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Friday, 23 June 2017

Praxis Held Consultative Meetings with School Education Staff on the Topic of Child, Early and Forced Marriages

In May and June 2017, Praxis held three consultative meetings on the topic of prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriages and early dropouts of Roma pupils from the education system, in the primary schools "Jovan Cvijić" in Kostolac, "Boško Palkovljevic Pinki" in Batajnica, and "Aleksandar Stojanović - Leso" in Novi Pazar. Over 60 school education staff members, including pedagogical assistants, pedagogues and psychologists, attended these meetings.

The meetings are part of activities aimed at preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriages, which have been implemented for the third consecutive year within the framework of the project Legal Assistance to Persons at Risk of Statelessness, financed by UNHCR. In addition to considering the legal framework regulating the field of child, early and forced marriages, the meetings specifically addressed the competences of educational institutions and the obligation of schools to react immediately by filing a report to the competent authority upon becoming aware of any signs of violence, abuse or neglect of pupils. The cooperation of all relevant institutions, primarily social welfare centres, schools and police, was once again emphasised as crucial in the fight against child, early and forced marriages. Through the discussion we presented the examples of good practice in Serbia and in the world, and then we jointly defined the problems/causes leading to this harmful practice and the strategies/mechanisms that would lead to prevention and elimination.

The meeting participants showed an obvious interest in the topic, especially in concrete proposals. They presented the situations they were facing and asked for advice. They pointed out that one of the most important problems was the irregularity of attendance by children due to moving with their families to other places in Serbia or abroad to perform seasonal jobs. In addition, they stressed poor cooperation with Roma parents who were not interested in the achievement of their children. The education staff often felt a lot of pressure from the non-Roma parents who insisted that Roma children were moved to other classes or schools. The lack of efficient and timely response by the competent institutions to the cases of child, early and forced marriages, primarily by social welfare centres, was emphasised as a special problem. They stressed that the education system in Serbia was regulated in a way that every child was allowed to complete the first four grades of primary school, regardless of the regularity of attendance. Thus, it happened that some children almost never attended classes, but only appeared towards the end of the fourth grade, after which they passed to the fifth grade. However, they were unable to follow the classes and often abandoned further schooling. In such cases, the teachers knew that marriage was often the next step. In addition to the major deficiencies in the system, the school education staff members were insufficiently informed and interested, and they were prone to prejudice. Therefore, it was necessary, as confirmed by the participants, to hold as many such or similar meetings as possible with the representatives of competent institutions and with the Roma community, in order to prevent this harmful traditional practice in the future.

Praxis will continue to implement the activities that address the issue of child, early and forced marriages through further work with school education staff, and especially through workshops with children in primary schools.

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