Mongolia street children: your questions answered

Who are these Mongolian street children?

Mongolia street children are young children orphaned and forced to live homeless among the streets. They are typically a product of social upheaval caused by alcoholism, rapid urbanisation, and poverty.

Mongolia street children

Mongolia street kids getting a helping hand at the Lotus Children's Centre (photo courtesy of Lotus)

Why are they orphaned?

Its a sad but all-too common story out in the ger districts of Ulan Bator: a destitute nomadic family has lost their stock to drought or zuud (i.e. a harsh blizzard) and been forced to move to the city to search for employment. The father gets about 30,000T (US $20) in monthly welfare -funded by a Government deal with an American mining company-, but with little other support in terms of education or skills development. He can't find a job; unemployment is high. A bottle of 'moonshine' vodka costs about $1; he starts drinking. Domestic violence is common. Families break apart, Mongolian orphans are the end result. The cycle continues as these orphan's children are also highly likely to become Mongolia street children.

Living underground

Street children in Mongolia are often forced to 'go underground' during winter: they live in city's heated sewers and underground pipes to avoid the -40C temperatures outside. During summer they wonder the streets, begging and sometimes stealing in order to get there own meal.

Is the problem getting better?

Mongolia street children have a less obvious presence than they used to: when I first went to Ulan Bator years ago, these kids were everywhere. The kids sometimes begged, and other times hassled; at times becoming quite aggressive and intimidating, and showing the kind of unpredictable behaviour that only a human being with nothing to lose can show.

These days, the police have moved many Mongolian street children out of the city centre, so they are not so apparent to tourists anymore. However, that does not mean the problem has gone away: on the contrary, workers at the Lotus Children's Centre (a charity) report that the problem has been getting steadily worse.

How can I help?

Thankfully, there are a number of orphanages that aim to take care of these Mongolian street kids: feed them, house them, educate them, and try to break the cycle of poverty.

The Lotus Children's Centre does a lot of good work. You can support them by visiting their website to make a donation, or offer to volunteer next time you're in Mongolia. You can also stay at the Lotus Hostel in Ulan Bator, they're one of the highest-rated guesthouses on Check it out!

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