Local governments can apply for support from the 6.5 million-euro European Social Fund (ESF) grant to create new nursery school places or support childcare for children under the age of seven, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced.
The local governments can establish the new places themselves or buy the service from private contractors. ESF's money can also be used to support childcare in the evenings, at night, over the weekends, and including the kids with special needs.
Estonia currently has an acute problem with lack of nursery school vacancies. The main shortfall is in places for children aged three and under, especially in Tallinn and Tartu.
According to latest available statistics, almost 6,000 adults are not working because they have to care for their pre-school children at home and 93 percent of the caring parents are women. This in turn also affects the gender gap in the labor market.
By law, Estonian municipalities are required to guarantee all children at least 18 months of age a place in a nursery school. But cash-strapped local governments have had trouble complying fully.
The ESF is the European Union's main financial instrument for supporting employment in the EU, as well as promoting economic and social cohesion. ESF spending amounts to around 10 percent of the EU's total budget.
From 2007-2013, Estonia received over 391 million euros from the fund.
Editor: S. Tambur