15 December 2014

Helping children turn their lives around

A child in need of protection ©UNICEF/MGLA2007-00005/Holmes

When Bat (not his real name) was 14, he would run away from home a lot. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. His older brothers would look for him and when they found him would bring him home and often beat him.
Bat was running away from a difficult family situation. Both his parents had drinking problems and were unemployed. The family of eight (two parents and six children) were living in a ger, a traditional Mongolian house that has only one-room house and no bathroom or shower. Bat’s father was abusive towards his mother, and there was family violence within the home.

“Because it was such a difficult situation at home, I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to go to school, so I dropped out of school”, he says. “When I ran away from home I would stay away for a few days. It was hard to go home because I was of afraid of my parents and older brothers. I needed clothes and food. Twice I stole things I needed. When I think about it, I regret it”.

Bat was caught stealing and charged. He is still awaiting the outcome of his court case.
His mother Dulmaa (also not her real name) blames herself. “I wasn’t paying attention to my son. I didn’t know what was going on in his life,” she says. “For example, I didn’t know that he had dropped out of school for a long time, until his teacher came to my home and talked to me.”

“The situation has been very stressful,” Dulmaa explains. “Hopefully Bat will have not go to jail, and will receive probation. But I don’t know what will happen. When we have spoken to the prosecutor they have said they will take into consideration the efforts he is making to turn his life around”.

Since his arrest Bat’s life has changed. He is back studying for a trade at the local vocational training center. He has stopped hanging out with the people he was mixed up with when running away from home.

“I have learnt a big lesson going through all of this,” he says. “I hope that I will not be jailed and will receive probation. If the court case is ok, I know everything will be ok”.

Supporting children in need

Since his arrest, Bat and his family have been receiving support from local authorities, specifically the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT).

Dorjkhand, a Child Rights and Protection Officer at the Department of Families and Children, says the MDT has helped Bat enroll in a course at the vocational training center, provided him with material support so he can study and given advice and support on his court case.

“We are also working with the family to improve Bat’s life,” she says. “His mother’s behavior has changed and she is trying to pay more attention to Bat and get sober”.

“Before, when we did not have the MDT, the Department of Families and Children was the only place that was dealing with children’s issues,” Dorjkhand explainss. “But now there are a lot more people and agencies involved, providing better services and support to children.
“The MDT is difference in every location, but in our local area it comprises of social workers, Bagh and Soum Governors, Department of Family and Children staff, health workers, police and one non-government organizations,” she says.

UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Amaraa Dorjsambuu says the MDT is making a difference.

“In Mongolia the justice system only looks at what the law says,” she explained. “It doesn’t look at the child’s life, their situation, or the context of the crime. Before the courts didn’t think about the impact of their decision on the child. But with the MDT it brings together many different people and they can see what the best outcome is for the child and work together towards achieving it.”

Bat said the MDT helped him a lot. “I am thankful and very grateful for the support I have received”, he says. “With this support I am in a much better situation. Without it, I would have continued to commit crimes and my situation would have been much worse”.

Bat’s mother Dulmaa agrees. “The MDT had a direct impact,” she says. “There was an immediate change in Bat. The support for the MDT and their commitment to him has been incredible and it is a big thing. Without the MDT the future would be very daunting”.

Unfinished work

Amaraa says that it is important that services that protect, support and help children are made available, so that children do not end up like Bat.

“One of the roles of the MDT is not just to help children after they have committed a crime, but to intervene when a child is at risk,” the UNICEF staffer says. “The MDT should be also be helping at risk children access social services. But this is not always happening.”

One of the reasons is that child protection is a relatively new concept in Mongolia, and is not always understood, according to Amaraa. “Other countries are much further ahead of Mongolia on child protection issues, and we need to work hard to catch up because otherwise children like Bat will slip through the cracks and not have the opportunities they deserve”.

Amaraa highlighted some recent child protection developments, such as the establishment of the MDTs and a nationwide child helpline. “But more can and must be done to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse. Had there been a better system in place, Bat and others like him, might find themselves in very different situations where they are offered support and assistance early, rather than when they are facing criminal prosecution”.

“We are working with the National Center Against Violence and the Ministry of Justice to see legislation to formalize the MDT system pass through the parliament,” she says. “Currently the MDTs are established by the discression of the local authorities, the legislation would require MDTs be established in every town, village or district”.

For Bat, the extra support from the MDT has made a world of difference. His family situation has improved and that he is no longer afraid to go home. He is going to school and looking forward to building a life for himself, once the court case is settled. “Life is much brighter now,” he says.

Zetty Brake is the Communications and External Relations Officer at UNICEF in Mongolia

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