Nov 13, 12:04 PM EST

Gypsy kids herded into Czech schools for disabled

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Roma children face severe discrimination in the Czech Republic and are still being segregated into schools for those with mental disabilities, a rights group said Thursday.

The charge comes a year after the European Court of Human Rights demanded that the country stop the practice.

Roma children "continue to be dramatically over-represented in practical primary schools that follow a special curriculum for mentally disabled pupils," the European Roma Rights Center said in a report.

Czech Education Minister Ondrej Liska said it could take three to five years to solve the problem but admitted that the children of Roma, or Gypsies, "are not less talented and do not have fewer abilities than the others."

Rights advocates said, however, that officials at all levels are reluctant to address the issue.

"What is needed here is a real action to bring Roma children into mainstream schools," said Robert Kushen of the Budapest-based Roma Rights Center. "I hope we can see that commitment, but I'm skeptical."

Roma are one of Europe's largest, poorest and fastest-growing minorities. An estimated 7 million to 9 million live in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and other countries.

They remain at risk of social exclusion, despite government programs to integrate them. The European Union has set aside millions in education, housing and job aid to help.

In November 2007, the European Court of Human Rights demanded the Czech Republic take steps to end the discrimination against Roma youths in schools after Roma students sued. The ruling acknowledged that "other European states had had similar difficulties."

Failure to comply with the ruling could lead to a new court case and possible fines or sanctions.

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