The Roma youth participation examples included in this publication must be contextualised within the current European social and political context, in which Roma human rights are still violated and social exclusion and hate speech affecting Roma communities are widespread. These examples must also be contextualised within the efforts to support the participation of young Roma and their potential to be a protagonist in what concerns the improvement of the living conditions of Roma communities, and making the voice of Roma communities heard. While in many communities across Europe, Roma young people face tremendous pressures and must “become” adults because their perspectives to enjoy their “right to be young” are slim, at the same time there are more and more examples that young Roma are aware of their potential and role as partners in the dialogue about anything that concerns them and their communities. This publication aims to highlight both the challenges that young Roma face, as well as their efforts to actively shape their present and their future.

In 2011, when the Council of Europe organised its first Roma Youth Conference in order to develop its Roma Youth Action Plan, Roma young people and Roma youth organisations pointed out the main concerns, issues and challenges that affect young Roma today. We quote here the input of the 60 participants in this conference, in order to provide an overview of the situation of young Roma today.

Roma youth face a number of external challenges, including:

  • limited access to political participation and absence from relevant decision-making bodies and processes
  • limited or no participation in mainstream youth events and initiatives
  • a lack of political will for mainstream youth programmes that are more inclusive of Roma youth
  • an absence of Roma youth issues from related mainstream legislation and policies at national and international level
  • a lack of solid (or any) funding for youth activities – where they exist they often exclude Roma youth organisations due to their weakness and specificities
  • an absence of effective positive measures towards equality of opportunities
  • a lack of disaggregated data and statistics, rendering Roma youth doubly invisible
  • a preponderance of pilot project-based activities for Roma youth which lack strategic focus to link to sustainable policies
  • high levels of discrimination, which have a deep impact on self-esteem and self-confidence and lead to further stigmatisation and exclusion of Roma youth and their families
  • a lack of access to essential goods and services, as well as the same opportunities as other young people
  • the reality of growing up in segregated neighbourhoods and schools, which prevents Roma youth from being part of mainstream society
  • multiple forms of discrimination (including intra-community discrimination) of particularly vulnerable groups such as women, LGBT youth, HIV-positive individuals, migrants and undocumented young people
  • a generally negative portrayal of Roma in mainstream media, which reinforces prejudices, stereotypes and racialised attitudes
  • a lack of information in the media, in school textbooks or other sources of educational information concerning Roma culture and the lives of young Roma
  • significant barriers to accessing quality education, often even to education at all
  • the widespread practice of placing disproportionate numbers of Roma children and young people in special schools for mentally disabled people
  • low levels of education and training among Roma youth, leading to their being uncompetitive in the labour market
  • low levels of access to high school, and even lower levels to university-level education
  • the high levels of poverty which Roma children and young people experience as they grow up
  • a lack of birth certificates, identity documents and citizenship status, meaning that Roma are often invisible to the administration and are denied the possibility of exerting their rights.

Internal challenges include:

weak Roma youth organisations and a lack of Roma youth structures

  • poor co-ordination and communication among existing structures (e.g. Roma and non-Roma youth; Roma youth and general Roma movements, organisations and authorities responsible for them)
  • a lack of information and education about human rights and citizenship rights
  • low levels of mobilisation, making Roma youth movements invisible
  • low levels of Roma youth voluntarism and participation in mainstream youth organisations and projects
  • a limited capacity to manage and apply for project funding
  • self-loathing and self-segregation as a result of discrimination and exclusion, leading young Roma to hide their ethnic and cultural identity
  • early and arranged marriages, which pose barriers for young people, and young women in particular, to continuing education or pursuing a professional career
  • disproportionate placement of Roma children and youngsters in care institutions, where many of them lose their ethnic identity
  • domestic violence affecting young girls and women
  • difficult relations between Roma youth and elder Roma leaders
  • tensions between different Roma groups and communities which limit co-operation between youth organisations
  • a lack of youth role models in Roma communities.

(Source: ‘The Right to be young’, Roma Youth Conference report, Council of Europe, 2012)