HUNGARY: Placement of Roma children in school for mentally disabled was discriminatory, says court

[29 January 2013] - The European Court of Human Rights (‘Court’) has ruled that Hungary has violated the European Convention on Human Rights in a case on the segregated education of Romani children in a special school.

The case of Horváth and Kiss v Hungary concerned the complaints of two young men of Roma origin that due to their ethnic origin they had been wrongly placed in a school for the mentally disabled and that their education there had amounted to discrimination.

The Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) represented Mr Horváth and Mr Kiss before the Court who complained that their placement in this school amounted to ethnic discrimination in the enjoyment of their right to education. They alleged that the tests used for their placement had been outdated and culturally biased, putting Roma children at a particular disadvantage.

The Court ruled in favour of the applicants – finding a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights read in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The Court underlined that there  was a long history of wrongful placement of Romani children in special  schools in Hungary and that the State must change this practice. The Court noted that as a result of this practice the applicants had been isolated and had received an education which made their integration into society at large difficult. It concluded that ‘positive obligations incumbent on the State in a situation where there is a history of discrimination against ethnic minority children’ would have required Hungary to ‘provide the necessary safeguards against misdiagnosis’. The  Court ‘shares the disquiet of the other Council of Europe institutions who have expressed concerns about the more basic curriculum followed in these schools and, in particular, the segregation which the system causes’.

“I welcome this judgment on behalf of my clients, who were seeking a finding that they belonged in mainstream education and who faced stigma as a result of their misdiagnosis. At a more structural level, this judgment clearly states that the misdiagnosis of Romani children and their placement in special schools leads to their isolation and racial segregation. The Court has also spelt out that Hungary – and other States Parties - have a duty to implement positive measures in order to avoid structural discrimination,” said CFCF attorney Lilla Farkas, who represented the clients during domestic instances and before the Court. “This is the latest in a series of judgments  highlighting the plight of Romani children in education across Europe: Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, now Hungary. This must be addressed at both a national and regional level. The decision reaffirms that no difference in treatment, which is based exclusively or to a decisive extent on a person’s ethnic origin, can be objectively justified. It also underlines that Roma, as a particularly vulnerable group, enjoy special protection under the Convention. We look forward to the day that all children - Roma and non-Roma, those with learning needs and those without - can receive a quality education studying together in truly inclusive schools.” said Dezideriu Gergely, Executive Director, ERRC.

This case is fundamentally about the limited life choices that two Romani children faced following placement in special schools. As a result of being misdiagnosed with mental disabilities, they could not access mainstream education. Instead, they were educated in a segregated remedial school. Their education under a lower curriculum limited their future opportunities in secondary education and they only had the opportunity to continue their studies in a special vocational secondary school, where they could not acquire the Baccalaureate necessary for higher education and certain jobs. The first applicant was unable to follow a course to become a dance teacher and follow the same career path as his father, and the second applicant was precluded from pursuing his ambition to become a car mechanic.






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