Mongolia: street children amid newfound wealth FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 8 Nov 1998 18:20:13 -0400


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Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

 http://www.irish-times.com:80/irish-times/paper/1998/1107/fea1.html
FWD  Irish Times - 7 Nov 1998

DARK SIDE OF MONGOLIA

Mongolia is being hailed as the bright shining light of
developing-world capitalism. But Conor O'Clery, Asia Correspondent,
finds extreme poverty alongside the country's new-found wealth

The wide streets of Ulan Bator were almost deserted. Snow flakes
drifted into the headlights of the Russian-made Lada taxi. The voices
of street children living underground among hot water pipes echoed up
through open manholes. An occasional figure in trilby hat and wrapped
in a del, the cloak worn by Mongolian horsemen, hurried by in the
darkness. We stopped in an unlit street and I pushed open a
nondescript wooden door.

"Bon soir, monsieur," said a beautiful Mongolian woman in the
hallway. "Vous avez une reservation?" She led me into a packed, noisy
French restaurant, where foreign and Mongolian diners were tucking
into pepper steaks and bouchThetae a la renne, and drinking Beaujolais
and cognac.

The CafTheta de France, run by two Corsicans, is the latest western
hostelry to be opened in the remote Mongolian capital. Practically
the only nightspot a decade ago was the state-run Ulan Bator Hotel
behind Lenin Park. That was before the communists were swept from
power and the land-locked central-Asian country embraced capitalism.
Now there are 580 night clubs, bars and restaurants in a city of
650,000 people, half of whom still live on the outskirts in
felt-lined tents known as yurts, or gers.

In the biggest nightclub, the Top Ten disco, hordes of teenagers -
the girls wearing platform shoes which are all the rage - dance,
watch striptease and drink Genghis Khan beer until 4 a.m. Genghis
Khan, the 13th-century Mongolian master of the universe, has been
rehabilitated as a national symbol of independence, and his name,
banned by the communists, now appears everywhere, on beer bottles, on
matchboxes and on hotels.

Other establishments cater for less erotic but no less exotic tastes
(for Mongolians), like the Churchill Tea Shop which specialises in
Cornish pasties, the Matisse art cafTheta with its impressionistic
paintings, and the Sakura Harvest Japanese restaurant patronised by
sushi lovers. The German-Malaysian casino in the Genghis Khan hotel
has just closed after a year in operation, but only because the
government has given the gaming licence instead to a Macau-based
company which plans to transform the city's single department store,
a badly-stocked relic of the communist era, into a Mongolian Caesar's
Palace.

Ulan Bator's new elite identify with western culture to a much
greater extent than the neighbouring Chinese. Their city has the
atmosphere and smells of a provincial Russian town, Russian is the
most common second language, and they boast they are more European
than Asian. Since 70 years of communist rule ended in 1990, Mongolia
has become one of the most pro-business countries in the world. Many
of the night-time revellers can be found by day glued to mobile
telephones in their BMWs as they flash past old Soviet-made
trolley-buses, or hanging out at the stock exchange, an
ochre-coloured old cinema built in Russian-classical style with a
computerised dealing system designed with the help of Harvard
University graduates.

A perplexed-looking Lenin still looms high on a pedestal above the
fir trees in a little park, though one day a statue of Milton
Friedman, the guru of free market economics, may take its place, if
one of the brashest government advisers has his way. Newt Gingrich
too can claim a niche in Mongolian history. The US House Speaker sent
the authors of his "Contract with America" to Mongolia to help local
democrats bring out a "Contract with the Mongolian Voters". It became
the biggest publication ever in Mongolia, with 350,000 copies
distributed among the country's 2.4 million people, and it helped the
four parties in the Democratic Coalition to win a majority in the
Mongolian parliament. Gingrich is expected to visit Mongolia soon, a
prospect reported in the English-language Ulan Bator Observer under
the headline "Newt Alert".

The rush by Mongolian democrats to embrace the free market has caused
US conservatives to see this country of steppes, taiga and desert, as
the bright shining light of developing-world capitalism. The
International Republican Institute, the Republican wing of the
National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, has an office in Ulan
Bator to train local politicians. With their encouragement, the young
democratic reformers have launched a sweeping privatisation programme
- though it has since stalled - and introduced a bill for a 30 per
cent flat tax, the dream of US Republicans such as Steve Forbes.

Officials from the Soros Foundation, the International Monetary Fund,
the Asia Foundation, the Asian Development Bank, USAID, the World
Bank and other international organisations have descended on Mongolia
to nurse it through shock therapy. The prognosis is mixed. A recent
USAID report suggested that financial sector aid programmes might
actually be hindering modernisation as they have helped bankrupt
banks to find ways to stay afloat.

Christian groups have also arrived to seek converts in a country
where almost half the young men were Buddhist monks before the
communists took over in 1921 and stamped out all religion. A Catholic
church opened in Ulan Bator three years ago, serving a congregation
of 94, and there are in total 20,000 religious believers in 18
registered religions, according to a Mongolian magazine editor who
said that "as in any transition period young people have no beliefs
and are confused". He had heard stories, he added happily, of
missionaries going out into the steppes laden with bibles for nomads
"who queue up for the bibles often because they want the pages to
roll their cigarettes".

The economic and political reforms have given a veneer of prosperity
to Ulan Bator, but they have brought great hardship to many
Mongolians, especially urban dwellers who worked in now defunct state
industries. The fall in world prices for Mongolia's main exports,
copper, gold and cashmere, and the contraction of the Asian and
Russian markets have also hit Mongolia hard. Always a poor country,
the living standard is lower than in the last years of communism.
According to the World Bank, one third of the population lives below
the poverty line and one in four children is chronically
malnourished.

This has resulted in the phenomenon of Ulan Bator's street kids, who
have been growing in number for six years. Today, according to the
police, there are 382 children living permanently on the streets,
many refugees from abusive alcoholic parents. The number rises
occasionally to between 500 and 1,000. They beg, steal, pick-pocket,
polish shoes, carry rubbish or do other menial tasks just to stay
alive. The street children sleep in the open when the weather is warm
and during the freezing winter nights they take refuge in communal
flats or in the city sewers. Below ground they huddle in gangs of
about 25 for safety and sleep close to the insulated pipes carrying
hot water to apartment blocks.

There are 16 foreign agencies working with the Mongolian government
to relieve the plight of the children, including the Christina Noble
Children's Foundation. Dublin-born Christina Noble, herself once a
badly abused street child in the Liberties, has run a centre for
street children in Vietnam since 1990. Mongolia has the same problems
as Vietnam, Noble told The Irish Times last year, "children being
eaten alive by lice, suffering from syphilis and herpes - with no one
to help because Mongolia is not fashionable".

Two Irish nurses, Annette Hearns (29), and Orna McEntee (27), who
work with the foundation, have been down the sewers to see conditions
for themselves. Over several months they befriended the children,
otherwise it would be too dangerous.

"The sewers are pitch black, full of flies and so humid that my
glasses steamed up," said Annette. The foundation "helps families to
stay together to avoid their children ending up on the streets and
assists those children who are on the streets to get back into
mainstream society," said its Ulan Bator-based director, Joe Woolf.
"We are helping boys and girls who are prisoners, we are running a
health education programme and a drop-in health clinic and we are
also renovating a hospital for poor children. And with a mobile
Mercedes clinic we will be touring the countryside, bringing primary
health care to people that need it, and looking after and educating
abandoned children and reintegrating them back into family life where
possible."

Other aid workers said child prostitution was a huge problem. Most of
the street girls are engaged in commercial sex. I was told of one
case where a child of seven worked with a pimp aged 10. The clients
are almost all adult men. One 13-year-old gave birth in a sewer. She
and the baby survived and were taken into care. The British
organisation, Save the Children, which has been working in Mongolia
since 1994, says there are about 200 child prostitutes, of whom 60
are registered with the police. The big fear is a HIV epidemic. In
one recent survey of 114 young people between the ages of four and 20,
106 admitted they had had a sexually transmitted disease.

Life in Ulan Bator and small urban centres is so hard that many
people are returning to the rolling steppes. The nomadic herdsmen,
lovers of stories, drink and good horsemanship, live a life unchanged
since the days of Genghis Khan, roaming freely in a country three
times the size of France. After the break-up of collective farms, they
were allowed to own more livestock and the number of animals in
Mongolia increased from 25 million to more than 30 million. "If you
work hard and look after your animals you can get rich," said a
horseman 100 kilometres south of Ulan Bator, as he looked for a lost
camel - a frequent problem on the unfenced grasslands.

That is not quite the experience of Natsag and Altangerel, a retired
police official and his wife, who live on a gentle grass slope which
is rich in buttercups and wild strawberries in summer. They have only
one name each, as the communists banned surnames in 1921 to end clan
allegiance. (The government is now encouraging surnames again but
most people want to choose Borjiin, the family name of Genghis Khan).
The couple invited me into their ger, a circular tent of felt and
canvas with a conical roof and a couch, bed, sideboard and stools
arranged neatly around a metal stove, but no television as they have
no electricity.

After sharing some snuff, extracted from Natsag's ceramic jar with a
long metal spoon, and drinking a bowl of fermented mare's milk, they
spoke to me sadly about life after communism on the steppes of
Mongolia. They have two small pensions and 20 sheep, 30 goats and 10
cows, many more than before the reforms, but "life is getting worse,
and we just have enough to feed ourselves because flour and rice are
so expensive and the money for goat hair is very little now," said
Altangerel, who reared nine daughters, one of whom is unemployed.
"During the Soviet period it was better for workers. The poorest are
more poor now and the young can't find jobs." They did not want to go
back to collectivisation but something had to be done. Said Natsag
sharply: "Mongolians are lazy. They don't want to improve themselves,
that's the problem."

"What about the teenagers spending their evenings in the new
nightclubs in Ulan Bator, I asked Altangerel. "That's OK, within
limits," she said. "The big problem is that, before, children
respected their parents, and youth respected the public. That's not
the case any more." She added, as she put dried cattle dung in the
stove, "I have to say that before 1990 it was better from that point
of view."
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Streetkid-L Resource Page:  http://www.jbu.edu/business/sk.html
Listowner: jwalenci@acc.jbu.edu, John Brown University
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

END FORWARD
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page
ARCHIVES  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <wgcp@earthlink.net>
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 http://www.irish-times.com:80/irish-times/paper/1998/1107/fea1.html

FWD  Irish Times - 7 Nov 1998 


<paraindent><param>right,left</param>DARK SIDE OF MONGOLIA 

</paraindent>

Mongolia is being hailed as the bright shining light of

developing-world capitalism. But Conor O'Clery, Asia Correspondent,

finds extreme poverty alongside the country's new-found wealth 


The wide streets of Ulan Bator were almost deserted. Snow flakes

drifted into the headlights of the Russian-made Lada taxi. The voices

of street children living underground among hot water pipes echoed up

through open manholes. An occasional figure in trilby hat and wrapped

in a del, the cloak worn by Mongolian horsemen, hurried by in the

darkness. We stopped in an unlit street and I pushed open a

nondescript wooden door.


"Bon soir, monsieur," said a beautiful Mongolian woman in the

hallway. "Vous avez une reservation?" She led me into a packed, noisy

French restaurant, where foreign and Mongolian diners were tucking

into pepper steaks and bouchThetae a la renne, and drinking Beaujolais

and cognac.


The CafTheta de France, run by two Corsicans, is the latest western

hostelry to be opened in the remote Mongolian capital. Practically

the only nightspot a decade ago was the state-run Ulan Bator Hotel

behind Lenin Park. That was before the communists were swept from

power and the land-locked central-Asian country embraced capitalism.

Now there are 580 night clubs, bars and restaurants in a city of

650,000 people, half of whom still live on the outskirts in

felt-lined tents known as yurts, or gers.


In the biggest nightclub, the Top Ten disco, hordes of teenagers -

the girls wearing platform shoes which are all the rage - dance,

watch striptease and drink Genghis Khan beer until 4 a.m. Genghis

Khan, the 13th-century Mongolian master of the universe, has been

rehabilitated as a national symbol of independence, and his name,

banned by the communists, now appears everywhere, on beer bottles, on

matchboxes and on hotels.


Other establishments cater for less erotic but no less exotic tastes

(for Mongolians), like the Churchill Tea Shop which specialises in

Cornish pasties, the Matisse art cafTheta with its impressionistic

paintings, and the Sakura Harvest Japanese restaurant patronised by

sushi lovers. The German-Malaysian casino in the Genghis Khan hotel

has just closed after a year in operation, but only because the

government has given the gaming licence instead to a Macau-based

company which plans to transform the city's single department store,

a badly-stocked relic of the communist era, into a Mongolian Caesar's

Palace.


Ulan Bator's new elite identify with western culture to a much

greater extent than the neighbouring Chinese. Their city has the

atmosphere and smells of a provincial Russian town, Russian is the

most common second language, and they boast they are more European

than Asian. Since 70 years of communist rule ended in 1990, Mongolia

has become one of the most pro-business countries in the world. Many

of the night-time revellers can be found by day glued to mobile

telephones in their BMWs as they flash past old Soviet-made

trolley-buses, or hanging out at the stock exchange, an

ochre-coloured old cinema built in Russian-classical style with a

computerised dealing system designed with the help of Harvard

University graduates.


A perplexed-looking Lenin still looms high on a pedestal above the

fir trees in a little park, though one day a statue of Milton

Friedman, the guru of free market economics, may take its place, if

one of the brashest government advisers has his way. Newt Gingrich

too can claim a niche in Mongolian history. The US House Speaker sent

the authors of his "Contract with America" to Mongolia to help local

democrats bring out a "Contract with the Mongolian Voters". It became

the biggest publication ever in Mongolia, with 350,000 copies

distributed among the country's 2.4 million people, and it helped the

four parties in the Democratic Coalition to win a majority in the

Mongolian parliament. Gingrich is expected to visit Mongolia soon, a

prospect reported in the English-language Ulan Bator Observer under

the headline "Newt Alert".


The rush by Mongolian democrats to embrace the free market has caused

US conservatives to see this country of steppes, taiga and desert, as

the bright shining light of developing-world capitalism. The

International Republican Institute, the Republican wing of the

National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, has an office in Ulan

Bator to train local politicians. With their encouragement, the young

democratic reformers have launched a sweeping privatisation programme

- though it has since stalled - and introduced a bill for a 30 per

cent flat tax, the dream of US Republicans such as Steve Forbes.


Officials from the Soros Foundation, the International Monetary Fund,

the Asia Foundation, the Asian Development Bank, USAID, the World

Bank and other international organisations have descended on Mongolia

to nurse it through shock therapy. The prognosis is mixed. A recent

USAID report suggested that financial sector aid programmes might

actually be hindering modernisation as they have helped bankrupt

banks to find ways to stay afloat.


Christian groups have also arrived to seek converts in a country

where almost half the young men were Buddhist monks before the

communists took over in 1921 and stamped out all religion. A Catholic

church opened in Ulan Bator three years ago, serving a congregation

of 94, and there are in total 20,000 religious believers in 18

registered religions, according to a Mongolian magazine editor who

said that "as in any transition period young people have no beliefs

and are confused". He had heard stories, he added happily, of

missionaries going out into the steppes laden with bibles for nomads

"who queue up for the bibles often because they want the pages to

roll their cigarettes".


The economic and political reforms have given a veneer of prosperity

to Ulan Bator, but they have brought great hardship to many

Mongolians, especially urban dwellers who worked in now defunct state

industries. The fall in world prices for Mongolia's main exports,

copper, gold and cashmere, and the contraction of the Asian and

Russian markets have also hit Mongolia hard. Always a poor country,

the living standard is lower than in the last years of communism.

According to the World Bank, one third of the population lives below

the poverty line and one in four children is chronically

malnourished.


This has resulted in the phenomenon of Ulan Bator's street kids, who

have been growing in number for six years. Today, according to the

police, there are 382 children living permanently on the streets,

many refugees from abusive alcoholic parents. The number rises

occasionally to between 500 and 1,000. They beg, steal, pick-pocket,

polish shoes, carry rubbish or do other menial tasks just to stay

alive. The street children sleep in the open when the weather is warm

and during the freezing winter nights they take refuge in communal

flats or in the city sewers. Below ground they huddle in gangs of

about 25 for safety and sleep close to the insulated pipes carrying

hot water to apartment blocks.


There are 16 foreign agencies working with the Mongolian government

to relieve the plight of the children, including the Christina Noble

Children's Foundation. Dublin-born Christina Noble, herself once a

badly abused street child in the Liberties, has run a centre for

street children in Vietnam since 1990. Mongolia has the same problems

as Vietnam, Noble told The Irish Times last year, "children being

eaten alive by lice, suffering from syphilis and herpes - with no one

to help because Mongolia is not fashionable". 


Two Irish nurses, Annette Hearns (29), and Orna McEntee (27), who

work with the foundation, have been down the sewers to see conditions

for themselves. Over several months they befriended the children,

otherwise it would be too dangerous. 


"The sewers are pitch black, full of flies and so humid that my

glasses steamed up," said Annette. The foundation "helps families to

stay together to avoid their children ending up on the streets and

assists those children who are on the streets to get back into

mainstream society," said its Ulan Bator-based director, Joe Woolf.

"We are helping boys and girls who are prisoners, we are running a

health education programme and a drop-in health clinic and we are

also renovating a hospital for poor children. And with a mobile

Mercedes clinic we will be touring the countryside, bringing primary

health care to people that need it, and looking after and educating

abandoned children and reintegrating them back into family life where

possible."


Other aid workers said child prostitution was a huge problem. Most of

the street girls are engaged in commercial sex. I was told of one

case where a child of seven worked with a pimp aged 10. The clients

are almost all adult men. One 13-year-old gave birth in a sewer. She

and the baby survived and were taken into care. The British

organisation, Save the Children, which has been working in Mongolia

since 1994, says there are about 200 child prostitutes, of whom 60

are registered with the police. The big fear is a HIV epidemic. In

one recent survey of 114 young people between the ages of four and 20,

106 admitted they had had a sexually transmitted disease.


Life in Ulan Bator and small urban centres is so hard that many

people are returning to the rolling steppes. The nomadic herdsmen,

lovers of stories, drink and good horsemanship, live a life unchanged

since the days of Genghis Khan, roaming freely in a country three

times the size of France. After the break-up of collective farms, they

were allowed to own more livestock and the number of animals in

Mongolia increased from 25 million to more than 30 million. "If you

work hard and look after your animals you can get rich," said a

horseman 100 kilometres south of Ulan Bator, as he looked for a lost

camel - a frequent problem on the unfenced grasslands.


That is not quite the experience of Natsag and Altangerel, a retired

police official and his wife, who live on a gentle grass slope which

is rich in buttercups and wild strawberries in summer. They have only

one name each, as the communists banned surnames in 1921 to end clan

allegiance. (The government is now encouraging surnames again but

most people want to choose Borjiin, the family name of Genghis Khan).

The couple invited me into their ger, a circular tent of felt and

canvas with a conical roof and a couch, bed, sideboard and stools

arranged neatly around a metal stove, but no television as they have

no electricity.


After sharing some snuff, extracted from Natsag's ceramic jar with a

long metal spoon, and drinking a bowl of fermented mare's milk, they

spoke to me sadly about life after communism on the steppes of

Mongolia. They have two small pensions and 20 sheep, 30 goats and 10

cows, many more than before the reforms, but "life is getting worse,

and we just have enough to feed ourselves because flour and rice are

so expensive and the money for goat hair is very little now," said

Altangerel, who reared nine daughters, one of whom is unemployed.

"During the Soviet period it was better for workers. The poorest are

more poor now and the young can't find jobs." They did not want to go

back to collectivisation but something had to be done. Said Natsag

sharply: "Mongolians are lazy. They don't want to improve themselves,

that's the problem."


"What about the teenagers spending their evenings in the new

nightclubs in Ulan Bator, I asked Altangerel. "That's OK, within

limits," she said. "The big problem is that, before, children

respected their parents, and youth respected the public. That's not

the case any more." She added, as she put dried cattle dung in the

stove, "I have to say that before 1990 it was better from that point

of view."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Streetkid-L Resource Page:  http://www.jbu.edu/business/sk.html

Listowner: jwalenci@acc.jbu.edu, John Brown University

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


END FORWARD

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

--============_-1301558870==_ma============--