Mongolia is a nation of young people. Nearly 35% of the population is under the age of 18 and a quarter of the population is between 10 and 19 years old. The socio-economic transformation - a market led policy reform resulted in a number of social manifestations that hitherto Mongolia had not experienced in terms of magnitude and scale; deepening poverty, increasing unemployment coupled with colossal debt servicing led to an increase of the school drop-out rates.
The country is in a unique situation given the fact that more boys than girls drop out from schools. In numerical terms 44,700 children of whom 64% are boys are out of school in the secondary stream. Boys are falling victims of the socio-economic transformation in the rural areas. As farm lands and rural economy undergo the reform, families find it more economically rewarding to keep boys in farming rather than sending them to school. Problems in the education system need to be addressed, such as poor school conditions, poor quality of teaching learning especially in rural schools and inadequate recreational activities for youth outside school.
In order to improve the Mongolian education system, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to meet the new economic realities and to attract more children into schools. UNICEF Mongolia has developed its child-friendly strategy to create a demand for parents to send their sons and daughters to school and therefore to reduce the school drop-out rates as well as the number of street children.
UNICEF supports the participation of adolescents in school management and social activities through student councils, adolescent-friendly centres and youth associations. UNICEF also supports the participation of parents in schools through enhancing better communication skills among teachers, students and parents.
According to a survey conducted during 1999-2000 by UN agencies and the Mongolian Youth Development Centre, nearly 78% of adolescents felt that their active participation in society is not accepted, and that they lacked open communication with their parents.
Based on the survey findings, UNICEF and partners designed an integrated initiative to respond to the needs of adolescents in health, education, participation and communication. The project Improving the Outlook of Mongolian Adolescent Girls and Boys was launched by UNICEF and other UN agencies, in collaboration with the Government, national NGOs and – most importantly – adolescent girls and boys themselves and their families.
A major UNICEF initiative is the My Passport campaign, launched to increase civic participation among Mongolian adolescents, foster partnerships with their parents, enhance their role in community and society, and reduce school absenteeism.
During last four years, the My Passport campaign involved 12,000 adolescents in a wide array of activities such as tutoring their peers, helping elderly and needy people, supporting adolescents from poor families in non-formal education, building communication and leadership skills. Many adolescents said that through the campaign activities, they feel empowered while seeing results of their own initiatives and being of service to their families and communities. The Prime Minister, enthusiastic about the campaign, declared that it should be conducted in every school in Mongolia from 2002 to 2003.
UNICEF and partners developed the distant education on Child Rights for parents which was followed by series of training in parenting. These courses helped families better understand the needs of adolescents and also improved the communication between parents and adolescents. “My Passport campaign encouraged us to learn well. At first our parents didn’t like it... but when they realized that it was a good program which gave us a sense of purpose in life, they began to be more tolerant” said Amgalan, 15 year old girl.
The Mongolia case is an example of UNICEF fostering partnerships with parents to involve adolescents in social activities and public discussion in achieving their development and participation rights. It also shows that when the voices of youth are heard, everyone in the family and community benefits.