Infants have traditionally been wrapped with blankets into compact cocoons. This practice was developed to make the babies easy to handle while on horseback. To prevent problematic births in tents, pregnant nomads were sometimes brought to hospital 14 days before the baby is due.

Children have traditionally been socialized informally, namely by watching and imitating. Discipline was in the form of verbal reprimands and corporal punishments. Children have traditionally taken a lot of responsibility at a young age. They learned to ride about the same time they learned to walk and began tending flocks and herding sheep and goats when they were five or six. When were a little older they spent the night alone out on the steppe, sleeping on horseback, herding cattle and horses.

In the Soviet era, the children of most herders were away from their families for most of year. Between the ages of seven and fifteen, they stayed in boarding schools at the somon center. Most Mongolian women were in the paid work force, and many infants and young children were looked after on a daily or weekly basis in day-care centers or in all-day or boarding kindergartens. The efforts to bring women into the formal work force and to educate the dispersed herders resulted in separation of parents and children on a large scale. There was some historical precedent for this in the practice of sending young boys to monasteries as apprentice lamas, which had previously been the only way to obtain a formal education for them. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Explaining how they managed two shifts at textile factories, where women made up 80 percent of the workers, one manager told National Geographic, "There are two shifts, each of eight hours, but mothers of small children cannot work the night shift. Worker's children get free dare care and boarding care." Mother with children in boarding care dropped them off on Monday morning and picked them up Saturday afternoon.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents, and births were generally registered immediately, although this was not always the case for residents of rural areas. Failure to register can result in the denial of public services and inability to access child welfare benefits in the form of fixed monthly cash distributions. This particularly affected citizens moving from rural to urban areas, who sometimes experienced difficulties registering in their new locations. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

Mongolian Haircutting Ceremony

Val Farmer wrote in his blog Musings in Mongolia: “Mongolian children get their first haircut in early ages between 2-5. It is called Daah Urgeeh. Depending on the lunar calendar, boys receive their first hair cut on an even year and girls in an odd year. The ceremony symbolizes the end of "babyhood" and the transition to "childhood". The transition from babyhood was and is so important in Mongolian traditional culture. Surviving babyhood, especially for children of herding families with little access to medical facilities, was an occasion to celebrate. The time and date for the haircutting are determined by the year in the lunar calendar when the child was born. Traditionally Buddhist lamas or monks would advise families on the best days and best years to do the ceremony.[Source:Val Farmer, Musings in Mongolia, February 4, 2014 ==]

“Guests arrive during the day to participate. Offering food and drink to guests are a part of the celebration. Closest family members and friends are present at the beginning of the ceremony. We were the first guests so we saw the initiation of the ceremony. Other families hold the haircutting ceremony with a formal banquet with all the guests present from the start. ==

“The child’s head becomes more and more unsightly as swatches of hair are randomly cut. At the end of the day, after all the invited guests have finished, the child’s head is shaved - boys and girls alike - and the new hair grows out in a healthy fashion much like the symbolism of permanent teeth replacing baby teeth. The khadag, a silky blue ceremonial cloth used in Tsaagan Sar greetings, with the hair knotted at one end is kept by the family and presented to the child at another stage (late pre-teen or early teen-age) in his or her life. When you see Mongolian toddlers and children, it is difficult to tell the gender of the child because of their long hair. Then after the haircutting ceremony, it becomes equally difficult to tell the gender because of their shaved heads. ==

“Our good friends from the Sukhbaatar Branch, Odgerel and Saranchimeg, invited us to come to their home at 8:00 am. We are dressed in our deels because the haircutting ceremony took place during the Tsaagan Sar [Mongolia New Year] holidays. An older neighbor lady who knew the ritual thoroughly was there to guide the family through this process. The first cutting was done by a young cousin whose lunar birth year was an ideal match for the Gerelsaran's lunar birth year. I believe the person doing the second cutting was also determined by the same process. Odgerel and his mother help Gerelsaran cooperate The neighbor lady cut second. After that, different family members present took turns in no apparent order. A cousin came down from Darkhan to participate. ==

“A knot was tied in one end of a blue khadag as a depository for the locks of hair cut from the Gerelsaran’s head. The scissors were tied to the other end of the khadag. The person giving the haircut would be offered a drink of milk tea (haarum) or, in some cases, fermented mare’s milk (aireg). The guest or family member then offered the drink to the Gerelsaran. Then a dab of milk is rubbed into Gerelsaran’s hair. A lock of hair is then cut and placed in the khadag. ==

“The guest or family member then offers the child a gift, usually money (symbol of good fortune) but it could be a toy and then gives a wish or a blessing. It is something simple like "Be a good person". In our situation, Gerelsaran quickly figured out she could put the money in her purse and this was a good deal. Once she made this connection, she cooperated with the unusual expectations of drinking ceremonial milk, having milk rubbed in her hair and allowing her hair to be cut.” ==

Naadam Horse Race

The 28-kilometer children’s horse race is the featured event at Naadam. The race is limited to young boys between the ages of five and thirteen. Before the race starts judges check the age of the horses by examining their teeth and make sure the harness and saddles are tight. Trainers carefully groom their horse’s mane and tails are sprinkle koumiss on the mane for good luck. The riders sing a traditional songs, take a swig of koumiss and splash some on their mount for good luck.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: Naadam is “a gathering that matters more to Mongolians than the Olympics. Children as young as 5 ride in races that can be dangerous, with hundreds of horses thundering across the open plain at once, running at speeds of 30 miles per hour or more. All told, more than 1,800 horses will race over the weekend. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, July 11, 2008 /]

Describing, a horse race, Robert McCracken Peck wrote in Discover Magazine, "At the opening shout, the young jockeys exploded onto the course and thundered off across the steppe for a distance of eight miles. Then, at the signal to turn, they galloped the same distance back to the waiting crowd. As the roars of excitement subsided, the dust-coated riders and their lathered mounts were literally doused with “airag”. The winning horse was dubbed 'Tumny ekh,' the Leader of Ten Thousand, and the riders were given presents of freshly chopped cheese." [Source: Robert McCracken Peck, Discover Magazine, June 1998]

To start the race the fans sing traditional songs of encouragement and the riders sing a song called “gingo” before the start and shout “goog” while they are riding. After the winner is declared fans scramble to brush the sweat off the horse with a scraper made of pelican’s beak.

The first five horses across the finish line are regarded as winners. The horse, the trainer and the rider are all graded as champions and they are given a reward of koumiss, which the horses drink and the riders have sprinkled on their heads. The last place finisher has a special song sung for him called the “Bayan Khodood” (“Fat Stomach”). The song is about a young rider who tried his best but does poorly because the stupid trainer overfed the horse. The song then goes on to say that the horse will make a comeback next and glitter like gold.

See Naadam Under Holidays

Children and the Naadam Horse Race

Children are chosen over adult riders in the Nadaam horse races not because of age limits or rules but because of their light weight.. Some compete without shoes, saddles or stirrup to save weight. When they ride sometimes it looks as if they are holding on for dear life.

Children begin training the spring before the race on the fastest and strongest horses. Because the race takes place during the hottest time of the year, the horses are wrapped in sheepskins to prepare them for the heat. They are trained not to stop no matter how grueling the conditions are. In the months before the race they are given a special diet intended to give them strength but keep them light.

Sometimes the children are badly injured. They break bones and suffer severe bruising in falls. Some international children welfare groups have lodged complaints against children participating in these races. Mongolians admit the sport can be dangerous but insist the races build strength and character, plus they scoff at the idea of Westerners telling them what to do.

In any given race about 5 percent of the riders fall off. Some children receive life-long injuries. In 1999, one child was killed. In Ulaanbaatar some riders now wear helmets and knee and elbow pads. But there are many places in the countryside where people barely know that such things exist.

Child Abuse in Mongolia

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Child abuse was a significant problem and consisted principally of domestic violence and sexual abuse. According to the government’s National Authority for Children (NAC) and various NGOs, both problems were most likely to occur within families. The NHRC reported that domestic violence against children often was unreported because children were either afraid or unable to report to relevant authorities. The NAC and the Ulaanbaatar Metropolitan Police Department reported that they received increased reports of both domestic violence and sexual abuse of children, although they attributed this to growing public awareness of the problems. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State /*/]

In a survey published during the year citing 2013 statistics, the National Statistical Office reported that 46.9 percent of children between the ages of one and 14 years had experienced violent discipline, defined as psychological aggression or physical punishment, in the last month. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Rights Practices for 2014: Mongolia” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State +]

Child abandonment was also a problem. Some children were orphaned or ran away from home as a result of poverty-related neglect or parental abuse, often committed under the influence of alcohol. Police officials stated that children of abusive parents were sent to shelters, but some observers indicated that many youths were returned to abusive parents. /*/

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although against the law, the commercial sexual exploitation of children less than 18 years old was a problem. According to NGOs, there were instances in which teenage girls were kidnapped, coerced, or deceived and forced to work in prostitution. Sex tourism from South Korea and Japan reportedly remained a problem. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Violators of the statutory rape (defined as sexual intercourse with a person under 16 not involving physical violence or the threat of violence) law are subject to a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law prohibits the production, sale, or display of all pornography and carries a penalty of up to three months in prison. NGOs stated that online child pornography was not uncommon. There was no specialized agency responsible for child pornography or sex advertisements on the internet, and police did not routinely investigate either crime. Although police took steps to improve their capacity to investigate sexual exploitation of children via the internet, their technical expertise remained limited. /*/

Children Living Underground

In some parts of Ulaanbaatar in the 2000s homeless children slept underground in dank, dirty tunnels built to house the city's heating pipes. One homeless 16-year-old boy in a filthy underground chamber told Reuters, "This is my home." A 14-year-old boy said, "I've been here for three days. before that I was sometimes at home, sometimes on the street. The children like the heating pipes because they keep them warm in the winter.

Western aid workers estimate that there were around 4,000 homeless children in Ulaanbaatar in 2005 up from about 1,000 a few years earlier. During the day they joined other children to steal food and pick pockets. Girls as young as 13 have venereal disease and many children suffer from alcoholism, malnutrition and disease and have lice and scabies.

Many of the manholes to the tunnels are gone. They have been stolen and sold for scrap metal. There are several Mongolian and foreign aid groups that have set up housing and schools for the children. Some of the children prefer independence and living in the tunnels.

Assistance for Abused Children in Mongolia

In addition to eight officers under the Metropolitan Police Department’s Prevention of Domestic Violence and Crimes against Children Division, district police offices in two outlying districts of Ulaanbaatar each appointed one officer to investigate crimes against, or committed by, juveniles. In more central districts, local patrol officers had day-to-day responsibility for juvenile problems. The NAC maintained a child hotline to receive reports of child abuse and refer them to the police or relevant agency. In the first nine months of the year, the hotline received 106,585 calls. /*/

Officials and police also expressed concern that government restructuring had led to the dissolution of all existing structures dedicated to providing services to unattended children, leading many children to return to the streets. The former Address Identification Center, a temporary shelter for children picked up on the street, was converted into a police-run domestic violence shelter, and the Child Development and Protection Center, formerly a long-term shelter for street children, was made part of the orphanage system. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Rights Practices for 2014: Mongolia” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State +]

Street children were consequently referred to various government-run Child Protection Centers (CPCs), although Ulaanbaatar police reported procedural barriers to getting children admitted to CPCs, stating that in practice, police referred children to the Metropolitan Office of Child and Family Development and worked with that office to refer children to NGO-run shelters. +\

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Children in Institutions and Buddhist Monasteries

According to the UN Children’s Fund, more than 40,000 children lived in school dormitories away from their parents for most of the year. These 500-plus dormitories were located primarily in provincial centers to serve students whose families were nomadic or lived in rural areas. Some institutions housed children in overcrowded dormitories, and many did not have adequate medical facilities. Government officials, NGOs, and international organizations expressed concerns about child abuse in the dormitories, as well as the buildings’ safety. The NAC indicated that children in dormitories had no means to report abuse. /*/

There were reports that conditions at the Child Development and Protection Center (CDPC) in Ulaanbaatar deteriorated following an administrative change during the year. The CDPC’s budget was cut and the children were allegedly used to clean the facility. Dorms and classrooms were reportedly unheated during the winter (during which temperatures routinely plunge to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit). The quality of food and clothing reportedly worsened, as did the quality of the teaching staff. According to one source, many children chose to leave the center (and return to the street) after the change because of the poorer physical and social conditions. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Rights Practices for 2014: Mongolia” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State +]

In its 2013 report to parliament, the NHRC expressed concern about the conditions of children living and studying in Buddhist temples and monasteries. According to the report, such children sometimes experienced harassment, bullying, and physical and verbal abuse at the hands of teachers, staff, adult monks, and peers. Religious schools reportedly lacked mechanisms to prevent and respond to reports of abuse, so children’s complaints frequently went unheard. Some institutions housed children in overcrowded dormitories, and many did not have adequate medical facilities. Most schools had inadequate classroom space, furniture, textbooks, and other teaching aids. There was also a lack of qualified and dedicated teachers. Although some NGOs and international organizations have established programs to improve the quality of education in religious institutions, conditions for children in religious schools remained a concern. The National Statistical Office reported 591 students studying in religious institutions in 2013. +\

Child Labor in Mongolia

Child labor - children ages 5-14: total number: 106,203; percentage: 18 percent (2005 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

According to the U.S. Department of State: The law prohibits children under age 14 from working. By law at 14 children may work up to 30 hours per week, with parental and government permission, to acquire vocational training and work experience; at 15 children may conclude an employment contract with permission from parents or guardians. The workweek for children aged 16 and 17 is capped at 36 hours. Those under 18 may not work at night, engage in arduous work, or work in hazardous occupations such as mining and construction. Authorities reported employers often did not follow the law, requiring minors to work in excess of 40 hours per week and paying them less than the minimum wage. The International Labor Organization also noted that the minimum age for employment is less than the minimum age for completing compulsory education and continued to urge the government to align the two limits. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State /*/]

Child labor, including isolated cases of forced child labor, occurred in many sectors, including the informal artisanal mining sector (involving extraction of coal, gold, and fluorspar mineral), forced begging, agriculture, industry, street contortionism (a Mongolian art form), and the illicit sex trade. While statistics were limited, NGOs and government officials reported that widespread alcoholism, poverty, and parental abandonment made it necessary for many children to support themselves. GASI reported no deaths and one injury of a minor in an industrial accident during the first half of the year. /*/

According to a 2011-12 survey conducted by the National Statistical Office and the ILO (the most recent data available), approximately 94,000 children ages five to 17 years (15.9 percent of all children in that age group) worked. Of these, 80.5 percent were engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; 12.3 percent worked in shop and market sales; 3.6 percent were engaged in manufacturing, construction, and handicraft production; 2.9 percent worked in other occupations; and 0.7 percent worked as operators, machinery technicians, and assemblers. The same survey indicated that 11.1 percent of working children (more than 10,000 children) were engaged in hazardous labor during the survey period. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Rights Practices for 2014: Mongolia” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State +]

International organizations continued to voice concern about child jockeys in horseracing. According to NHRC reports, more than 30,000 child jockeys compete in horse races each year. Children commonly learn to ride horses at age four or five, and young children traditionally serve as jockeys during the national Naadam festival, where races range from two to nearly 20 miles. The law bans racing with child jockeys during the coldest months, although winter races reportedly continued. Regulations require adequate headwear and chest protection, but despite greater government and public attention to safety risks, enforcement was inconsistent. Observers reported good compliance with safety regulations at national races but less compliance at community and regional events. The NAC maintained a database to register all jockeys who participate in officially sanctioned national and local races. According to NAC data, as of September, 10,655 children under the age of 18 were registered in the database. No deaths were recorded in these races. /*/

Weak Efforts to Combat Child Labor in Mongolia

Labor inspectors assigned to regional and local offices are responsible for enforcement of these prohibitions and all other labor regulations. Inspectors have the authority to compel immediate compliance with labor legislation, but enforcement was limited due to the small number of labor inspectors and the growing number of privately owned enterprises. Inspectors generally did not conduct inspections in the informal sector. The General Agency for Specialized Inspection (GASI), the main inspection authority in the country, had a total of 1,850 inspectors nationwide responsible for inspections in 34 different areas. Of these, 47 inspectors focused exclusively on labor issues, including child labor. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Rights Practices for 2014: Mongolia” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State +]

Illegally forcing a child to work carries a fine ranging from 51 to 250 times the minimum wage or imprisonment for up to four years. Persons found to have involved children in “vagrancy and beggary” are subject to fines up to 100 times the minimum wage, up to 250 hours of forced labor, or up to five years’ imprisonment. There were no government prosecutions or convictions of forced child labor during the year. /*/

The Ministry of Labor and the NAC distributed MNT 160,000,000 ($80,000) to local governments for programs to prevent child labor, draw children away from working, and support employment of adult family members. The government maintained some data on the number of children under age 18 who were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, but did not provide data on the number of children removed from such work. /*/

The government approved the National Program for the Worst Forms of Child Labor in 2011 and amended its labor law during 2012. In November 2013 the government allocated six million tugrugs ($3,200) towards implementation of the program, although the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection continued to discuss their respective responsibilities. In September the Ministry of Labor reported there was no budget allocation for implementation of the national program because it was revising the program. The government maintained some data on the number of children under 18 years of age who were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, but it did not provide the information on the number of children removed from such work. +\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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