AS (2013) CR 13
2013 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 23 April 2013 at 3.30 p.m.
Ending discrimination against Roma Children
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Ms FABER-VAN DE KLASHORST (Netherlands) — Roma live like an isolated group, often leading a nomadic existence. They have their own culture based on the Sokasja, a system of norms and values that demands utter loyalty to family, clan and tribe; belief in destiny; belief in the world of spirits and of magic; belief in the power of their ancestors; belief in Roma respect and honour; and belief in the superiority of their own system of justice. Roma who contravene the Sokasja can be banished from their community.
National governments have little control over Roma because of their culture and because Roma are often stateless. National governments would like the Roma to make a bigger economic contribution. They hope to achieve this through the Roma children, by giving them better living conditions. You can improve living conditions by giving children an education because education opens the door to a better life. But are free transport and meals really the way to entice children to school? And is it really a good idea to provide courses in the Romani language and in Roma culture? All it does is place the Roma in a different position. Discrimination is treating people differently and that is what has to end. It is better for children at school to learn the language and culture of the country where they live.
All right-minded people want children to thrive, including Roma children. Roma mothers will want what is best for their children. Approaching these mothers through pre-natal and infant health care is a way of gaining entry to the Roma community. However, the question is whether Roma mothers will be prepared to accept education for their children and access to health care in exchange for adapting to the system of the country where they live. To what extent will their own culture permit this? Will a mother act in contravention of the Sokasja if it means running the risk of banishment?
People can only make progress if they themselves want to. But do the Roma see conforming to another system of justice as progress? And is providing free goods and services really the right way to go about it? Nothing is free – someone has to foot the bill. And there is a high chance that this bill will be presented to the working poor.
It is better not just to be granted rights but also to have obligations. If people want access to the benefits a society has to offer, they should also expect to bear the responsibilities. This means that the Roma will have to adapt. Preserving their own culture is a matter for the Roma themselves.
In the recent past and at this moment, Europe is making the same mistake with non-western immigrants, by helping to fund the preservation of their cultures, which causes segregation instead of assimilation.
Much depends on the Roma themselves. How willing are they to settle and adapt to a country? If they demonstrate good behaviour, we can improve the system of issuing birth certificates. And this carries not only obligations, but also rights.
Ms MATTILA (Finland) — I would like to congratulate the rapporteur Ms Memecan for her excellent and very comprehensive report that does not leave any questions unanswered.
We are covering a large group of people when we talk about Roma children, but we are also discussing childhood, a time in life that is most valuable for a human being – or at least should be. This initial period in a human life should always be the most protected as it sets the basis for the rest of one’s life. We must offer children what I would call “peace for childhood”, meaning the possibility to enjoy their lives as children. As the daughter of a single mother of a sign-language speaking family, I know from personal experience we have to recognise these young carers in every society, that it is not rare for children to take care of their own parents, even in Finland.
But problems occur even earlier than in my example. If we are not able to guarantee early registration of births, it becomes even more difficult for us to offer prenatal and infant health care. This is where we need to start. Discrimination at such an early age, actually before a child is born, is very cruel. No one is guilty for being born, so I think we have to focus our efforts of girls growing up to become mothers one day. I am therefore happy that we are discussing this report here today. Its resolution gives important proposals to member States.
To finish, let me underline the importance of education and employment. For example, in Finland getting a job usually gives only partial access to social services, but, at the same time, having a proper job gives women a feeling of dignity and empowers them to take better care of their families. So let us trade discrimination for inclusion. It is not easy to find employment without an education and in this regard I want to highlight the importance of NGO’s. For example, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent are doing valuable work, but I think that we as politicians should do more to build networks with organisations that help Roma women help their children. Let us end this vicious cycle of discrimination.