Social Work in Mongolia

Oyut-Erdene Namdaldagva

This chapter will discuss professional social work developments in Mongolia, and the context and background for social work education and practice. In Mongolia social work is a relatively new professional discipline and field of practice, though elsewhere in the world the social work profession has been in existence for more than 100 years.

Professional social work development in Mongolia dates back to the mid1990s after the country made the transition from a centralized economy to a market economy, from a one-party political system to a parliamentary democracy, and from a socialist society to a democratic and pluralist society. The democratic change laid a strong foundation for promoting social justice, human rights, and development of a civic society in the country and new political, economic, and social environments created both opportunities and challenges for its people. The challenges in all spheres of society – including service infrastructure breakdown, inflation, budget cuts, job losses, increase in poverty – necessitated professional interventions helping people and families to deal with the personal and social problems triggered and made worse by the transitional difficulties.

This situation led to the introduction of professional social work in Mongolia. In addition to these nationwide factors, international factors influenced the development of social work as a profession and a service system. Child rights and humanitarian aid organizations contributed to introducing social work from the Western world. This chapter outlines developmental milestones in Mongolian social work, describing its scope, policy, and domains. The progression and developmental process of Mongolian social work is discussed through four phases: the pre-professional period (before 1996), the launching and professionalization phase (1996–2001), the capacity-building years (2001–2007), and lastly, the further institutionalization of social work education and practice (2007–Present). This chapter concludes with ideas for future developments of social work in Mongolia.

The Country Context for Development of Social Work

Mongolia is well known for Chinggis Khan, a founder and a ruler of the Mongolian Empire in the thirteenth century. Mongolia is a large, landlocked country with a territory of 1,564,100 square kilometers, inhabited by about 2.8 million people. It borders with Russia in the north and with China in the south. Its population structure marks Mongolia as a young country due to the fact that 67 per cent of
the population is under the age of 35 and 27.3 per cent is below 15 (NCS, 2011). Little more than half of the total population are women and the elderly population over 60 makes up 5.5 per cent. Life expectancy at birth is gradually increasing and reached 68 in 2010. Mongolia is divided administratively into 21 provinces called aimags and the capital city is Ulaanbaatar. Aimags are comprised of soums and the capital city Ulaanbaatar consists of nine districts. The smallest administrative units in Mongolia are called baghs and khoroos in provinces and districts, respectively. Of the total population, urban residents increased to 67.9 per cent in 2010 and of these urban residents, 43.6 percent live in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. Currently, the net migration rate of Mongolia is -1.2 migrant per 1,000 population (PD, 2012) showing an excess of persons leaving the country. Many Mongolians,

predominantly men, are leaving for better salaries and lives.

In the twenty-first century, the population structure of many countries is changing due to the increase in the number of older people, and this trend is also evident in Mongolia. There is an estimation that the number of Mongolian people over 65 will double by 2020 (GM, 2009). The growth of the older population challenges government to improve a country's social protection and population development policies, taking into consideration population ageing and its social and economic effects.

One of the biggest social problems is that there is a striking difference between urban and rural lives. Traditional livestock production dominates the agricultural sector and 25 per cent of households still live a nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life. Mongolia is perceived as a nomadic country with agricultural industry, and the main religion is Tibetan Buddhism. Mongolia ranks 108 out of 186 countries of the world in the 2012 Human Development Index. According to the World Bank (2012), Mongolia is among the lower middle income countries with GNI per capita $3,160 USD. However, modern Mongolia is characterized by rapid information technology development, and an increase in the service sector.

The strongest social indicator for Mongolia is its high literacy and school enrollment rates: The literacy rate among adults is high (97.6%) compared with other developing countries and there is universal compulsory education.

The Mongolian economy is largely dependent on mining exports, commodity prices on the global market, and commodity demand. Although the country is experiencing some economic growth, challenges remain in terms of its economic instability, fluctuation of exchange rate, increase of inflation, instability in government, and poor infrastructure (energy, road, health, and education). Another constraint affecting the lives of the people is the very harsh winters: The temperature ranges from -30° Celsius in the winter to 30° Celsius in the summer. On average, herders lose 53 per cent of their herds due to a winter natural disaster called dzud (NHRC, 2012).

One of the influential contextual factors of livelihood in Mongolia is the strong family network. However, as a consequence of demographic changes the family structure is changing and the number of extended families, where children and parents live together, is decreasing. Today there are more and more families where
older people live on their own and the implications of this change are manifold. In Mongolian society, families are the main source of support for its dependent people – children, persons with a disability, and the elderly. With the changes in family structure, the role that government is taking in the care of dependent persons is gradually increasing.

The poverty headcount ratio at the national poverty line is 27.4 per cent of the total population (NSC, 2012). Poverty remains a serious problem with multiple consequences for single-parent headed households with many children, rural households with less than 100 head of livestock, the unemployed, and the vulnerable population including children, people with a disability, and older people. People with a disability constitute 4.3 per cent of the population.

According to a Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor (MSWL) report, 88 per cent of people with disability live below the poverty line and their employment rate is only 13 per cent (Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor, 2011). There are six special schools for children with disabilities and one national rehabilitation centre. One of the distinctive features of the social work profession is that it is rooted and defined by culture and traditions, history, people's mindset and lifestyles, and the social fabric and environmental conditions. The country's economic, social, cultural, geographical, and demographic contexts define the situation of social work services in Mongolia, and relevant regulations governing social work are set

forth by the government.

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