Hungary: Roma call on regime to avert “the destruction of this generation”

06 November 2019

By Bernard Rorke

At Roma Pride day in the town of Salgótarján in the north-east of Hungary, civil rights activist Jenő Setét together with partner Roma NGOs launched a petition in October, calling on the government to raise the compulsory school-leaving age to eighteen. As reported in Mérce Setét called for a joint effort “to keep children in the school system, otherwise we will have to face the destruction of this generation." The petition has garnered support from many educators and activists, as well as the wider Roma community which strongly favours any effort to keep young people in education. The slogan for the seventh Roma Pride day was “We want to learn!”

In 2012, the Orbán government lowered the school-leaving age from 18 to 16. This resulted in a surge in early school leavers. According to media reports internal figures from the  Ministry of Human Resources in 2016, revealed a figure of 42,254 early school leavers. Setét told reporters there was an urgent need for reforms to ensure that young Roma do not “fall into the void”, but rather leave school with qualifications and prospects for future employment.

EU reports education under Orbán is more segregated and more unequal 

The 2018 EU Education and Training Monitor for Hungary reveals a system that is becoming even more segregated and more unequal.  Participation of 17 and 18-year-olds in secondary education dropped sharply since Orbán’s lowering of the compulsory school-leaving age. Roma have been drastically excluded from education in recent years, leaving them hugely disadvantaged for the labour market. Early school leaving is more than six times higher (59.9 %) among Roma than among non-Roma (8.9 %). 

The report found that separation of disadvantaged pupils, including Roma, “has accelerated in the last decade”. Increasing residential separation and enrolment policies have resulted in the education system becoming ever more segregated on ethnic grounds: “most Roma children still attend schools where all or most children are Roma”.  

In the most deprived northeast of the country, the lowering of the school leaving age has meant that many young Roma quit school with no market skills or qualifications. Their only option is to be drafted into public works schemes, that promise no integration, no future (and no more than 140 Euro a month), but trap the next generation into a cycle of poverty, powerlessness and social exclusion. 

The Roma organisations behind this nationwide petition have been collecting signatures on the ground in over 60 locations, including villages, towns and cities across the country. They maintain that one way to break the cycle of exclusion is to raise the compulsory school-leaving age back to 18; reform the system to end discrimination and tackle gross inequities; and provide disadvantaged Romani students with the necessary supports to stay on and complete their education.


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