Impunity in Kazakhstan: from Harassment to Homicide
Women in Kazakhstan are subjected to domestic and sexual violence every day: they are accosted, insulted, humiliated, beaten, sexually assaulted, killed, or driven to suicide. At the same time, self-defense often leads to jail time, whereas abusers get off with what could be seen as symbolic punishments or go unpunished altogether. Orda has looked into how things could be changed.
Sentenced to Eight Years
Anara Ibragimova (name changed) was sentenced to eight years for killing her abusive husband. Five kids were left without parents. The eldest was almost 11 years old. His father also abused him. The youngest was not even a year old when he ended up in an orphanage.
Lawyer Ayman Umarova told an Orda correspondent Anara's story.
"Anara's husband abused her for many years. One day he came home intoxicated and started beating her, then tried to rape her. She stabbed him in self-defense. Anara's husband went to the hospital and passed away there.
Ibragimova had reached out to the police for help.
"She contacted the police more than once, wrote statements, but everyone did nothing. Why is domestic violence not criminalized? We all understand that the answer lies on the surface. Every second man is an abuser. This is a norm that has taken root in our society, isn't it?" says Umarova.
Umarova also recalled another tragic story where a young woman was left disabled:
"A young resident of Kyzylorda, Aruna Amanova, married a policeman. Despite the fact that she was pregnant, he systematically abused her."
Amanova's husband was an officer of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Kyzylorda Police Department.
The last time he came home drunk and physically assaulted her. She says she only remembers how she couldn't breathe. Aruna's next memory is of her lying on the street. The worst thing is that she is now paralyzed from the shoulders down. She will never be able to walk again, the lawyer added.
The case against the man was dismissed.
18 Stab Wounds
Aiman Asanaova died from fatal stab wounds. A court of first instance sentenced the culprit, her husband, to one and a half years of imprisonment. An appeals board later overturned the verdict. The defendant was handed down 11 years.
Saltanat Nukenova was regularly subjected to physical abuse by her husband, former Minister of National Economy Kuandyk Bishimbayev.
According to UN estimates, about 400 women are killed by their husbands in Kazakhstan every year. Hundreds more suffer from systematic abuse and sexual violence.
Not Enough Shelters
According to psychologist Gulzhanar Kalaulova, there are various reasons why women stay with abusers. She believes that this is most often due to financial dependence, emotional attachment, and people’s mentality.
It often happens that women are financially dependent on their husbands, sometimes this reason is a significant factor. There is also often no support from parents or relatives, so women have to go back to the abuser. There are those for whom this is just normal. They do not understand what is happening to them, they consider it the norm because they have already seen such a pattern of behavior in childhood from their parents. And now they repeat it in their family life. the psychologist noted.
Victims can stay in a crisis center. An Orda correspondent visited the Almaty shelter "Zhan-saya" for women affected by domestic violence.
The maximum period for which they can stay is six months, but women do sometimes get back on their feet faster and are already prepared for an independent lifestyle.
Deputy Director Tatyana Mido said that the center works according to the state standard, which obliges first of all to identify a person.
Women should be prepared for the police to find out about domestic violence so that the victim can write a statement. There is another good measure: according to a woman's statement, a protective order is issued against the aggressor. This order restricts the aggressor in his actions. It says what he can do and what he can't do. For example, he cannot harass a woman, make phone calls, insult, or even assault her. No violence for 30 days, as long as the protective order is in effect, said Mido.
In the United States, for example, for violating a protective order, you can be imprisoned for five years. There is no such thing in Kazakhstan’s legislation.
39 people currently stay at the Jean-Saya center. 15 of them are women, the rest are children. There are usually two or three times more children.
The shelter is designed for 50 places, although there were moments during the pandemic when 57 people lived here at the same time.
According to the Bureau of National Statistics, the amount of crisis centers in the country had reached more than 40 by 2022.
According to the November 2023 reports of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 584 cases were registered in Kazakhstan against women and minors under the article “Sexual Assault" and 438 under the article "Violent acts of a sexual nature".
In 2022, more than 61 thousand cases of violence were registered.
The highest number of reported cases occurred in 2013. At that time, more than 136 thousand women were subjected to violence.
Chairman of the Board of the Union of Crisis Centers of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Zulfiya Baisakova, said that on average the state spends 4.5 billion tenge per year to combat domestic violence.
Only 40% of appeals to the police are brought to court. And in the cases that have reached the court, only 39% of the accused receive administrative arrest as punishment, which lasts from two hours to three days, says Zulfiya Baysakova.
Where to Draw The Line?
According to the lawyer and Regional director of the Law Policy Research Center, Ayazhan Oirat:
Sexualized harassment and harassment, while remaining unpunished and out of statistics, lead to more violent and dangerous behavior by aggressors. This ends with cybercrime, stalking, threats, attacks on strangers in public places, arson of women's property, kidnapping and rape (committed - Ed.) by women's former partners, homicide, killing a woman's family members, and suicide of women out of desperation and despair.
Children are particularly vulnerable. For them, abusers are a threat to their life.
Miras Rakhimov (name changed) was abused by his father from the age of six.
Rakhimov was born in the village of Bazhenovo near Semey. He had not known and had never seen his father since birth. But when he was five years old, his parents started living together again. A couple of months after the boy's mom and dad got married, the father began abusing the child. His father would later start physically abusing him for poor grades. When Miras was in the second grade, his father threatened to kill him.
In those years, the (situation - Ed.) with water was bad, it was often turned off, so many filled the bath with cold water for a later. One day, Dad, irritated and abusive, was trying to explain a topic. Naturally, it was painful and I cried. To shut me up, he put a sock in my mouth, took me by the scruff of the neck and carried me to the bathroom. He was saying: "I'm going to drown you now, let's think, think!" I often heard from him that I'm not capable of anything, that I'm stupid, a loser, I can't do anything. These constant humiliations were always there while I was living with him. It's terrible because you've been taught since childhood that you're worthless, says Miras.
Miras’s aunt later took him to another city. His abuser, however, went unpunished.
July 2023, seven-year-old Karina Zakuraeva died in Almaty.
Karina’s stepmother, social activist Balzhan Turlybek, was in the dock. According to their neighbors, she constantly abused the girl. Her father did as well. The trial has not ended yet, a verdict has not yet been handed down.
In September, four-year-old boy killed in Almaty.
His 19-year-old stepfather was arrested on suspicion of homicide. According to some reports, the man brutally abused his stepson. The boy was finally injured to the point that he could not recover.
On November 19, seven-year-old Milana Davydova found in garbage in Pavlodar region.
On the same day, the police detained the girl's mother and her partner on suspicion of homicide.
In 2018, two conductors of the Tulpar-Talgo train sexually assaulted a passenger. They entered her by opening the door to her compartment with their key.
Their victim - a 35-year-old young woman, a well-known specialist in Aqtobe business circles and a doctor of sciences. She was returning home from an international conference.
During the trial, the prosecutor asked to give the culprits six years, whereas the injured party requested 10 as a minimum. However, Kostanay judge Orazbay Satybaldy sentenced them to two and a half years in prison. He argued that it was not gang rape, but two separate rapes independent of each other, noting the conductors’ clean records. Thus, the lenient punishment. The judge also took into account the good conduct assessments from their places of residence and one man having two young children. The case was reviewed only after public backlash. The men received five years each.
A student of the NAO "Astana Medical University" also spoke out about harassment from a teacher. The girl recorded a conversation and contacted the dean's office, where she faced doubts. Her statement to the police also turned out to be fruitless — it was archived.
In Ekibastuz, several schoolgirls reported their physical education teacher over harassment. The mother of one of the girls sounded the alarm. The police then got involved. However, the teacher continued to work at the school during the investigation.
In the Almaty region, a contract servicewoman reached out to the military police about harassment committed by the battalion commander. There was a great outcry. The Ministry of Defense eventually reported that, according to an investigation, claims made in the woman’s complaint were not confirmed. The young woman was discharged "due to repeated violations of discipline and poor retention of the combat training program."
In 2022, 770 women committed suicide in Kazakhstan. In most cases, the causes remained unknown.
Within the framework of the USAID program "Social Innovations in Central Asia", a regional expert discussion was held, where issues of gender-based violence were discussed. The participants were invited to reflect on the topic "How to Eliminate Gender-based Violence in Kazakhstan".
Some responses in the photo below demonstrate society’s gloomy outlook:
Recommendation from experts:
- Build and implement a strategy to inform citizens about existing tools to help victims of violence
- Criminalize articles related to domestic violence and exclude from them the possibility of reconciliation of the parties
- Develop and launch audio messages in public transport with actions to take for women and young girls who are sexually assaulted in public transport
- Introduce the concept of "sexual harassment" into Kazakhstan’s legislation and define appropriate instruments, procedures, and penalties
- Strengthen measures to inform the public, especially women and children, about existing organizations, options, hotlines, and other organizations that can help in cases of threat of violence
- Make cases of punishment of law enforcement officers for offenses public. Honest coverage of both the successes and failures of the relevant body will show that not all employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs should be feared
How Severe Is The Law?
Almost 70% of the world's countries have laws against harassment. In Germany, harassment can result in imprisonment for up to two years or a large monetary fine.
In Uzbekistan, the concept of "sexual harassment" has been introduced into the Code of Administrative Offences. The punishment is quite mild — from a fine to arrest for five days. The concept of sexual harassment has been introduced into legislation nonetheless.
In Estonia, violence against loved ones or dependents can end in up to five years in prison.
In most countries of the European Union, sexual and domestic violence, as well as sexual harassment, are criminalized.
To date, there is no concept of "harassment" in Kazakhstan. It is also not captured in legislation, there is no classification of such offenses, and liability for sexual harassment is not established.
In a sexual harassment case, the perpetrator can held liable under minor hooliganism and fined 20 MCI or under Article 123 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan — "Coercion to sexual intercourse, sodomy, lesbianism or other acts of a sexual nature" and either fined 3 thousand MCI or received a prison sentence of up to three years.
There are no reliable statistics on harassment cases in Kazakhstan. Most victims prefer not to make them public. Those that come to the attention of the media still number in the tens, if not hundreds.
Proposals to punish acts of harassment have been made before in Kazakhstan. In 2022, the working group on gender violence of the Coalition for the Development of Women's Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality in Kazakhstan even drew up legislative proposals.
Proposals to toughen the punishment for harassment were made in Parliament in November 2023. At first, it was voiced at a meeting of the Ministry of Internal Affairs by Askhat Aimagambetov. Karakat Abden has also addressed this issue at a Majilis session.
Unfortunately, our legislation does not even have the concept of "harassment", and the facts of harassment are considered only as petty hooliganism. Is sexual coercion, harassment, causing psychological trauma, causing moral damage really a minor and insignificant crime? We believe that systemic, comprehensive solutions are needed. There is an urgent need to introduce several amendments and additions to the draft law, regardless of the type and form of violence, providing for fairly severe penalties for offenses of this nature,the deputy of the Auyl party, Karakat Abden, said.
According to human rights activists, less than 1% of allegations of sexual violence reach court. UN reports indicated that aggressors were brought to justice in about 25% of cases.
An average of 120 sexual assaults, more than five thousand physical abuse cases, 70 maiming injuries, about 15 homicides, and almost 50 cases of suicide are registered in the country per month. 70% of women in colonies convicted of homicide have been punished for killing their husbands.
This means that every day four women in Kazakhstan are sexually assaulted, 166 are physically assaulted, at least two are maimed, every day somewhere in our country at least one woman, unable to withstand abuse, commits suicide, and every day one Kazakhstani woman dies at the hands of an abuser. And the longer it takes for a law to be passed that can stop the abuser, the longer this list will become.
From the editorial board
Orda.kz wanted to emphasize the importance of highlighting the problems of violence against women, as well as to show that there is always help and hope for those who face this problem.
This material was created in the genre of “Solutions Journalism” within the framework of the Solutions Journalism Lab project and expresses the author's personal opinion and position.
Original Author: Angela Kim
DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original article in Russian for accuracy.
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