MAPS of socially-excluded communities living in poverty and suffering from other maladies linked to exclusion from mainstream society will be used as a tool to combat marginalisation, the Labour Ministry stated in releasing its draft law on socially-excluded communities. The draft, generally viewed by many observers as a positive attempt to ameliorate some of the problems faced by marginalised citizens, also includes some specific proposals that several MPs from the coalition government have already objected to, such as cost-free voluntary sterilisations and contraceptives.
According to the Labour Ministry there are about 700 communities in Slovakia with substandard living conditions that are home to an estimated 200,000 people, 40 percent of them children under 15 years of age. These communities would be designated on a map that the ministry will prepare based on the law, which would specifically define a socially-excluded community, among other provisions.
Minority rights watchdogs have responded positively to the ministry’s proposal to undertake the mapping and to define socially-excluded communities without using race or ethnicity and to insted base the designation on other demographic factors. The ministry stated that a socially-excluded community would be designated in the smallest possible terms, for instance as a street or a block of flats.
Ambiguity about defining and designating socially-excluded communities has caused abuse in using EU funds in the past, reported Lucia Nicholsonová, the Labour Ministry’s State Secretary.
“It would often happen, for instance during the distribution of [EU] Structural Funds to support projects, that someone would hide under the so-called marginalised Roma communities,” Nicholsonová stated, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “There were families who were Roma, but fully integrated, who simply weren’t in a need of such help.”
In addition to defining a socially-excluded community on the basis of demographic, socio-economic and educational levels, the aim of the proposed law, according to the ministry, is to “make a distinction between citizens who want to contribute to changing their living conditions by providing the necessary assistance to them to overcome social exclusion, and those who, despite the provided possibilities, do not reflect on the basic rules of how society functions and to whom the state will give only the basic security to survive”.
The law proposes changes in four primary areas – education, employment and social affairs, housing, and health care and environment. The funding to implement the law would come from the state budget as well as more effective use of EU Structural Funds.
In the area of education, the ministry wants to increase the capacity of preschool facilities in the vicinity of socially-excluded communities and to secure teaching assistants to help in the preschool education of children from socially-excluded communities. The draft also introduces what are called ‘second chance schools’ that would help people from socially-excluded communities complete their primary and secondary education.
The draft law, though being praised for not stressing the racial or ethnic dimension of marginalised communities, caused disarray within the governing coalition soon after Nicholsonová, from the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, presented its details. Some MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) quickly criticised the draft law because it would introduce free access to contraceptives as well as voluntary sterilisation for residents of socially-excluded communities.
Sterilisations are a particularly sensitive topic because numerous Roma women have claimed that they were involuntarily sterilised and some have taken the issue to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Media coverage of the issue began after the 2003 release of a report by the New York Centre for Reproductive Rights and the Advisory Service for Civil and Human Rights titled Body and Soul: Forced Sterilisations and Other Attacks on the Reproductive Freedom of Roma in Slovakia. The report stated that there had been more than 110 cases of forced sterilisations of Roma women in state hospitals in eastern Slovakia since 1989.
Miroslav Beblavý, a MP from SDKÚ, pointed to cases currently before the ECHR and said that Slovakia has had a bad experience regarding the extent to which an agreement from a person is truly what is called informed consent. He added that this proposal is problematic because “it is not meant for all citizens, and not even for all poor citizens, but only for those living in ghettos” and he also objected that the provision does not define access to health care in general but does so exclusively for sterilisations.
“For an indifferent person, the combination of these [three factors] must provoke an impression that the aim [of the law] is neither improving access to health care for the poor nor improving the effectiveness of reproduction rights, but rather limiting the birth rate of a certain group on the basis of racial targeting,” Beblavý told The Slovak Spectator.
8. Aug 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani