|Friday, 06 April 2007|
| By Damien Dawson
WAKING from an uncomfortable dream, not with the bounding energy of an intrepid reporter (it’s a little early for that), I contemplate my luck that at least I can emerge from it. While trying to think of some journalistic genius to impress myself with, I look out of my small, square window and it is plain to see that others do not have such luxury. Nor is this a one-off, as these are the same sights that I have seen almost everyday for a little short of 12 months.
It’s just after 8:00 am. A little girl is stumbling over piles of rubbish, bones and sanitary waste. She wears a pair of boots that are far too big for her short, thin legs, an old, tattered, brown deel and a dirty yellow scarf wrapped around her neck. Her face is a muddy brown color, stained with dirty water where she’s used muddy snow to wipe her face, dried out as it is with the dust and smoke of the cramped underground dwellings, where she lives with her younger sister and other homeless people. She does this any number of times each day before disappearing down a manhole hidden between a row of garages behind my apartment block.
Her name is Narantuya, which roughly translates as bright sunshine. Nara is 10 years old and the sole guardian of her little sister Moogii. These sisters spend their days rummaging through piles of rubbish. They look for enough food to last through the day, wandering from place to place, sometimes walking across the whole city in search of food. They share this daily task with homeless drunks and street dogs, all searching through the same piles of scraps. They make ends meet (barely) by begging, collecting bottles that they sell to recycling plants and anything else that they can scavenge that might have some monetary value.
Although homeless and orphans, these children consider themselves lucky. "Some children are sent out to beg by their parents who use the money they get to buy alcohol, even if they’re not homeless," Nara tells me. These children do not want their names or their faces to be seen in Mongolian newspapers because of the shame this will bring to their families. They at least are trying to retain their national pride. Others that they consider less fortunate than themselves are those forced into selling themselves on the streets, while their pimps are protected by corrupt policemen, who in some cases control the prostitutes themselves.
The children live in groups under the manholes to help stave off drunks who try to assault the young girls. Nara tells me, "Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t …" A quiet resignation infests these children that this is their lot in life.
In a week when the western world celebrates the anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, abducted women and children are being transported across the Chinese border in a modern-day slave trade.