They call them rat children. They live – and hundreds have been born – in the sewers of Ulan Bator. The young girls prostitute themselves for 50 cents.

Ganbaatar, whose name means 'strong like iron,' is 12 years-old, and has spent the last five years living in the sewers of Ulan Bator. He doesn't know if his parents are dead or alive. Nor does he care, as they dumped him in a trash can at birth. He escaped from a state orphanage, now closed, "because they beat me," he says. On the streets he met his friend Sukhbaatar -'axe hero'- 14, who promised to show him "a good place to shelter." They walked to a drain cover, jumped in, closed it, and that day officially ceased to exist.

The sewers in the Mongolian capital are home to some 2,000 orphaned or abandoned children, or those who have run away from abusive alcoholic parents. Since Stalin's statue fell in 1990, and seven decades of Soviet domination along with it, thousands of families lost their jobs – 65 per cent worked in factories or ministries – and were evicted from their state apartments, subsidized under Communism, later put up for rent. Russian aid and pensions vanished, which accounted for a third of Mongolia's income...

Published in Interviu