Poverty Among the Roma in Bucharest
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a vibrant urban city with booming contemporary institutions and a greater income per capita than the European Union average. However, there remains a population of individuals that do not benefit from Bucharest’s expanding economy: the Roma. Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is of particular concern. According to Brookings, the Roma in Romania face an employment rate of about 72% and endure a poverty rate of almost 70%.

Who Are the Roma People?

Scholars agree that the Roma people’s ancestors immigrated to Europe from the Punjab region of Northern India, across “what is now Iran, Armenia and Turkey.” From the ninth century forward, the Roma progressively expanded throughout Europe.

As a nomadic group traveling with few essentials or assets, the Roma face widespread marginalization in Europe. Dating back to the 14th century, some of the Roma arrived in Bucharest, Romania, where they became slaves of the state, institutions or private people. In 1860, the Roma became free but they still relied completely on the state and landowners for sustenance and survival. Some Roma attempted to break this dependency by banding together in clans and migrating.

The Roma in Bucharest

The European Union (EU) is home to “between 10 million and 12 million Roma” people. According to the Council of Europe, roughly 1.85 million Roma reside in Romania and make up 8.32% of the population. These are all preliminary estimates because the Roma people usually choose to reveal their ethnicity only to other Roma people. This renders it challenging to estimate the actual number of Roma people in Romania’s capital of Bucharest, although there is no uncertainty that a considerable number of Roma people reside in Bucharest.

Roma Poverty

The Roma people live and travel in close-knit groups with large families. The Roma are one of Europe’s most prominent ethnic minorities. Aside from these characteristics, people know very little about the Roma people; they speak their own language, which is undocumented, they have unique traditions and they keep to themselves.

Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is largely the most pressing issue within their communities. Seen as a “problem” within Bucharest, the Roma population reside in slums or ghettos where they live in close quarters with few possessions. In the slums, the Roma often live in squalor with minimal food or water.

The Roma people labor in very specific occupations such as fortune-telling, metalwork and agricultural work. Some, on the other hand, do not occupy genuine occupations, but instead, steal and swindle in order to supplement their income due to their circumstances of poverty. Because the Roma face high rates of unemployment, they end up with minimal means of survival.

Apart from marginalization, one of the main issues that greatly contributes to their circumstances of poverty is a lack of education. Because of a lack of documentation or identification, the Roma struggle to access education, health care and other essential services. The Roma experience profound deprivation across every standard —  education, employment and health.

Roma Discrimination

In Bucharest, Europeans often refer to the Roma people as Gypsies, which is a discriminatory term when used by individuals of non-Roma descent. In fact, the term “Gypsy” is one of the most derogatory social labels in Europe, particularly in Romania. The discrimination the Roma endure also impacts their access to the necessary services and resources to live a better quality of life.

What is the Drug Problem?

Many Roma people in Bucharest rely on drugs to help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Drug use is common among individuals of all ages in Bucharest’s Roma ghettos. In an interview with author Max Daly, Dan Popescu, harm-reduction services coordinator at the Asociatia Romana Anti-SIDA (ARAS) said that “The general public’s attitude to the Roma and to the drug addicts is that we are wasting money on nothing, that it’s better to let them die than to help them.”

Due to their lack of legitimate identification, only 45% of the Roma have access to health care and welfare benefits. Roma drug users often use unclean needles, leaving their community with high rates of HIV and hepatitis C. The fact that authorities rarely acknowledge the Roma only exacerbates the situation.

The Good News

The Romanian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN) aims to reduce “risky behaviors” linked with drug abuse “by increasing the degree of communication between partner organizations and improving the quality of services for drug users at the national level.” RHRN develops and encourages reforms aimed at facilitating the application of successful socioeconomic strategies and initiatives aimed at drug users and various socially marginalized subgroups.

To address the drug problem among people in Bucharest, the RHRN provides training to professionals to enhance their “capacity in harm reduction and HIV prevention service provision.” The curriculum covers topics such as syringe exchange initiatives and treatment with opiate substitutes as well as guidelines for communication and advocacy. These collective efforts ensure a more comprehensive response to the drug problem in Romania, with a particular focus on marginalized groups like the Roma.

Despite the fact that the Roma encounter poverty and oppression in Bucharest, various groups are working to help them rise out of poverty to become an empowered, self-sufficient and thriving population.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Working to Empower the Roma 
The Roma represent a previously nomadic group of people who are now scattered throughout Europe. Since their initial migration from India to Europe in the 10th century, the Roma have endured persecution. As a result, an estimated 80% of Roma people located in Europe live in poverty. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower the Roma people throughout Europe.

How Discrimination Drives Poverty

The Roma have faced discrimination in Europe for centuries — an issue that persists even today. Data from 2016 reveals that, at the time, one out of every four Roma encountered some form of discrimination in the past year. Discrimination often restricts people’s opportunities and limits their capacity to escape poverty. For example, the Roma often struggle to find housing and face forced evictions in countries like Bulgaria and Italy. Thus, advocating against anti-Romani discrimination is imperative to alleviating poverty among the Roma.

3 Organizations Fighting for the Roma

  1. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Founded in 1996, this Roma-led nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of the Roma people through legal action, policy change and education. The ERRC has brought attention to the failure to protect the rights of the Roma throughout Europe, making the situation a primary political focus. The organization has relayed the urgency of this issue to member states of the European Union as well as candidate countries to ensure it receives attention. Furthermore, the ERRC has taken legal action by initiating more than 500 court cases to hold various governments, organizations and even individuals accountable for any discriminatory or violent actions against the Roma.
  2. European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO). This network, established in 2008, is a conglomeration of more than 30 smaller organizations that are working together toward the common goal of addressing anti-Romani discrimination. The network’s main objective is to make policymakers aware of how discrimination against the Roma is responsible for the group’s struggle to achieve equality and inclusion. ERGO endorses improved policies to empower the Roma while launching several public campaigns to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the Roma.
  3. The Roma Support Group (RSG). This organization is a Roma-led, U.K.-based group that supports Roma families by offering them a diverse selection of services, such as homeschooling resources, a guide to COVID-19 prevention and steps to follow to report hate crimes. The RSG intends to better the current situation of these families by helping them conquer obstacles such as discrimination and exclusion. It also advocates for the Roma within the public sphere to raise awareness of the struggles they face. This organization is responsible for various projects including the Financial Inclusion Project in London. This initiative helps alleviate poverty among the Roma by familiarizing them with the welfare system and increasing their financial knowledge.

Moving Forward

For years, the Roma have faced persecution and marginalization across the world. As a result of this discrimination and exclusion, many Roma people have fallen below the poverty line. However, organizations are working to empower the Roma while fighting for their rights to live a life free of discrimination. By supporting organizations that empower and protect the Roma, even an ordinary individual can make a difference in the lives of this marginalized group.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine
Human trafficking in Ukraine is a serious and overwhelming issue that has affected the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Ukraine is one of the most prominent countries in Europe for human trafficking with over 260,000 Ukrainian trafficking victims over the last 30 years. Despite this disheartening number, Ukraine’s government and some organizations are fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

The History of Trafficking in Ukraine

When Ukraine became a separate nation in 1991, the slave and human trafficking trade skyrocketed. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has worsened the issue as it has caused displacement for millions of individuals. These individuals are far more susceptible to ending up in the trafficking trade because of the vulnerable state they are in due to the turmoil between the two countries, according to the Library of Congress Law. Traffickers often target the Roma community of Ukraine, a nomadic Indo-Aryan group of people, because they lack access to state social assistance programs. Low-skilled laborers, as well as children in state-run orphanages, are targets for traffickers as well. This is because they are poor and powerless in the eyes of the country.

Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine is taking huge strides in its governmental policies to combat human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration Ukraine Counter-Trafficking Program aims to support efforts to combat trafficking in Ukraine. It also provides access for victims to receive “assistance and justice.” The IOM program identified and was able to help around 600 victims of human trafficking from January to June 2019, with about 16,000 victims having received assistance throughout 19 years of the program’s existence. Without the help of the IOM, efforts towards tracking down victims and traffickers would not be as prominent.

Governmental Progress in Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine’s government has made huge strides in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking in the country. This includes increasing the number of investigated offenses and apprehensions from previous years. The government has increased financial assistance to victims of human trafficking. It has also been providing shelter through government housing, psychological assistance and medical care. The Ministry for Social Policy has continually made attempts at anti-trafficking efforts by creating Child Protection Day and World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Looking Ahead

The issue of human trafficking in Ukraine is on an upswing. This is because there is more governmental recognition of the way it is impacting Ukrainian citizens. With the efforts of organizations like IOM, there are more forces garnering action towards fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bulgaria
Today, human trafficking in Bulgaria exploits both foreigners and Bulgarian citizens in an ongoing trade for sex, free labor and forced begging. This small Eastern European country is one of the main sources of human trafficking in the entire E.U. Traffickers transport people, mostly women, from Bulgaria to Sweden, France and other countries in Western Europe.

The Status of Human Trafficking in Bulgaria

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons tracks countries’ efforts to eradicate this form of “modern slavery,” and sets worldwide standards to follow. A 2020 report noted that while Bulgaria does not yet meet the minimum international standards to eliminate trafficking, the country is making immense progress. As a result, Bulgaria has a Tier 2 standing.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the tier system comprises of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: A government complies fully with the minimum requirements to eliminate severe forms of human trafficking.
  • Tier 2: A government does not comply fully with minimum requirements, but is making significant efforts to do so.
  • Tier 3: A government does not comply and is not making efforts to do so.

The People’s Struggle

The majority of victims of human trafficking in Bulgaria are from marginalized communities, most often Bulgarians of Turkish and Romani descent. These communities are more vulnerable than other groups because of their minority status, prolific poverty and history of discrimination in the country.

Even now, many European countries discriminate against Roma in particular. Reliable numbers of Roma and other marginalized communities are difficult to find, as these populations are often disincentivized from self-identifying. Estimates put the current percentage of Roma in Bulgaria anywhere from 5% to 21%. However, Bulgaria has one the largest populations of Roma in the world.

Despite this exposure to the culture, anti-Roma attitudes are prevalent and widely accepted. The prejudice against them exacerbates poverty and restricts access to health care and education, leading to higher rates of incarceration and greater vulnerability to crimes such as human trafficking.

Fighting for Human Rights

While the Bulgarian government struggles to initiate policies that ensure due process for human traffickers, accountability for corrupt law enforcement and proper victim identification, other contenders do their best to pick up the slack. NGOs and nonprofit organizations across Europe recognize the human rights crisis in Bulgaria and are stepping up to the plate.

In 1994, two women founded the Animus Association to support women who survive traumatic and violent events. Today, it organizes projects aimed at successful communication and gender equality in Bulgaria.

In a recent project dubbed TOLERANT, the Animus Association partnered with programs in Greece, Romania, Italy and Austria to promote employment opportunities for women who experienced sex trafficking. This project, though set back with the emergence of COVID-19, inspired the installation of a permanent program called the National Program for Prevention and Counteraction to Human Trafficking and Protection of Victims.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria’s largest human rights group, runs a variety of projects and campaigns prioritizing respect, the protection of vulnerable populations and informing the public on important issues. In some cases, the committee provides free legal aid to victims of human rights violations. In 2019 alone, the committee represented people in 64 different cases. One of these was a case representing a minor victim of gang rape. It also closely monitors human rights violations in the country for documentation and research.

These organizations, along with many others, are the people’s tools for abolishing human rights crises like human trafficking in Bulgaria and all of Europe. Similar to the ACLU or NAACP of the U.S., programs that begin as small grassroots movements can grow to influence governments on a national and even international scale.

Power to Heal

While some organizations focus directly on the issues at hand, others take a more nuanced and preventative approach. Programs like the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) support disadvantaged communities by giving them a voice. ERIAC regularly provides opportunities for jobs and access to symposiums and events specifically for Roma. Through the celebration of art, history and culture, individuals become empowered to affect change and positive development in their own communities.

As communities begin to heal from the generational and ongoing trauma, the hope is to continue that healing outwards. ERIAC founders believe that exposure to art, personal narratives and examples of success will decrease prejudice and ignorance by educating the wider population. In addition to providing a platform for artists, all membership fees go directly to the winner of the Tajsa Prize. ERIAC awards this prize annually to an emerging artist who embodies the aspirations of ERIAC, using their art to lift up their communities.

There is a long way to go before Bulgaria eradicates human trafficking, but in the meantime, Bulgarian citizens are finding their own ways to combat this violence. Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are emerging to do the work that needs doing, advocating for the country’s citizens in a myriad of ways. Healing can happen even in the midst of adversity, and the amplification of the voices and culture of survivors is an essential part of this process.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Greek Roma
In Greece, tensions remain high between citizens of Greek descent and the Greek Roma. The Romani people, a historically disadvantaged and impoverished community, are spread throughout Europe and the world. Originating from India, the Roma migrated to Europe around the ninth century C.E. They have since built homes and lives for generations in countries such as Greece, but nevertheless continue to face ostracism and persecution.

History of Problems

In Greece specifically, tensions have risen between the Romani and non-Romani Greeks since the economic crisis in 2009. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Taso Lagos, professor at the University of Washington School of International Studies and researcher of the conditions of the Roma in Greece, said that for non-Romani Greeks, the unemployment rate at the time was “as high as 30%,” but for the Roma, “went up to 60%.”

Ten years after the crisis, the Romani people in Greece still face extreme poverty. A recent staggering report showed that while approximately 20% of the general Greek population is at risk for poverty, the same is true for nearly 100% of the Greek Roma.

According to Professor Lagos, there are 351 Roma settlements throughout Greece. In these settlements, many Roma “live in tents where [they] have no running water, no central heating,” and “no indoor plumbing.” Some also live in permanent housing such as caravans, but conditions there are also frequently bleak.

In the early 2000s, the Greek government set out with a plan to improve conditions for the Roma, but many say that these efforts were unsuccessful and that most communities are in the same conditions as before.

Causes of Poverty

There is an ongoing debate over what causes this vicious cycle of poverty affecting the Roma. Many people attribute it to a problem of wide-spread lack of education. More than 90% of Roma children in Greece do not attend pre-school or kindergarten. Slightly less than 50% of Roma children will never receive any formal schooling.

In the case of Romani girls, especially, education is a primary concern. Many are married as teenagers and are expected to run households. Therefore they are unable to finish high school. Others exit the school system early due to perceived dangers and stereotypes Romani people hold about the general Greek community. Professor Lagos explained that many Roma girls do not finish high school because “their parents regard Greek schools as denizens of vice and licentiousness.”

Further, the Romani children who do attend school are frequently the victims of bullying. Sometimes the early recipients of prejudice, these children endure stereotypes that they are dirty, drug-users, or thieves. These perceptions and stereotypes run deep in both communities. They continue to add to the problems affecting the wellbeing of all Greeks.

In one instance, a young girl was taken from her family when her caretakers were accused of kidnapping her. This proved to be false through DNA evidence. But many Roma continued to receive backlash and criticism from the general population following the event.

Signs of Progress

Years later, there remains ongoing misunderstanding and lack of communication between the two groups. However, some believe that there is hope for improving relations between non-Roma and Roma. This will improve other conditions for the Romani people.

Recent subjects inspiring calls to action for the Greek Roma include:

  • Health and COVID-19: As the virus continues to spread throughout Greece, the Roma are at a greater risk for infection, often lacking access to clean water and sanitation practices. Many cite the pandemic as being a primary example of the need for better healthcare and living conditions for the Roma.
  • Education: Teacher training programs that are focused on the education of Roma students with respect and understanding of their unique struggles and adversity have grown in popularity in Greece. These programs encourage the safety and wellbeing of children while in school and destigmatize Roma students.
  • Integration: The EU funded a program to last from 2014-2020 in which part of the proceeds (totaling approximately .8 billion Euros) would be designated to helping integrate the Roma community into greater Greek society, combatting social exclusion. As around half of Greek Romani people live in the margins of Greek society, this is especially important to influence all other aspects of improvement.

Another group that is affecting positive change for the Greek Roma is the Panhellenic Association of Greek Roma. This organization, which began in 2007, has afforded over 50 Roma people grants. These grants help them establish businesses, connect community members with social and emotional support and provide legal support to those struggling with housing.

Professor Lagos spoke on the importance of communication between the Roma and non-Roma of Greece. He argued that it is critical “to institutionalize community dialogue between regular people”. This, he said, “would have a huge impact.”

Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Combat Poverty in RomaniaIn an effort to combat the nation’s longstanding battle with poverty, the Romanian Government passed 47 measures in 2015/16 to combat poverty in Romania through to 2020.

Poverty in Romania

At the time these measures passed into law, 40.2% of Romanian people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Furthermore, absolute poverty in Romania increased from 23.4% in 2008 to 27.7% in 2012. Low educational attainment, intergenerational transmission of poverty and lack of inter-regional mobility all contribute to the integral causes of poverty in Romania.

However, the Romanian government set a substantial and significant new precedent on how the nation combats poverty by adopting The National Strategy and Strategic Action Plan on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction for 2015-2020. These measures hope to reduce the many causes of poverty in Romania.

Key Measures:

  • Increasing employment rate through labor market activation programs
  • Increasing financial support for low-income individuals
  • Improving social inclusion of marginalized communities
  • Improving the functionality of social services
  • Reducing school drop-out rates
  • Scaling-up of national health programs
  • Integrating social assistance benefits with social services, employment services and other public services.

These measures were an encouraging shift in political focus that revolved around social benefits and a more community-based and integrated approach that generated widespread support. The World Bank supports these measures, commenting that these measures will strongly contribute to narrowing poverty gaps in the country.

Impact of Poverty Reduction Strategy

Since the adoption of these measures, monthly income per person increased by 10% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% between 2017 and 2018, in part due to the increases in public-sector wages and improved minimum wages and tax cuts. As a result, poverty rates fell from 28.4% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017.

Currently, the employment rate at 68.8% is approaching the EU 2020 target and is just below the EU average of 72.2%. Additionally, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU at 4.9%.

Implementation Delays Cause Concern

Although clear steps toward improving Romania’s struggle with poverty have emerged, these measures have received criticism as expectations have determined that many measures could have delayed or minimal results. These concerns were further exacerbated in 2017 when a change in government occurred. The political change delayed implementation and altered the original plan, putting full implementation in jeopardy.

In addition, more legislation is necessary to address the growing condition of the Roma minority group residing in Romania. A whole 78% of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to 35% for non-Roma citizens. Furthermore, 84% of Roma households do not have access to a water source, sewage or electricity. To successfully combat poverty in Romania, the Roma need to be prioritized.

Poverty Reduction Progress

While no single piece of legislation will be the end all be all to combat poverty in Romania, the anti-poverty measures passed in 2015/2016 have shown that a top-down, legislation-focused approach to fighting poverty can lead to progress, poverty reduction and improved social inclusion.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small country in the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe, has been at the forefront of many episodes of violence, most notably the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Today, the country is more stable. However, the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an issue for both Bosnian nationals and foreign citizens.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is an annual report that the U.S. has produced since 2000. It rates countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking. Tier 1 countries meet minimum international standards on the issue, Tier 2 do not but are making significant efforts to do so and Tier 3 are not making efforts to do so.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on a watchlist between Tier 2 and Tier 3 for the past three years, meaning it does not meet minimum standards and is making significant efforts to improve the situation but has an increasing number of victims. Here are five facts about human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. The Numbers – The government identified 61 potential victims of trafficking in 2020, up from 39 the previous year. Of these, 36 were children, 49 were female and 12 were male. Moreover, 19 of the victims were victims of sex trafficking. Most of the victims were domestic, although a few were foreign nationals.
  2. Legal System – The country, though united under one constitution, further divides into two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (F BiH) and Republika Srpska (RS) as well as one self-governing administrative district in Brčko. Each has its own constitution and legislature. Additionally, the Federation includes 10 cantons, each with its own constitution (modeled after that of the Federation) as well as individual legislative and executive powers. Human trafficking is illegal across these governments. However, a lack of communication and cooperation between them hinders efforts at prosecuting cases across cantons or entities. Different governments mandate different things for victims: for example, the RS mandates access to therapy, but not in the Federation. Because of difficulties collaborating across regional governments, it is challenging for the government to have a unified approach toward human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  3. At the Border – Border police and other first responders lack the training, capacity and procedures necessary to screen large groups of migrants and refugees for victims of trafficking. When potential victims received identification and underwent interviews with law enforcement, the process was not transparent, and victims needed to cooperate with investigations to receive assistance. Additionally, police often lacked interpreters to effectively communicate with victims.
  4. Shelters and Funding – The government operates seven shelters and a mobile team for 160 street children in Sarajevo, who are at a higher risk. Government shelters lacked the funding for anything beyond the most basic services and could only provide short term accommodations. Government ministries allotted 130,000 convertible marks (roughly $70,000) per year to NGOs assisting victims in 2018 and 2019, however, the funding simply did not reach the NGOs in 2019 due to issues in the state budget. Separate funds emerged for domestic and international victims, and although domestic victims are the majority, they receive lower funding (70,00 marks in comparison to 60,000.) The funds are not combined, and any rollover of funds for foreign victims did not go toward domestic ones.
  5. Roma Minority – According to official statistics, the Roma people number around 25,000 to 50,000, but the official number is likely much higher due to stigma associated with the term. UNICEF describes the situation as one of “chronic, multidimensional poverty.” The Roma are especially susceptible to human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, victims of trafficking among Roma children received dismissal as “traditional cultural practices.” Moreover, those investigating accepted that the children had gone home to their families even when those families participated in the act. Government discussions on anti-trafficking measures did not include Romani communities, despite their status as having continuous victims.

Solutions to Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although the problem persists, new efforts have emerged to fight human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These include:

  1. New National Strategy – In January 2020, the country adopted a new National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons with representatives from all administrative entities. It incorporated suggestions by international monitoring agencies and aims to address these five issues: support, prevention, prosecution, victim support and partnership.
  2. Council of Europe – The government recently entered into joint action with the Council of Europe, which aims to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This involves seminars and awareness training which will enable better management and identification of trafficking victims and improving the legal system’s response to human trafficking.
  3. Administrative Reform – In 2018, there were just four Regional Coordinating Teams (RCTs) to manage human trafficking across administrative borders. The number increased to 18, and each received new training and technical assistance. This will go a long way to mitigating issues that competing levels of administration within the country causes.

Although human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been an ongoing issue, the current efforts will hopefully ensure a reduction in victims going forward. Through the country’s creation of a National Strategy to its work to raise awareness about the issue, human trafficking should hopefully become a part of the past for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

– Bradley Cisternino
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Alleviate Poverty in North Macedonia
When Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991, Macedonia became an autonomous nation. However, standards of living have significantly decreased since the country’s independence. Unemployment rates are consistently high, which has directly affected children across the nation. Approximately 6% of children work and 12% marry before turning 18. The child poverty rate is 27.1%, with those from a Roma background at a much higher disadvantage. Fortunately, international organizations and the government are working to eliminate child poverty in the nation. Here are four efforts to alleviate child poverty in North Macedonia.

4 Efforts to Alleviate Child Poverty in North Macedonia

  1. UNICEF Solutions: Child poverty in Macedonia is a pervasive issue: an excess of 100,000 children are still in states of deprivation. Poverty affects children on every level, which includes faltering health, child marriage, abuse and lack of educational success. For instance, 1 out of 10 children in Pelagonija is affected by poverty when compared to 1 out of 2 in the Northeast. Moving forward, UNICEF has outlined solutions to aid the effort to end child poverty. These include offering accessible health care at no cost and supplying quality education to all children.
  2. Prioritizing Children: More than 100,000 children across Macedonia, 28% of the country’s youth, are affected by poverty. In 2018, leaders from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, UNICEF and the World Bank, as well as child poverty experts convened to formulate solutions that would eliminate child poverty. They agreed that social reform must prioritize the children to fight against poverty. All families with minimal income received an education and child allowance, helping to provide children affected by poverty with the opportunity at an equal start.
  3. Inclusive Education: One out of 300 children living in poverty goes to preschool, while only two-thirds attend secondary education. North Macedonia’s education system is unsustainable due to a variety of factors. Low budgets, lack of ethnic integration among youth and limiting children who have disabilities are a few of the reasons education has fallen behind. In 2002, USAID implemented inclusive learning programs across all levels of education, which has helped children with disabilities and supported diverse ethnic integration.
  4. The Romani Children: The Romani population in Macedonia is estimated to be around 260,000 as of 2020. Moreover, 73% of Romani children who attend school never complete their education. Roughly 3 to 4 children per household are of age to go to school, yet the costs of sustaining schooling for this many children have become a financial burden. To help curb these rates, the Roma Education Fund, founded in 2005, has been focusing on education reform for the Roma communities across Macedonia. It offers young Roma people living in Macedonia scholarships to assist with primary and secondary education.

These four efforts show the nation’s determination to support children in need, and, more broadly, to shift Macedonia from an impoverished nation to one of prosperity and equality. The success of these reforms will depend on governmental spending, as well as programs supported by nonprofits and international organizations. Moving forward, alleviating child poverty in Macedonia must continue to be a priority.

Michael Santiago
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sanitation in Bulgaria
Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria has continually struggled to secure basic services for its people. An improvement came when Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. Amid this positive step, however, it became clear that Bulgaria’s wastewater treatment and sanitation system was below E.U. standards. The latest situational analysis on equal access to water sanitation in Bulgaria shows that there are 10 significant areas for improvement. Bulgaria must address these issues in order to ensure pure water and high-quality sanitation to the entire country. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bulgaria.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bulgaria

  1. The water and sanitation network in Bulgaria is decades old. Iskar is the largest reservoir in Bulgaria. Located near the country’s capital, Sofia, it collects about 675 million cubic meters of water. Built in 1954, it is one of the oldest reservoirs. Bulgaria built most of its water network between the 50s and the late 80s. In 1990, however, the political regime changed from communism to democracy and the new government abandoned all infrastructure projects. As a result, one-third of Bulgarians suddenly lacked a reliable water supply and sewage network.
  2. Bulgaria does not recycle its wastewater. Even though two-thirds of the Bulgarian population has access to a wastewater network, only 57 percent possess access to a wastewater treatment plant. This means that large amounts of household water do not receive treatment and households reuse it. In other words, Bulgaria does not engage in the recycling of wastewater. This is not the case in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, where recycled water goes towards agriculture, groundwater recharge and ecological enhancement.
  3. Bulgaria’s water supply pipes contain asbestos-cement. The World Bank reports that Bulgaria’s existing water network is extremely outdated. On average, water supply pipes in Bulgaria are 36 years old and most comprise of asbestos-cement. The majority of developed countries have discontinued the use of asbestos in building materials, due to its cancer-causing properties. Several developing countries, however, continue to use asbestos-containing materials. Moreover, Bulgaria’s non-revenue water rate—water that is produced and then lost or unaccounted for before it reaches the desired target— is close to 60 percent, resulting in an even more unstable water supply network.
  4. People suffer from water rationing. As a result of outdated water networks, lack of strategic wastewater collection and expenditure in treatment systems, a significant number of people suffer from seasonal water rationing and lack of sanitation. The people in the North-East regions of Bulgaria suffer the most. They experience frequent water rationing throughout the year and high prices of water supply and sanitation. Additionally, 37 percent of the population does not have access to wastewater treatment. Furthermore, 24 percent of the population lives in areas with no wastewater collection systems at all. These staggering statistics require significant funding to ensure that water quality and sanitation services comply with the requirements of the E.U. directives.
  5. Most Bulgarians in rural areas do not have access to sanitation. According to the National Statistical Institute, 25 percent of Bulgarians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to sanitation. These areas spread to 81 percent of the country’s territory and 39 percent (as of 2014) of the population, meaning that most of these regions also lack adequate sewage disposal. The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD), the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) and the Operational program for rural development funded centralized sewerage systems in a number of rural areas. While considered a positive step, the funding ultimately only benefited villages with municipal centers.
  6. Roma communities suffer the most from the lack of proper sanitation. Bulgaria’s compliance with the E.U. standards proved a difficult task in 2007 and, unfortunately, this challenge still continues today. The overall lack of balance between living conditions in rural and urban areas, as well as a lack of public policies regarding living conditions, enhance the challenge. For example, Bulgaria does not possess a national policy for addressing illegal neighborhoods (ghettos). These mostly Roma-populated neighborhoods do not possess access to centralized sewerage systems, water treatment plants 0r wastewater tanks. The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Inclusion (2012-2020), a document that Bulgaria implemented from 2012 to 2020, seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups and promote their full inclusion in society. While the document grants Roma families access to public social housing, the measure falls short of solving the problem in its entirety. It ultimately leaves more than 400,000 people in Roma ghettos.
  7. Masterplans for water and sanitation services are corrupt. A situational analysis on equal access to water and sanitation in Bulgaria states that: “Financial mechanisms have been subject to significant trade in influence and corruption, so the investments have achieved very low efficiency.” Experts from the Earth Forever Foundation made a comparative analysis of the validity of the data used in the masterplans for sustainable water and sanitation services in three villages in Central Bulgaria. The analysis revealed that the regional plans provide inadequate wastewater removal. Furthermore, the regional plans utilize treatment measures that not only fail to comply with legislation but also stubbornly remain unaffordable for the general population.
  8. Bulgaria and the World Bank are collaborating to solve water supply and sanitation problems. To tackle these problem areas, the government voted on a new ambitious plan regarding the water supply and sanitation issues. In 2016, the Bulgarian government and the World Bank worked together on the Country Partnership Framework for Bulgaria. The document focuses on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of essential public service delivery, including improved water supply and sanitation.
  9. Approximately 99 percent of Bulgarians have access to a clean water supply. Thanks to the collaborative efforts, Bulgaria now shows significant improvements. According to the latest report from the Ministry of Regional Development, centralized water supply now spans 99 percent of Bulgaria. At present, a centralized water supply covers 5,000 towns and villages. Currently, only two areas do not receive full coverage from the central water supply. In response to those two areas, the government has created a strategy to cover the needs of the outstanding 1 percent. A new law, part of the next strategic plan (2024-2033), seeks to further improve the country’s sanitation network.
  10. Bulgarian schools teach clean water supply and sanitation. To educate the new generations, Regulation No. 13 of 21.09.2016 on Civil, Health, Environmental and Intercultural Education included new topics in Bulgarian public school curriculum. Subjects added include healthy lifestyles, water usage and conservation, waste/water waste management and composting. Designed to help students recognize the importance of nature conservation, these subjects focus on water pollution reduction, clean water preservation and recycling.

Over the last 13 years, Bulgaria has exhibited slow, yet promising progress towards achieving the U.N. goals for universal access to water and sanitation. The country continues to strive to comply with the E.U. standards for clean water supplies and wastewater treatment. The new challenge for Bulgaria is to establish baseline measures for the fairness of access to water and sanitation through the Equitable Access Score-Card, a process of self-assessment. This self-assessment focuses on “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030.

Olga Uzunova
Photo: Flickr

facts about girls' education in RomaniaRomania is a country settled in east-central Europe bordering the Black Sea. The country has a rigid education program that falls short in some areas of girls’ education, particularly for Roma girls who come from a minority making up about 10 percent of Romania’s population. While improvements are being made to the overall education of the country, some pupils are more neglected than others. These six facts about girls’ education in Romania shed some light on the achievements and shortfalls of the Romanian education system and what is being done to further improve girls’ education.

6 Facts About Girls’ Education in Romania

  1. There are more girls in pre-primary schools than boys. As of 2016, 75.26 percent of Romanian girls were enrolled in pre-primary school—the equivalent of kindergarten—while only 74.52 percent of boys were enrolled.
  2. Female literacy rates are on the rise. In 1992, 94.98 percent of the Romanian female population older than 15 were literate. As of 2018, that percentage stood at 98.6.
  3. Half of the women in rural Romania don’t finish secondary school. Half of the female population living in rural areas of Romania don’t manage to finish secondary school according to Tatiana Proscuryakova, World Bank’s Country Manager for Romania and Hungary.
  4. Roma women often don’t have the same opportunities as other women in Romania. One of the largest minority groups in Romania is the Roma people. Roma girls are disproportionately impacted by poverty conditions and continue to face societal discrimination. On average, Roma girls leave school at age 10 so that they can contribute to the household in some way.
  5. Female unemployment rates are increasing. As of 2019, only 45.17 percent of Romanian women are part of the workforce. This number dropped from 62.31 percent in 1992 and is likely a direct result of the struggle among many women to complete a proper education. Without an education, many women find themselves without the skills necessary to make themselves a valuable member of the workforce.
  6. Save the Children is working to fix the gap in Roma girls’ education. The American nonprofit, known for its work in helping children around the world, launched a preparedness program in the summer of 2016 for children in Romania. The goal of this program is to help Roma children be better equipped for pre-primary school, both academically and socially.

Romania has an impressive literacy rate among both men and women but has seen a dramatic drop in the number of women in the workforce. Most Romanian women are able to receive an education, but Roma girls seem to be subject to a prejudiced struggle. While the number of girls in the workforce is declining, education is increasing and the hope of overall improvement of girls’ education and the consequent life opportunities is bright.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr