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Gypsies like Senti and his younger sister Venetia, who attended school until forced into marriage at age 17, once hoped to be a beacon of change for Gypsies. But they face the same obstacles of previous generations, including the unyielding social mores of their own community: suspicion of outsiders, teen marriage for girls and an internal system of justice that recognizes neither courts nor official documents.
The Roma Education Fund says about 25 percent of Roma are illiterate, and the United Nations says as many as 50 percent of Roma do not complete primary school.
Venetia, 23, begs at the Eiffel Tower in jeans and a T-shirt from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. She changes back into her long Gypsy skirt before returning to her camp to meet her husband, who collects scrap metal. She said she usually makes 10 to 20 euros a day during the tourist season, enough to keep her 2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son fed and clothed.
They’ve been deported before and she expects it will happen again, perhaps later this week when her encampment comes down.
"I would like to work maybe in a school or at a bank," she said in English, which she learned in high school in Romania.
"I want something else for my children. I want a different future."
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