The Czech Republic has failed to comply with a European court order to stop placing Roma children in schools for the mentally disabled regardless of the students' capabilities, rights group Amnesty International said Thursday.
The European Court of Human Rights had ruled in 2007 that the Czech Republic must stop the practice.
Roma people in Europe suffer from widespread discrimination not only in schools, but also in the labor and housing markets and from health care providers, according to a report by the European Commission published last year. The commission opened an investigation last year into whether the Czech Republic was breaching European Union anti-discrimination legislation.
Amnesty International said it found that Roma comprise almost 30 percent of the students in Czech Republic schools for those with mild mental disabilities, even though Roma make up less than 3 percent of the country's population.
"The widespread segregation of Romani children is a horrifying example of systematic prejudice, with schools introducing children to bitter discrimination at an early age," the report quoted Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general. "Let's call this what it is: racism, pure and simple."
In its report, Amnesty said it interviewed two Roma boys whose experience is “sadly typical of many Romani children in the country who face ethnic discrimination and segregation in schools.”
The Amnesty report quoted a 15-year-old Roma student it identified only as Andrej saying he was sent to a school for children with mental disabilities, regardless of his actual intellectual capabilities, when he was 5 years old.
“They make idiots of us at the practical school. It’s really easy. They teach slower, and I don’t think I can go to a good high school from here,” he said.
The Czech education ministry said that it has been taking steps to address the problem and that the number of Roma children in such schools declined by 11 percent, or 440 pupils, last year.
Amnesty International also claims that Roma pupils who go to mainstream schools are separated from other students, in breach of the country's international obligations to the European Union. Many Roma do not receive language support despite Czech being their second language, the report said, adding that they are being treated differently from the other children in other ways as well.
“They call me names because I’m Roma. The teacher doesn’t deal with it and when I tell her, she accuses me of starting it. She treats us differently,” Petr, a Roma boy who attends fifth grade at a public school in Diein, Czech Republic, told Amnesty International.
"The solution to children struggling in school is not to segregate them along ethnic lines, but to find ways to support all children in an inclusive manner so that they can equally enjoy their right to education,” Shetty said. “This is not a 'luxury' but a legal requirement and moral imperative.”
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press