Film on Roma Kids in Belgrade

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The Roma majority is the poorest in Serbia.  According to the Census from 2002 the Roma made 1,44% of the total population in Serbia, that is, 108,193 of Roma defined themselves as Roma. However, demographers estimate there to be  400,000 to 450,000 Roma living in Serbia and Montenegro. Problems tied to determining the exact number of Roma appear because a large number of Roma do not declare themselves as a part of the Roma ethnic community but more often as members of the majority population or as members of other nationalities (Serbs, Romanians, other) . The majority of the Roma population lives in unhygienic ‘wild settlements’ . In Serbia,  there are an estimated 600, of which 105 are situated in the territory of Belgrade. A large percentage of the Roma population in our country, which is 68,4%, is unemployed, while only 18,6% is employed and 8% have a part-time job. One fifth of Roma families have no income and most of them live from earnings made from “grey economy”. Roma in our country are educationally the most endangered national minority, since one out of every five able-working Roma is illiterate, every third has not finished primary school and only one tenth possesses skilled knowledge. Only 9% Roma have finished secondary school while only 0,3% have a higher or high school diploma .

 New Belgrade is the most urban part of Belgrade. Block 71 is one of 17 squatter settlements in New Belgrade.  Block 71 is behind the settlement Dr. Ivan Ribar and extends along a very narrow belt from the Sava bank to an imaginary extension of Jurij Gagarin Street. This settlement is a ‘slam’ settlement. A slam settlement is defined as a “house settlement in which the social and environmental conditions are so bad that it has a negative impact on the health, social and psychological state of the residents. 

The Roma in such a settlement generate electricity from old accumulators found beside garbage containers, enough to power a television, radio and to charge cell phones. Water for bathing or dish washing is supplied from the nearby swamp and from water deposits. Water for drinking is transported in plastic canisters by bicycles or horse carts.

Two large Roma families live in this settlement . I inquired about one family, the family Stankovic, that originates from Aleksinac, a town in south of Serbia. The members of this family are Romanian Roma of orthodox beliefs. None of them are employed because they do not have a primary school diploma. Also, their children do not attend school. Besides this, not a single member from the Stankovic family is officially registered as a Belgrade citizen because they do not have medical insurance or social security. There are 25 senior members in this family, 15 female and 10 male. They are between twenty and fifty years of age. This family has 35 children. The family Stankovic lives in a settlement of twelve houses. Four houses have two rooms each, while the other houses each have one room. All the houses are built from simple materials.

All of the members of the Stankovic family collect old iron and old paper and the children beg at the New Belgrade traffic lights The men are engaged in collecting old iron, the women collect old paper, while children work with their parents or beg. This is the reason why we can say that they find themselves in “an enchanted circle of misery, and are not included in social distribution of work because they are not educated and this is because they do not have the elementary conditions for schooling”  . Due to the fact that their children also do not attend school and that they will not have the opportunity to find  formal employment, we can observe a case of generation-poverty being created.

The 31 children from the Stankovic family grew up in a family that is characteristic of a Roma ethnic community. The Roma family “is characterized by establishing of marital communion at an early age. A large number of children and the extended family in which patriarchal customs and regulations rule” . The women mostly at the age of 14 or 15 and the men at the age of 15 or 16 .  All marriages are endogamous. In this family the men are “the providers for the family and have monopoly in decision making while women have the role of mothers and the responsibility of bringing up children”  . The obligations of Roma women are to cook, wash, take care of children, work and “not to go around with other men”, as they say.

Parents present their children with specific duties they must fulfill during day. These duties are divided between girls and boys according to the gender. The girls are obliged to clean the house, wash the dishes, take care of the younger children, collect old paper and sort clothing. On the other hand, the boys have the duty to work on collecting old iron and paper. The working time for both genders is 8 hours per day. Because of the poverty of this family none of children attends school. The consequences of not receiving education are that Roma children from this settlement have not developed either space nor time orien­tation. Also they have a very poor articulation of movements, a poorly developed conceptual apparatus, and as is the case with most Roma children in Serbia, “they are not subject to any intellectual stimulation” .

During their free time after work children don’t leave the settlement, their main source of fun is to watch Spanish or Mexican soap operas.  The factors that influence the everyday life of these children and their parents are characteristic for the Roma ethnic community in Serbia: poverty, lack of education, transmission of patriarchal patterns, absence of medical-health security and social security, work related to collecting used materials, and a general unacceptance by their surroundings, which also leads to poverty. Also, children from this family, like all other Roma famies,don’t have any of therights they should have according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Ivana Todorovic, MOST/Serbia

November 2006