Segregated Education for Romani Children in Serbia and Montenegro

10 May 2003

ERRC research revealed that many Romani children are segregated into separate schools and classes throughout Serbia. On October 8, 2002, the ERRC received information that the Subotica city council had approved plans to introduce separate classes in local schools for Romani children displaced from Kosovo, allegedly because the children did not speak Serbian well enough. According to the information received, the local government then had to obtain approval from the Serbian Educational Ministry in order to proceed. On October 14, 2002, the ERRC, jointly with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), sent a letter to a number of authorities, including the President and the Serbian Ministry of Education and Sports, expressing concern at the plan. As of December 10, 2002, the city council was reportedly waiting for approval from the Ministry of Education and Sports to go ahead with the plan. On December 10, 2002, the Subotica-based Romani non-governmental organisation Roma Cultural Centre informed the ERRC that Kosovo Roma in Subotica live in the area of the primary school "Szecsenyi Istvan". The director of the school prohibited eligible Romani children from attending classes at the school during the 2001/2002 school year, reportedly because the school did not have special classes. In the fall of 2002, an extraordinarily high number of Kosovo Romani students wanted to enroll in the school. Under pressure, the director apparently accepted only nineteen Kosovo Romani students into the school, placing them in separate classes. According to the Roma Cultural Centre, the teacher of the Romani students was quite happy with their progress and believed that they would soon be able to integrate into regular classes, but that this would not happen without the will of the director. The primary school "Djura Salaj" accepted the approximately ninety remaining Kosovo Romani students and placed them in separate classes. The Roma Cultural Centre told the ERRC that there is a formal memo signed by the school's director that the children would be transferred into mixed classes as soon as they are deemed capable. As of December 10, 2002, however, only four Kosovo Romani children had been transferred into mixed classes. The Roma Cultural Centre also expressed the concern to the ERRC that, with the coming of cold weather, many of the children would drop out of the primary school "Djura Salaj" because it is far away from where they live and they have to walk because the municipality does not pay for transport as the distance is less than four kilometres. On October 23, 2002, Mr Omer Bunjakov, a 44-year-old internally displaced Romani man from Kosovo living in Subotica, testified to the ERRC that his 15-year-old son attends the segregated first grade class for Romani children in the primary school "Djura Salaj". The director of the school and some teachers told Mr Bunjakov that the Romani children are placed in a separate class because they do not speak Serbian well enough to be in classes with Serbian students. However, according to Mr Bunjakov, there are also Serbian-speaking Romani children who were born in Subotica in class with his son.

In many cases, the ERRC found that Romani children are placed in special schools and special classes without the consent of their parents, or at times, their knowledge. On October 6, 2002, Ms Radinka Sokolović, a 49-year-old internally displaced Romani woman from Kosovo living in the Veliki Rit Romani settlement in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, stated to the ERRC that her son Darko attended a regular primary school, but because she could not afford to purchase all the necessary books and supplies, he was unable to pass his exams. Because of this, Ms Sokolović told the ERRC, in September 2002, Darko's teacher placed him in a "special school" - a school for the mentally handicapped. Mr Đorđe Stojkov, a 34-year-old Romani man from Kikinda, northern Serbia, testified to the ERRC that after an educational medical commission tested his 12-year-old son Danijel, the doctor reportedly told Mr Stojkov that Danijel should attend a special school. Mr Stojkov stated that he did not believe that Danijel belonged in a special school and did not want to sign the necessary papers, "but the doctor who examined my son told me that I had to sign or else he would call the police and I would have to go to prison. He also cursed me. I had to sign." Similarly, Ms Drita Saliha, a 44-year-old internally displaced Romani woman from Kosovo living in the Veliki Rit Romani settlement, was unaware that her 10-year-old daughter Selveta attended a special school until the time of her meeting with the ERRC on October 6, 2002. Selveta told the ERRC that all of the children in her class were Romani.

The ERRC also found that discrimination against Roma in access to other fundamental rights, such as employment or social assistance, also led to the segregation of Romani children in special schools and special classes. On October 11, 2002, Mr Rustem Asetov, a 35-year-old Romani man, told the ERRC that his three children all attend the special school "19 May" in Zrenjanin, northern Serbia, even though an educational medical commission found that they were all fit to attend regular school. Mr Asetov stated that he begged the doctor to allow his children to go to a special school because he and his wife had been unemployed for eleven years and they couldn't afford to buy the school supplies they would need. Mr Asetov said, "it is better for my children to be educated in a special school than in no school at all." On the same day, Ms Ševka Šećiri, a 48-year-old Romani woman told the ERRC that she had been married to a man from Zrenjanin and lived there for 25 years but she had Macedonian citizenship and was unable to renew her ID when it expired. Because of this, Ms Šećiri told the ERRC, she did not receive her child benefits and therefore could not afford to send her children to a regular school.

Cases of abuse of Romani children at school by non-Romani classmates are also reported. On October 25, 2002, 12-year-old Lela Demić told the ERRC, in partnership with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Minority Rights Center (MRC), that, in the winter of 2002, two boys from her class at the primary school "Stevan Divnin-Baba" in Žabalj, southern Serbia, threw snowballs at her and her best friend Ankica, and tripped her. Lela stated that, when she fell, the boys started kicking her and told her that she was a "dirty Gypsy". Similarly, on October 24, 2002, Ms Maja Dalipović, a 26-year-old Romani woman, told the ERRC/MRC that her seven-year-old son Stefan had problems at the primary school "Dobrosav Jovanović Stanko" in Niš, southern Serbia. The children in Stefan's class reportedly did not want to play with him and called him a "dirty Gypsy". Ms Dalipović told the ERRC that she spoke to Stefan's teacher because he came home in tears every day, but was told that the teacher couldn't help. Article 28 (1) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Yugoslavia 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; [?]."

(ERRC, MRC, Roma Cultural Centre)


Challenge discrimination, promote equality


Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal


The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Find out how you can join or support our activities