Juvenile marriages, child-brides and infant mortality among Serbian gypsies

Article, Unknown English OPEN
Čvorović Jelena (2011)
  • Publisher: Institute of Ethnography, SASA, Belgrade
  • Journal: Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU (issn: 0350-0861)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.2298/GEI110512001C
  • Subject: juvenile marriage | Anthropology | GN1-890 | child mortality | Serbia | Gypsies

Gypsies/Roma make up the largest minority in Europe. Roma communities tend to be segregated and characterized by poverty, unemployment, poor education, and poor quality housing. So far, the European strategy for Gypsy/Roma integration proved insufficient because it fails to account to the normative nature of the isolationist and ethnocentric nature of certain elements of Gypsy culture, as well as the deep and mutual distrust between Gypsies and non-Gypsies within European countries. In Serbia, the Gypsy population tends to suffer disproportionately from higher rates of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and disease. At the same time, the Serbian Gypsy women average an infant mortality rate between 10-20%. For most of these girls/women, endogamous, arranged marriages are negotiated at an early age, usually without their consent. Among these women, a certain level of infant mortality is “expected”, following an underinvestment in some children manifested in their care, feeding, and the response to their illnesses. These juvenile arranged marriages, subsequent reproduction and child mortality are culturally self-sufficient and hence pose a challenge for international human rights: while many Gypsy girls/women are being denied the right to choose whom and when to marry, the Gypsy community itself openly accepts juvenile arranged marriage as a preservation strategy and means of cultural, economic, and societal maintenance and independence. Although efforts to improve education, health, living conditions, encourage employment and development opportunities for Gypsies/Roma are essential, these objectives cannot be attained without directing the changes needed within Gypsy/Roma culture itself. The initial point for change must come from an increased sense of responsibility among the Gypsies themselves.
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