Darkhan was founded in 1961 as an urban industrial centre in northern Mongolia. It has grown continuously, attracting people escaping the harsh conditions in the surrounding rural areas. As the number of vulnerable children and families increased, especially those living in informal settlements, so did the activities of SOS Children’s Villages.
In some areas up to 44 percent of people live in poverty
SOS Children’s Villages provides a caring family for children who have lost parental care (photo: SOS archives).
Darkhan is the second largest city in Mongolia with around 80,000 people living there permanently, and there is also a large transient population. Darkhan is situated in the north of the country, close to the border with Russia and 230 km north of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar.
The area surrounding the city is agricultural and many live off herding cattle. Some years herder families are at risk of losing their livelihoods due to the extreme weather conditions - droughts in summer and severe cold in winter. During really cold winters – when temperatures can get as low as minus 47 degrees centigrade - millions of animals die, and herders face devastating losses.
It is hardly surprising that people migrate to the city of Darkhan with the hope of finding jobs and a better life. However, many end up living in yurts, which are traditional Mongolian tents, on the outskirts of the city. Around 40 per cent of Darkhan’s population lives in these yurt districts, where the poverty rate can be as high as 44 per cent. In these settlements, families often live without basic infrastructure such as water and sanitation. There are also air pollution problems because people rely on wood and coal stoves for cooking and heating. All these things can cause ill health, but it is often hard for families to access affordable medical care.
Children and young people need to be protected
Children suffer most from the social problems that accompany poverty. Many families in Darkhan struggle to provide for their children. Children are often made to go to work so that they can contribute to the family income. In rural areas, the vast majority of children are involved in herding, while in urban areas they can be found working in services, including commercial sexual exploitation in hotels, saunas and clubs.
Young people can find it especially hard to find jobs – at nearly 31 per cent, the unemployment rate for those aged between 15-24 is higher than average. Young people from rural areas have less access to education and often end up working in insecure, low-pay jobs in the informal economy. But even educated young people in urban centres experience difficulties securing work. In some cases this is because the skills do not match the needs of the labour market.
What we do in Darkhan
In SOS Children’s Village Darkhan, up to 90 children who have lost parental care can grow up with their siblings (photo: SOS archives).
SOS Children’s Villages has been working in Darkhan since 2008.
Care in families: Up to 90 children who can no longer live with their parents, find a loving home in an SOS family. Children grow up with their brothers and sisters and are cared for by an SOS parent.
The children from the SOS families go to the local kindergartens and schools with local children, which helps them become part of the community from a young age.
Support for young people: In light of the high youth unemployment rate in the city, we provide young people with support until they are able to live independently. We provide them access to further education and vocational training so that they have the right skills to get a job. We also help them build contacts so that they find it easier to find work or set up their own business.
Advocacy: We work closely with governmental organisations and non-governmental organisations to protect and promote the rights of children and young people.