report notes that poor public funding has been allocated to implement the Roma strategies, and that there is weak coordination among ministries on this subject.
With regard to the participation of Roma in Romania to education, the Roma survey conducted in 2011 by FRA, UNDP and World Bank (The situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States) shows that 31 % of the interviewed Roma in Romania cannot read or write. 24% of the interviewed Roma in Romania have no formal education, while only 8% have completed secondary or higher education. 55% of the interviewed Roma declared they had stopped going to school because of economic reasons, compared to European average of 37%. 52% of the Roma left school before the age of 16.
Another study, conducted by Romani CRISS, indicates that the kindergarten participation in rural areas is 17.8%, while in urban areas is 36.8% (Roma School Participation, Non-Attendance and Discrimination in Romania – Romani CRISS, 2011).
Presidential Commission’s report for analysis and elaboration of policies in the field of education and research indicated that “Approximately 80% of unschooled young people are Roma. 38% of these are functional illiterate. 64% of Roma are enrolled to primary school, compared to the national rate of 98.9%”.
Besides the economic situation, one of the obstacles Roma children face is discrimination in schools, as well as school segregation. Apart from the physical separation, Roma children learning in segregated environments don’t enjoy the same conditions as non-Roma children and most frequently the overall quality of education is lower.
One of the public policies adopted by the Romanian government, for the improvement of the access of Roma children to education is the creation of the school mediator. It was started as several local initiatives of Romani CRISS, in areas affected by the interethnic conflicts in Romania, at the beginning of the 1990s. The activity of the school mediators contributes to the improvement of the school participation of the Roma children, to the decrease of absenteeism and school drop, and to creating a relation between the school and the Roma communities. In that period, apart from payment covered by NGOs, there were no public funds to ensure the school mediators’ remuneration. Several NGOs, including Romani CRISS, have started a lobby process which led to the adoption of an Order issued by the Ministry of Education (Order no 1539/19 July 2007), on the activity of the school mediators.
Another relevant Roma public policy is the affirmative action in education. At the beginning, in 1990, the Ministry of Education allocated special places for Roma students in a few high schools. Currently, there are special places for Roma in both high schools and universities.