Roma are the largest and one of the oldest minority groups in Europe. Today, Roma are the ethnic group experiencing the highest levels of poverty and social exclusion across Western, Central and Eastern Europe. Despite policy and legislation in support of minority rights, the Roma continue to be excluded from fully participating in economic, social, political and cultural life and from enjoying a standard of living and well being that is considered normal in the society in which they live. Ethnic discrimination and xenophobia remain widespread, while the economic crisis threatens to shrink the already limited political and financial space for promoting Roma inclusion at national and sub-national level.
Children and young people constitute almost half the Roma population, yet current policies and strategies for social inclusion in Europe pay little attention to them. Roma children and young people are particularly vulnerable to and most affected by the exclusion experienced by their families. Children and young people are dependent on their families and on the resources allocated to them. At the same time they are independent members of society with the right to full and equal participation in all areas of life.
Growing up in poverty increases the risk of perpetuating deprivation, discrimination and social exclusion into the following generation. Many Roma children and young people today live in households where the head and other members are unemployed. Structural and societal barriers continue to exclude the Roma from the mainstream labour market. This means that the main source of income for most Roma households is either the informal sector or low-skilled menial work which offers little opportunity for escaping poverty, limits access to social security systems and reduces the time available for child care and parenting.