Czech Republic: Systematic discrimination against Romani children in schools

Roma-only building of a primary school in Brno. “History of Roma”. Credit: Amnesty International

Let’s call this what it is: racism, pure and simple.



23 April 2015

Romani children face daily discrimination and segregation in schools due to the Czech government’s longstanding failure to address deeply engrained prejudice within the education system, said Amnesty International in a new report launched today.

Must try harder: Ethnic discrimination of Romani Children in Czech schools, documents how the the Czech authorities are violating the human rights of Romani children in schools across the country. Romani children are segregated in mainstream education in Roma-only separate classes, buildings and schools and even placed in schools for pupils with “mild mental disabilities”. Those in ethnically mixed schools experience bullying, and harassment.

“The widespread segregation of Romani children is a horrifying example of systematic prejudice, with schools introducing children to bitter discrimination at an early age,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, who launched the report in Prague, Czech Republic today.

“By failing to properly address this issue for years the Czech government is not only breaching European Union and human rights law but is restricting the life chances of tens of thousands of Czech citizens. Let’s call this what it is: racism, pure and simple.”

The report comes as the European Commission (EC) prepares to assess the progress made by the Czech Republic in addressing the issue. In September 2014, the European Commission initiated an unprecedented infringement procedure against the Czech Republic for breach of EU anti-discrimination legislation. If the government fails to carry out the necessary measures, the Commission could refer the Czech Republic to the European Court of Justice.

Amnesty International found that Romani children are routinely placed into schools for pupils with “mild mental disabilities” with reduced learning possibilities.

Nearly a third of pupils in these so-called “practical schools” are Roma, despite the Romani community making up less than 3% of the Czech Republic.

Andrej was sent to a “practical school” when he was in 5th grade. He is now 15 and told Amnesty International he did not understand he was being moved to a school designed for pupils with mental disabilities. “They make idiots of us at the practical school. It’s really easy. They teach slower and I don’t think I can go to a good high school from here,” he said.  

Romani children also suffer from segregation in mainstream education, often ending up either in Roma-only schools or within mixed schools in a separate building or classroom.

Failure to support learning and prevent racial bullying
Romani children who are in mainstream mixed education often find they are treated differently by their classmates and teachers.

They are not offered language support, despite the fact many do not have Czech as their mother tongue.

Petr, a Romani boy in 5th grade in a mixed mainstream school in Dìèín told Amnesty International that he often faces bullying: “They call me names because I’m Roma. The teacher doesn’t deal with it and when I tell her, she accuses me of starting it. She treats us differently.”

“The solution to children struggling in school is not to segregate on ethnic lines, but to find ways to support all children in an inclusive manner so that they can equally enjoy their right to education. This is not a ‘luxury’ but a legal requirement and moral imperative,” said Salil Shetty.

Must try harder
In February 2015 the government announced plans to get rid of “practical schools” and announced that it will review its funding policies for education.

However, as yet, there are no plans for how these moves will be enforced, nor concrete timelines for when they will be delivered.

“Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his government have shown more willingness than their predecessors to address this problem, but there is still an awfully long way to go. We have seen empty promises to reform the Czech educational system come and go before. The discrimination of Romani children has been going on for decades. It is time for it to end,” said Salil Shetty.

Amnesty International is calling on the Czech government to create a system to monitor and enforce the changes promised, with school inspectors being tasked with holding individual schools to account.

“Segregation in education will not be resolved by tinkering with a flawed system. This has been tried and failed. Until the government tackles the ethnic prejudice that is the rotten core of this issue, the problem will continue,” said Salil Shetty.

Notes to editors
In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Czech Republic had violated the rights of Romani children not to be discriminated against in their access to education and called on the government to end the this discrimination.

The launch marks the start of the human rights movement’s new campaign to ensure full access to education, free from discrimination, for all Romani children in the Czech Republic.

Public Document

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: 

Maeve Patterson
Head of Media & Communications
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: +32 (0)2 548 27 73
Mobile: +32 (0)483 680 812
Twitter: @mpat79
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