According to Save the Children, Romania...
- 43% of Roma are aged under 16 years, infant mortality is 40%* and life expectancy is lower than the wider population by 10 years
- Only 20% of Roma children attend kindergarten or other preschool education
- 20% of Roma are not enrolled in school and 30% leave school before completing compulsory education
- About 50% are illiterate or semi-illiterate
- 30% of children aged 3-10 years suffer from illnesses that have been generally eradicated a long time ago (including TB)
In Eastern Europe, there is a high mortality rate among Roma children and infants. Perhaps 80% of the orphans in Romania are Roma children suffering from diseases like AIDS (transmitted by infected medical syringes)
Reading these statistics, one might imagine that children are of low priority in Roma communities.
The following information gives more detail about the role and importance of children in Roma society.
A new baby
Watch the following short video, where two Roma community members talk about traditions and practices regarding new babies and mothers. They follow this with a discussion of bringing up children in the UK and advice for services working with families.
Notes from the Patrin Web Journal
Children are considered to be a great blessing. All the senior women in the family will gather to help and witness the birth, whether at home or in hospital. As far as possible they want the birth to be natural i.e. without surgical interventions. However they will use pain control including epidurals if necessary. Most Roma women have poor ante-natal records as they do not see the necessity for regular check ups.
When a baby is born, the mother and her baby are considered polluted and are separated from the rest of the household and from other Roma for a predetermined period, which varies among clans and groups. Once this period is over, godparents are selected from the Roma community.
Roma recognize that a baby is vulnerable in the first weeks of life and take precautions to protect the child. A new baby is immediately swaddled tightly and handled only by his or her mother. The woman avoids certain foods, such as green vegetables and tomatoes, so that the nursing baby will not get colic. The child's navel is carefully cleaned and protected with ashes, and amulets are sewn into the baby's clothing for protection. As the colour red is a symbol of energy, blood, life and passion, red ribbon is fastened around the baby's wrist in order to protect the baby.
In the first weeks at night, no member of the family is allowed to go in and out, and all windows and doors are kept shut lest a spirit of death, called "the night," enters to harm the baby. Crying and fear are prevented in a child by placing a small piece of johai ("ghost vomit," a curative substance) on their tongue. Visitors are carefully watched lest they give the baby the evil eye.
The godparents take the baby to a church for a baptism ceremony. They also give the baby a small gold cross and money. When the godparents return with the baptised baby there is a feast called ‘bolimos’.
These traditions are not all applicable or practised in the same way nor are they called by the same name by all national groups or clans; this is a generalisation. However all Roma in one-way or another hold to a degree of these traditions.
Module 8 Unit 3 questions
Read through the statements below and select True or False for each one.
Q1. Poverty has driven a number of Roma parents to mutilate their babies to enhance their capacity for begging, this is reflected by the higher than normal level of physical disability in the community.
Q2. Families often all go to bed at the same time; sleeping arrangements tend to be fluid and children rarely sleep alone.
Q3. Having lived in areas with few facilities and in some cases no toilets or running water, the Roma community has little interest in cleanliness.
Q4. It is not uncommon for children’s sight and hearing problems to be undiagnosed within the Roma community. Parents may need additional support to realise the importance of wearing and caring for hearing aids and glasses.
Q5. A surprisingly high number of children are registered with a dentist here as dental care is considered high priority.
At the end of this unit you should have a clearer understanding:
- of the traditional importance of children and new babies in particular in Roma families and the implications for your practice
- of the impact of a small gene pool in certain areas Roma families originate from
- that problems relating to children's hearing and eyesight may have never been identified
- that Roma adults and children may not access dentistry in the UK because they were used to having one GP/dentist