Romani Pupils Face Verbal and Physical Assault at School in Serbia and Montenegro
29 October 2003
On January 27, 2003, 14-year-old Kadira Idić, an 8th-grade Romani pupil at the Branko Radičević primary school in Bujanovac, southern Serbia, informed the ERRC, in partnership with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Minority Rights Center (MRC), that earlier in the day, she had been verbally harassed by three of her ethnic Serbian classmates and physically assaulted by her ethnic Serb teacher. Kadira told the ERRC/MRC that the students in her class had been making lists of the schools they would like to attend in the future. When Kadira marked "medical school" on her form, the three ethnic Serb boys told her that she didn't need to go to medical school because she was a "Gypsy" and would not get in anyway. Kadira told the ERRC/MRC that she is frequently insulted because she is Romani. According to Kadira, she then went to the staff room and told her teacher what the three boys had said to her. The teacher reportedly reacted by hitting Kadira on her head with a ruler and sending her out of the staff room. Thirty-nine-year-old Anifa Idić, Kadira's mother, met the director of the school and Kadira's teacher that same day. Ms Idić told the ERRC/MRC that Kadira's teacher denied having hit her, although the headmaster agreed to look into the problem.
ERRC/MRC research revealed that Romani children enrolled in the first grade at the Branko Radičević primary school attend two segregated classes, separated from the non-Romani pupils. On January 22, 2003, the MRC filed a complaint with the local court regarding the segregated classes in the school. The MRC also sent a letter so the school, asking that an administrative procedure to desegregate the classes commence. As of July 30, 2003, the MRC had not received a response from either the court or the school.
In Novi Sad, Romani pupils attending the Dositej Obradović primary school have reported to the ERRC/MRC that non-Romani students from another school often harass them. On January 12, 2003, 14-year-old Adam Greku testified that non-Romani students wait for him outside the school at the end of the day. Adam said that the boys, whom he could recognise, often swore and spat at him when he walked by them. According to Adam, the boys often made statements such things as "Roma stink like skunks".
In another matter related to the issues faced by Roma in accessing education, on January 6, 2003, Mr Hasan Ćosović, a 38-year-old Romani man from Zrenjanin in northern Serbia, informed the ERRC/MRC that his 12-year-old son Brajim was not enrolled in school. According to Mr Ćosović, Brajim underwent a psychological examination at the beginning of the school year, which found that he allegedly needed to attend a special school for mentally handicapped children. Mr Ćosović told the ERRC/MRC that Brajim is not mentally handicapped and does not need to attend such a school, he therefore signed a paper refusing to enrol Brajim in a school for the mentally handicapped. Mr Ćosović expressed the opinion to the ERRC/MRC that the teachers and psychologists that perform the tests immediately assume that Romani children belong in special schools and classes and that the testing is not fair.
The segregation of Romani pupils in schools for the mentally handicapped and in separate schools and classes has many long lasting results. It subjects Romani children to a curriculum far inferior to that offered in regular classes, decreasing their ability to proceed to higher educational institutions and their opportunities to secure adequate employment in the future. It also generates feelings of humiliation, alienation and lack of self-worth, and promulgates and reinforces racist attitudes towards Roma among non-Romani youth. By placing capable Romani children in schools for the mentally handicapped and segregating Romani pupils on the basis of their ethnicity in special schools and classes, Serbia and Montenegro violates Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which it is a party, which states, "States Parties particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction." Further, Article 28 (1) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Serbia and Montenegro succeeded on January 3, 1991, states that every child has the right to education. Article 29 (1) further states, "States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; [?]."