About the Roma - Beyond the Stereotypes
Sofia, February 15 (Lora Metanova of BTA) - The Roma do not have as many children as people imagine and, just like ethnic Bulgarians, they also seek their fortunes abroad and are becoming to realize the value of education, shows a study conducted by Sociologist Assoc. Prof. Alexey Pamporov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences' (BAS) Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, about the residents of the Nadezhda Roma neighbourhood in the southeastern town of Sliven. The study was commissioned by Doctors of the World [Medecins du Monde] and its results were presented to BTA.
There are not many Roma households with large numbers of children, said Pamporov, who has been working on the topic of Roma integration for over ten years. The study, conducted in 2021 among Nadezhda residents, shows a decline in birth rates and increased family planning. Roma families usually want to have two or three children.
"We are imagining huge households living on social welfare, but in reality these welfare benefits are negligible and insufficient," he said. The Roma, according to statistics, have an average of one child more compared to ethnic Bulgarian families. The average Bulgarian family has 1.5 children, compared to 2.5 children in the average Roma family, he explained. Roma women typically deliver their children in a hospital and two-thirds of them are satisfied with the quality of medical care they have received. The youngest first-time mother registered in the study was 13, while the oldest one to have her last child was 38 years of age.
Around 60 per cent of the adult Roma population in Sliven's Nadezhda neighbourhood does not have health insurance, the study shows. A total of 42.5 per cent of males have health insurance, compared to 36.5 per cent of women, which shows a gender gap. Religion also plays an important role, as 77.6 per cent of non-religous Roma residents are not insured.
According to Pamporov, the big problem in Roma neighbourhoods that have been studied is that there are areas of extreme poverty which is very hard for people to escape from. "This is a form of capsulizing poverty that replicates itself, while no measures are taken and there's no way for these families to "surface"," he said. Of roughly 2,000 households in Nadezhda, there are around 120 that live in extreme poverty, which adds up to around 5-6 per cent. The average living area of these households is 41 sq m, he said, adding that he believes a way can be found to support these families.
Extreme poverty is among the reasons for Roma children to not attend school. Some of these children don't even have clothes or shoes, there no electricity or running water in their homes, their parents cannot afford to buy school supplies or pay for their transportation to school, Pamporov explained. According to him, poverty is the most severe factor impeding the Roma children's access to education. The other factor is that the Roma are also plagued by fears and biases, such as that they will not be accepted, that they will be beaten or rejected, which is often times the case. Many pre-school age children have never been outside the ghetto and do not speak Bulgarian well, which prevents them from becoming part of the education system right away.
A drastic increase in migration among the Roma population is observed. According to the study, the Roma neighbourhood in Sliven has 9,552 residents, of whom only 7,667 live there, while 1,885 are abroad.
Pamporov gave as an example Ireland, Spain and Italy, where there are literally whole villages populated by Bulgarian Roma, who have permanent employment, their own homes and only return to Bulgaria in the summer.
The sociologist noted three main steps needed for the Roma's integration. The first one is educational integration. According to Pamporov, the Roma should be treated as people whose mother tongue is not Bulgarian and should receive additional language learning support. The second step is to stop hate speech by politicians and such statements to be sanctioned, as is provided under the Penal Code. The third step is connected to housing policies. According to the results of another study, on which Pamporov also worked, there is a shortage of social housing, but there are options and alternatives to find normal living conditions, if the appropriate measures are taken.
Support for the Roma and vulnerable groups will be the main topic of the 8th discussion organized by BTA as part of the Bulgarian Voices for Europe initiative, on February 17 at the News Agency's press club in Sliven. RY/MY