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9.4 Roma children and young people

Typically, the Roma are concentrated in those neighbourhoods of the cities where they live, either central or outlying, with the worst reputations for crime and disorder. Here, housing may be overcrowded and unsanitary, roads and other infrastructure may be poor, and public buildings and services may be limited and of low quality. Some of these neighbourhoods have been - and more are likely to be - affected by urban renewal projects, causing displacement and new patterns of hardship. An early urban redevelopment scheme resulted in the displacement of an old Roma community from Istanbul’s Sulukule neighbourhood from the late 1990s onwards.

The exclusion of the Roma is compounded by the fact that many of their traditional skills have been made obsolete by modern technology or life-styles, adding to their impoverishment and trapping them in marginal professions like dealing in scrap metal and plastic, collection of paper and other waste, street-hawking, shoe-shining, portering, casual labour in small businesses like bakeries or tanneries, flower-selling, cleaning and housekeeping or performing music in bars.

Roma have difficulty leaving their neighbourhoods, entering into public life, taking up public services and approaching public authorities due to their poverty and low levels of education, lack of information and social skills and the likelihood of discriminatory treatment by public officials, professionals, potential employers and others. The Turkish word çingene (gypsy) has numerous negative connotations. Citizens frequently assume others living in the same neighbourhoods as the Roma, as well as beggars and thieves, to be çingene. Those members of Roma communities whose circumstances improve may tend to leave their communities and conceal their identities. 

These conditions have serious implications for Roma children and young people. They may be at extra risk of missing out on birth registration, timely school enrolment, immunization or basic health care. The poverty of Roma children may be compounded by large family size, and they may be expected or obliged to work – often on the street and/or after dark – in order to earn income for their families. In some cases, their living and working conditions may increase the risk of health problems and addictions. Childhood and adulthood are not clearly separated among the Roma, and work and marriage traditionally come early, especially - but not exclusively - for girls.

Roma have little experience of the benefits of formal education and may not, in the last resort, be able to prioritise it for their sons and daughters. Outside the entertainment industry, they have no successful role models. In education, as in other areas, data is not collected on the basis of ethnic group in Turkey, which makes it impossible to state the level of non-enrolment, late enrolment, irregular attendance or drop-out among Roma children - or to monitor any improvement or deterioration over time. Nevertheless, Roma children are believed to be among the children with the lowest school participation. This has become clear during efforts to ensure 100% enrolment in primary education – for example, with the aid of catch-up education. The forthcoming country report on Turkey drawn up under the international Out Of School Children initiative coordinated by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics cites a field study conducted from July 2006 to January 2008 (Marsh et.al., Eşitsiz Vatandaşlık: Türkiye Çingenelerinin Karşılaştığı Hak İhlalleri [Unequal Citizenship: Right Violations facing Gypsies of Turkey], 2008) to the effect that the Roma are the group with the lowest levels of educational attainment, school enrolment and literacy rates. This is attributed to inadequate financial resources, prejudices and low expectations in schools. Early marriage and child labour are other likely causes.

Ensuring Roma participation in education is important for realising not only the right to education but also the other rights of these children. However, Roma children may have more difficulty than other poor children when it comes to fitting in with school rules, socialising, attending regularly and on time, passing classes and transiting to the next level of education (Displacement by urban renewal schemes may also affect school enrolment and attendance). School managers and teachers are not sensitised to these issues. Some may themselves be prejudiced and discriminate against the Roma children. Schools in Roma neighbourhoods may not be well maintained and equipped.

In recent years – and especially with the Sulukule affair - Roma associations and other organisations have been drawing attention to the Roma and the issues which they face. In March 2009, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Edirne Roman Derneği (EDROM) called on the government to apply to be a part of the international Decade of Roma Inclusion. This would require Turkey to adopt and implement a plan for tackling the problems of exclusion in the areas of health, housing, employment and education (The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies encourages non-EU countries including Turkey to develop a similar strategy and action plan with concrete targets). However, the government has not replied positively. Although the Prime Minister addressed a large gathering of Roma citizens in Istanbul on March 14th 2010, promising a “Roma opening”, no government programmes were developed as a result.

In 2011, the Ministry of National Education held two participatory workshops to identify the bottlenecks Roma children face in education systems and accordingly develop an action plan to mitigate the impact of poverty on the participation and performance of Roma children in education. This was an innovatory step which followed on from work on access to education, supported by UNICEF, which highlighted the likelihood for Roma children to be out of school. However, the action plan was not then clarified, finalised or implemented.

In these circumstances, the limited efforts which are being made to raise Roma issues, improve the daily living conditions of the Roma and assist their children to study are mainly carried out by local municipalities, neighbourhood officials (muhtar) or civil society. Most Roma associations have very limited resources and capacity.

There is limited data, especially quantitative data on the Roma and similar groups in Turkey, and on the issues which they and their children face. However, existing studies include: (i) Edirne Roma Association (EDROM)/European Roma Rights Centre/Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly: We are here! Discriminatory exclusion and struggle for rights of Roma in Turkey, 2008, and (ii) Başak Ekim Akkan, Mehmet Baki Deniz, Mehmet Ertan & Başak Erel: Poverty and Social Exclusion of Roma in Turkey, November 2011 (available at http://www.spf.boun.edu.tr/content_files/Roman_Kitap_ENG.pdf, or in Turkish at http://www.spf.boun.edu.tr/content_files/Roman_Kitap_TR.pdf), published by Edirne Roma Association (EDROM), Bogazici (Bosphorus) University Social Policy Forum and Anadolu Kültür as part of the EU- and Sweden-supported Project for Developing Comprehensive Social Policies for Roma Communities.



UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org