Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: In December 2019 President Tokayev signed into law legislative amendments that increased punishments for sexual abuse and rape to eight years of imprisonment, and if committed against a minor, to life imprisonment. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases.
On August 27, an Almaty court held a trial for a rape case in which both a former prosecutor and a former manager of a local bank were charged with a November 2019 rape. When the victim first submitted a complaint to police, they refused to record the complaint. Due to her lawyer’s persistence, the complaint was later officially registered. Police resistance, procrastination, attempts to hush up the complainant, and other hurdles delayed the investigation. The victim faced pressure and intimidation by the assailants’ relatives who tried to force her to withdraw the complaint. Her lawyer resorted to making an effort to draw public attention to the case and publicize appeals to the president and parliamentarians. The investigation took nine months to complete and submit to the court. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.
According to human rights defenders, approximately 2,000 complaints of rape were registered annually, but fewer than 1 percent of them made it to court.
Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The law sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for any assault. The law also permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live, allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence, and replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if paying fines was hurting victims as well as perpetrators.
NGOs estimated that on average 12 women each day were subjected to domestic violence and more than 400 women died annually as a result of violence sustained from their spouses. Due in part to social stigma, research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that a majority of victims of partner abuse never told anyone of their abuse. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile. NGOs also noted that the lenient penalty for domestic violence–an administrative offense with a maximum penalty of 15 days’ imprisonment–does not deter even convicted offenders.
In August 2019 the Almaty city court placed Baurzhan Ashigaliyev under pretrial arrest for two months on charges of deprivation of freedom and assault against his wife, well-known singer Kseniya Ashigaliyeva. According to Ashigaliyeva, her husband of seven years regularly beat her, but previous reports to police had resulted in no change in his behavior and no penalty to him. In July 2019 he abducted Ashigaliyeva off the street, tied her up in the basement of a building, and beat her severely. Ashigaliyeva turned to police and also the NeMolchi (Speak Out) movement for help, asking the organization to raise awareness of her case and share photographs of her injuries on the internet in order to reduce stigma against speaking out about domestic violence. On March 13, Almaty court acquitted Ashigaliyev. His wife appealed the court ruling, but the Almaty city court declined her appeal in June and upheld the trial court’s ruling.
The government maintained domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the NGO Union of Crisis Centers, there were 31 crisis centers throughout the country providing reliable services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence, including 10 government-funded shelters.
Human rights activists noted an upsurge of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, which they attributed to several causes. When tight quarantine was imposed on the country, families were locked in their houses, and some individuals began to experience emotional problems because there was no way to vent emotions. According to these activists, many persons lacked the skills to control anger. The fear of COVID-19 exacerbated the negative emotional atmosphere. Alcohol consumption was often an aggravating factor. Assailants often seized the victims’ telephone and cut them off from communication with the outside world. Because of the lockdown, victims could not leave their houses to escape from their assailants, stay with relatives, or elsewhere.
Activists criticized the government for failure to ensure that all vulnerable persons–women, men, children, elderly individuals, and persons with disabilities–were protected against domestic violence. Due to COVID-19 quarantines, some crisis centers were closed, health care was limited, and law enforcement agencies and courts were focused on quarantine-related tasks. When victims found the courage to report violence, activists reported that police were reluctant to act, sometimes did not issue restrictive orders to assailants, and tried to dissuade the victim from filing a complaint, creating an environment of impunity for aggressors.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of seven to 12 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to resolve their situations themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very bureaucratic process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.
In December 2019 a 20-year-old girl was kidnapped at a bus stop in Turkestan. Three men grabbed her and forced her into their car. The kidnappers took her to another town, Kentau, and pressured her to marry a man whom she barely knew. The girl was held against her will for two days. When she refused to marry the man, he physically assaulted and raped her. The girl managed to escape and return home, where she submitted a complaint to police. After the complaint was filed, the girl and her parents faced pressure from the local community and the kidnapper’s family. As a result of this campaign of pressure and humiliation, the girl and her mother attempted suicide. The investigation was completed in January, and two men were convicted and sentenced to 7 and 8 years in prison.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness carries criminal liability in terms of sexual assault. In no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace were hesitant to lodge complaints out of shame or fear of job loss.
Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. They have the right to manage their reproductive health, and they have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Individuals have the right to use contraception and generally have access to it through individual health care providers.
There are no legal, social, or cultural barriers to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Over 95 percent of pregnant women benefit from prenatal care and more than 99 percent of births were attended by skilled medical personnel, according to World Health Organization reporting.
Access to government-provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of violence is limited but improving. In April 2020, with UN Population Fund assistance, the national government adopted its first clinical protocol for health assistance to victims of gender violence and organized online training for the staff of primary health centers. The UN Population Fund also arranged training for health workers, police, and social workers to strengthen coordination of their work in detecting and handling incidents of violence against women.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained a serious problem. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and other property rights.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper paperwork, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers were denied birth certificates.
Education: According to the constitution, secondary school education is compulsory. The government provides for free, universal secondary education in public schools. Some children did not attend schools. Education authorities reported that 55 percent of schools were equipped and had staff for inclusive education for children with specific needs. Independent observers alleged that the number of such schools was in fact lower. There were no statistics on the number of children with disabilities who attended preschool institutions. Twenty percent of children with specific needs between the ages of 7 and 18 attended regular schools. The majority attended special correctional classes or were homeschooled. Some parents refused to send children with disabilities to school and viewed their education as unnecessary. Other parents did not know where they could refer their children. Some children from migrant families, particularly undocumented migrants and stateless persons, did not get education because they could not enroll in school.
Child Abuse: Human rights defenders demanded improvement of legislation to protect children from abuse, to include a clearer definition of the authority of the children’s ombudsman and a legislative ban on corporal punishment.
Child abuse is a serious problem. According to UNICEF polls, 75 percent of adults supported corporal punishment of children by parents. According to a survey, 40 percent of children in institutions and 18 percent of children attending regular schools said they were subjected to physical abuse by adults. Children faced abuse, cruel, and disparaging treatment in families, schools (particularly special schools for delinquent children), and boarding schools.
Police reported that approximately 1,000 individuals were annually deprived of their parental rights. During the first five months of the year, more than 300 parents lost their parental rights, and more than 2,000 parents were punished by administrative penalties for failure to perform parenting duties.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but it may be reduced to 16 in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement, including by parents or legal guardians. According to the UN Population Fund, approximately 3,000 early and forced marriages occurred annually. Many couples first married in mosques and then registered officially when the bride reached the legal age. The government did not take action to address the issue.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex, but it provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse. UNICEF reported that data on sexual abuse of children, child prostitution, child pornography, child trafficking, bride kidnapping, and forced marriage of girls remains scarce, making it difficult to assess the scale of rights violations.
The law criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country retains administrative penalties for child pornography. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors received a lifetime ban on working with children.
Sexual abuse and rape remained serious problems. Available police statistics showed a 49 percent increase in the number of rapes of children during the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.
On July 24, a 5-year-old girl went missing in Satpayev town near Karaganda city, where she and her parents were visiting with relatives. Police and volunteers scoured the neighborhood and finally found the girl bound under a sofa in the apartment of a 58-year-old man. She was taken to the hospital, and police arrested the man. An angry crowd formed and wanted to punish the alleged pedophile themselves. Reportedly, the crowd gathered because the participants did not trust police, since abusers apparently go unpunished. (Note: According to human rights defenders, 39 percent of perpetrators of crimes against children were convicted by courts.) The crowd tried to break into the apartment and demanded that police hand the man over. Calls by police, local government officials, and local imams on the crowd to calm down had no effect. The crowd smashed windows and doors at the building and the local police station, and smashed and set fire to police vehicles. Authorities deployed riot police, and the crowd dispersed. The next day Minister of Internal Affairs Yerlan Turgumbaev stated publicly that the suspect was charged with kidnapping and raping a child. Authorities reported the suspect was found dead on October 6 in the detention facility.
Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted that the number of street children, mainly in large cities, was high. Street children were referred to Centers for Delinquent Children or the Support Center for Children in Difficult Life Situations. Some were returned to their families. According to the 2019 report of the Committee for Protection of Children Rights of the Ministry of Education and Science, there were 15 adaptation centers (AC) for delinquent children and 17 support centers (SC) for children in difficult life situations. More than 4,000 children were held in the ACs, and more than 2,000 in the SCs.
Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children, were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Committee for Protection of Children Rights, the number of orphans who lived in orphanages decreased from 6,223 in 2017 to 4,606 during the year. The government continued its policy of closing orphanages and referring children to foster families and other forms of home care. Activists criticized the policy as ineffective because of the lack of a clear plan of children’s deinstitutionalization, properly trained staff, infrastructure, or funds. They alleged that authorities focused on the closure of orphanages instead of working with families and preventing the placement of children in institutions. They also said critical decisions on the removal of a child from its family and placement in an institution were based on police, not social workers’, reports.
Between April 2 and April 29, four children died at the Ayagoz Children’s Center for Specialized Social Services, a facility for children with mental disabilities. The management of the facility and the local government tried to conceal the deaths, but on May 14, information was leaked to media and became public. The government established an ad hoc group to investigate the deaths. The group discovered numerous violations in their investigation. The report stated that the deaths were the result of underestimating the seriousness of child health problems by medical staff and of delayed hospitalization. Children’s Rights Commissioner Aruzhan Sain called for a thorough investigation and highlighted past allegations of abuse against the facility. Police opened a criminal investigation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Leaders of the Jewish community estimated that the country’s Jewish population was 10,000. They reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination existed. Human rights defenders were concerned about gaps in the country’s legislation. The law does not give a clear definition of discrimination, making it impossible to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly in instances of indirect discrimination. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was lacking. They also noted the ineffectiveness of government programs which were mere declarations. Their implementation was often marred with corruption and a lack of professionalism.
Employment remained a problem. One quarter of working age individuals with disabilities had jobs, according to a report in akron.kz. Activists noted that employers did not have sufficient incentives to hire persons with disabilities.
The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, and the government enacted high-level enforcement measures to enhance economic opportunities as part of the President’s Strategy 2050; nevertheless, there were reports persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment.
Some children with Down syndrome were able to attend privately funded specialized education centers, but the centers had limited capacity, which resulted in long waiting periods of up to 1.5 years.
Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities; doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children; and the treatment of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.
The COVID-19 lockdown seriously affected persons with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities lost their jobs in sectors where telework was not possible. Additionally, without public transportation due to the lockdown, many had no way to commute, and taxi services did not work. School and university students with disabilities faced similar problems. If they did not have home computers, they were left with no access to online classes. Another problem during the quarantine lockdown was the closure of health facilities, which left medical support unavailable for persons with disabilities, both adults and children.
The lack of online access to information was a particularly serious problem during the lockdown for those with disabilities. It was impossible to reach call centers on the telephone, because most offices used for services were closed. The majority of persons with disabilities have low incomes and cannot afford to pay for internet access. Also, most of the rural areas have no internet. Another problem was that websites were not designed for users with disabilities, such as for persons who are blind. Human rights defenders reported that individuals with disabilities were frequently left without relief support (food baskets, money) extended to them by the government, because negligent government clerks forgot to add them into lists of recipients.
The government did not legally restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and arranged home voting for individuals who could not travel to accessible polling places. In 2018 election law was amended to mandate unhindered access to polling stations for persons with specific needs. Election monitoring NGO Yerkindik Kannaty reported positive cooperation with the CEC on implementing these requirements. The NGO observed that more polling stations were accessible during the year compared with previous elections.
There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers believed this led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed persons younger than age 18 with the permission of their families.
According to an NPM report, most of the hospitals required extensive renovations. Other problems observed included shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and air.
Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions and signs of possible torture of patients.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The official policy for languages in the country is termed trilingualism. Kazakh is the official state language, Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication, and English is the language of successful integration into global economics. The law requires that presidential candidates are fluent in Kazakh. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, but all prospective civil servants are required to pass a Kazakh language exam.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. Ethnic minorities, however, faced problems in various areas of life. In May the government set up a Committee on Development of Interethnic Relations as part of the Ministry of Information and Social Development. The new committee is responsible for implementation of the government policy on interethnic relations, and the Institute of Ethnic-Political Studies under the ministry performs analysis and research and provides expert professional recommendations on government policy.
At the high levels of national government, three of the 23 cabinet members were non-Kazakhs. Ethnic minorities were underrepresented in other government bodies as well. Human rights observers noted that ethnic minorities were not incorporated into the country’s social and political mechanisms and their role was shrinking. They also noted that the government should–but did not–provide minorities equal participation in social life, equal access to government service, equal business opportunities, and most importantly, equal treatment before the law. Observers further noted that pushing a significant part of the population out from the country’s social and political field (marginalizing) would likely result in social tension.
On February 8, riots broke out in Masanchi, Sortobe, Bular Batyr, and Aukhatty villages in Qorday district. The riots were provoked by the following two incidents the day before the riots: a road traffic incident in which an elderly man was beaten by men of Dungan origin, and a fight between local Dungans and ethnic Kazakh police officers. Information about the incidents was shared in the community and on social media, and as a result rioting began and led to looting and the destruction of homes. Thousands of Dungans fled to the neighboring Kyrgyz Republic. Authorities declared an emergency situation in the Qorday district, deployed police special forces, and established police checkpoints around the four villages. Authorities launched more than 120 criminal investigations, 11 of them on homicide charges. Prosecutors reported that 11 victims died and dozens of rioters were arrested. There were 192 individuals, including 19 policemen, injured, and 168 houses and 122 vehicles were damaged. The province governor, his deputy, several other senior government officials, and police officers were dismissed. On March 1, President Tokayev visited the region and met with local residents. He stated that the riots were a result of a conflict between two organized criminal groups that were fighting for control over illegal economic activities.
On April 24, the Qorday local court convicted two participants of the February riots. Ersman Yunhu was sentenced to 2.5 years of restriction of freedom and six months of correction works. His son, Marat Yunhu, received 2.5 years of imprisonment.
Observers criticized authorities for failing to admit that the violence was primarily aimed against Dungans, since the majority of the destroyed property was owned by Dungans, and 10 ethnic-Dungan citizens were killed, compared with a single ethnic-Kazakh citizen. On May 14, the Association of Dungans in Kazakhstan appealed to the UN and other international organizations to urge the country’s authorities to stop persecution, stop violations of the rights of Dungans, and hold accountable those who were responsible for torture and abuse. The association also called for an independent investigation of the February 8 incident, for restitution of the damage inflicted during the riots, and for punishment of those who disseminate anti-Dungan, offensive, and hateful statements in media and social media.
In May prosecutors reported that they were investigating 29 criminal cases with 59 suspects charged for homicide, mass disorder, attempts on lives of law enforcement officers, theft, and looting.
In August the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed information about the Qorday incident and requested that the government provide a response before October 30; “conduct [an] effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the events;” ensure effective protection of the Dungan minority; provide reparation, including health and psychological support; and guarantee access by independent observers to the Qorday district. By year’s end there was no publicly released response from the government.
According to the constitution, no one shall be subjected to any discrimination for reasons of origin; occupational, social, or property status; sex; race; nationality; language; religion or belief; place of residence; or any other circumstances. The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity.
Although gender reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements (such as undergoing gender reassignment surgery) before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care. Activists expressed concerns about the country’s new health law passed in July. The law sets the age of eligibility for gender reassignment at 21 (note: the UN Human Rights Council recommends 18). The law also added behavioral disorders to the reasons for denial of gender reassignment, which expanded the categories of persons who could be denied such treatments.
Prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence were rare. There were reports of anti-LGBTI violence, but there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a 2017 NGO survey within the LGBTI community, 48 percent of respondents experienced violence or hate because of their sexual orientation, and 56 percent responded they knew someone who suffered from violence. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults.
NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially with regard to employment.
In September 2019 Nur-Sultan police reported that two men were under pretrial detention for the investigation of sexual assault, beating, and extortion of a 21-year-old gay man in July. A medical examination showed that the man sustained serious injuries after he was attacked in an apartment. In December 2019 a court sentenced each abuser to six years of incarceration.
Activists told media that beating, extortion, and harassment of LGBTI individuals were not uncommon, although typically unreported. Human rights activists reported that the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTI communities negatively. Locked down in their houses, they often endured stress and abuse from family members who resented their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts, and they were often not eligible to relieve programs offered by the government to support needy individuals. Transgender persons, like many during the lockdowns, also faced difficulties receiving needed medical care because health facilities were restricted or closed. They often could not get necessary medicines, because they were not available in small pharmacies in their neighborhoods, or they could not afford them.
In July 2019 Victoria Berkkhodjayeva, a transgender woman serving a sentence in Zhaugashty, Almaty region, told authorities that she had been raped three times by a KNB officer. Berkkhodjayeva reported the incident to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Anticorruption Agency. Almaty region police launched an investigation. In October 2019 media further reported that authorities had placed Sani Abdikash, the KNB officer suspected of rape, under arrest based on the results of forensic tests. On February 18, court proceedings began in a district court in Almaty province. In October, the Ile district court in Almaty found Abdikash guilty of rape and sentenced him to five and one-half years of imprisonment.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, but stigma remained and resulted in societal discrimination that continued to affect access to information, services, treatment, and care. The National Center for AIDS provides free diagnosis and treatment to all citizens.