ADC “Memorial” initiated discussions on school education for Roma children in Leningrad region

On April 23, 2013 ADC “Memorial” met with ombudsman for children’s rights for Leningrad region Tamara Litvinova. During the meeting the problem of segregation, i.e. separate school education of Roma and non-Roma children in Nizhniye Oselki village (Vsevolzhsky district of Leningrad region), was discussed. Children from Roma families find themselves in worse conditions compared to children from non-Roma families at the local school and as a result of that education received by Roma children is of poorer quality, significantly poorer than is considered standard.

The problem of discrimination of children from a nearby Roma settlement in Verkhniye Oselki remains unsolved for many years now in spite of persistent attempts of the human rights defenders to persuade local school administration that the rights of all children should be equally observed.

Tamara Litvinova has thoroughly considered the report on violation of children’s right for education. On May 8, 2013 together with the head of the Vsevolzhsky district committee for education Alexander Morzhinsky she visited Oselki school. There they met with both the school administration and some of the local Roma dwellers.

Following that, on May 14, 2013 the staff of ADC “Memorial” met with the head of Vsevolzhsky district education committee Alexander Morzhinsky, his deputy Yana Sakhatskaya and director of Oselki school Zinaida Tsareva. The school administration promised that based on appeals from parents Roma children will be integrated into school classes starting the second year of education.

Unfortunately during the course of discussion the school director, using the support of the district education committee heads, has continuously defended preservation of segregation of Roma children, although this is explicitly prohibited by both Russian and international laws. The argument used by the school director in the discussion – that “if Roma children are allowed into common classes and are transferred to the main school building, the rest of the pupils will leave the school” – couldn’t be considered well-grounded. Experience of other Russian schools, which are located nearby similar Roma settlements, indicates that all pupils can and should co-exist together, in common classes, common gyms, common canteens – everywhere.

It is inadmissible to justify segregation of children according to ethnicity, while de facto violating the rights of the majority of pupils (in Oselki more than two thirds of pupils come from Roma families). Separate placement of Roma children into a smaller building, not fit for this purpose, denial of possibility to use specialized classrooms for studies, forcing them to study in two shifts (while relatively smaller classes of non-Roma children use the larger school premises, study in one shift, use all specialized classrooms, study all school subjects and go to the school canteen) results in a situation when not a single Roma pupil has successfully completed secondary school education in Oselki. Several hundred Roma pupils have passed through this school in the last 15 years, but most of them didn’t master even the primary school course.

The dialogue between the human rights defenders and the officials in charge of the Roma children in Leningrad region continues. In June this year ADC “Memorial” will report on the situation of children from vulnerable groups of population, including Roma people, during the discussion of the Russian Federation’s observation of the Convention on Rights of the Child at the meeting of the UN Committee for the Rights of Child. 

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