25 November 2014

Shining a light on greater investment in children

Nyamdavaa is 10 years old and feels safer having street lights near 
his home and school ©UNICEF/2014/Zetty Brake

Monday to Friday, 10 year old Nyamdavaa walks from his home to school and back again along one of the town’s dusty roads. It isn’t far, but in winter (which can last six months) it is very dark.

Nyamdavaa lives in a single room apartment with his grandmother Urantsetseg, one year old sister Saraan and five year old cousin Bat-Amgalan in an old fire station in Murun, Khuvsgul Province, northern Mongolia. His mother lives in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. Nyamdavaa’s grandmother, Urantsesteg, is raising Nyamdavaa, his sister and cousin.

Nyamdavaa is in fifth grade at the First Secondary School. “I like going to school,” he says. “My favorite class is maths and I like playing basketball during physical education. I stay after school to play basketball and football with my friends in the school yard”. 

A year ago, it was a very different situation. Nyamdavaa hated going to school. “Before it was really dark in the mornings and very scary. I didn’t want to go to school because I was scared that I would be attacked by dogs on the way,” he explains.

Nyamdavaa’s grandmother recalls that time. “In the past there were no street lights and it was a very scary place,” Urantsetseg says. “It was dark and there were suspicious people and stray dogs around. We were scared to go out. I use to walk my grandson to school, even though it is only a short distance, because it was not safe for him to walk alone." 

"But now it has changed - we have street lights and it is much better,” she says.  “Nyamdavaa is not scared to go to school on his own any more. He can stay late and feels safe walking home after dark because of the lights. He is much happier now.”

And it is not just Nyamdavaa who is happier. Urantsetseg says that when the lights were installed everyone in the neighborhood was happy. “We all went out to see the lights being turned on,” she says. “It has had a really positive impact on the community”.

“I am really happy to have the street lights,” Nyamdavaa says. “I hope that we can have more lights, especially outside my house, and maybe a pedestrian crossing”.

LDF and the local community

Nyamdavaa, his grandmother Urantsetseg and cousin Bat-Amgalar in their home in Murun, Khuvsgul, northern Mongolia ©UNICEF/2014/Zetty Brake

It sounds like such a small thing, street lights, but it has made the local area safer especially for children. The lights were installed after the community identified the lack of lights as a problem and the money came from the Local Development Fund (LDF).

In January 2013 the Government of Mongolia began decentralizing its budget. A part of this process allocated funding to local governments, in a LDF, that required the community to be involved in the planning and budgeting process.

Enkhnasan Nasan-Ulzii, UNICEF’s Chief of Social Policy, says the LDF is making a significant change to the way the budget is distributed. “Thanks to the emphasis on participation, the LDF allows the community to determine its needs and priorities accordingly,” Enkhnasan Nasan-Ulzii says. “There is no other source of information more valuable to a budget prioritization process than the voices of those who live in the community”.

“UNICEF wanted to make the decentralization of the budget an opportunity to improve the situation of children,” she explains. “We brought over 100 local decision-makers to a workshop focusing on child friendly planning and prioritization of this fund. The workshop also looked at what could be done to ensure that the budget allocation of the LDF benefited the most disadvantaged and hardest to reach children in the community.”  

And the workshop was successful according to Enkhnasan Nasan-Ulzii. “Following the workshop, the Khuvsgul Local Parliament passed a resolution that guarantees at least 10 per cent of the LDF will be used specifically for children,” she says.

Why investing in children matters

Nyamdavaa walking home from school, near the new streetlight ©UNICEF/2014/Zetty Brake

Investing in children is fundamental to protecting child rights. Article Four of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, which Mongolia signed in 1990, states:

Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services.

Enkhnasan Nasan-Ulzii says, investing in children can help promote equitable, inclusive societies, allowing more people to effectively participate in the country’s social and economic development. “Greater investment in children, through the allocation of public resources, is not just an investment in those children, but an investment in a country’s future,” she says.

“A small investment in social services can have a tremendous impact in the lives of children, allowing them to have the opportunities that will help them develop to their full potential and become active and productive members of society.”

Badamtsestseg the Bagh* Governor believes she is already seeing that impact of increased investment in her local area. “The children have really benefited from the LDF,” she says. “But there is a lot more they can do to improve the community for children. We need more kindergartens, parks and libraries. If we use the LDF effectively, it will really help us make our community more child-friendly”.

*a Bagh is the smallest administration unit in the province


Enkhasan Nasan-Ulzii is Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF in Mongolia and Zetty Brake is Communications and External Relations Officer at UNICEF in Mongolia

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