The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government system and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. The presidential administration controls the government, the legislature, and judiciary as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The April 2015 presidential election, in which President Nazarbayev received 97.5 percent of the vote, was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition. The president’s Nur Otan Party won 82 percent of the vote in the March 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observation mission noted some progress but judged the country continued to require considerable progress to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections. On June 26, Kazakhstan selected 16 of 47 senators, members of the parliament’s upper house, in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in concurrence with the presidential administration.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; and pervasive corruption and abuses by law enforcement and judicial officials. There were selective restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, assembly, religion, and association, including restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There were limits on citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections and prohibitive political party registration requirements. Additional problems included forced labor; and restrictive independent trade union registration requirements.
The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases; nevertheless, corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for those in positions of authority as well as for those connected to government or law enforcement officials.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases.
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 more than 400 women died annually as a result of violence sustained from their spouses. Prosecutors reported a significantly smaller number, stating that 36 women died in 2016 as a result of domestic violence.
Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile.
The government opened domestic violence shelters in each region.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 28 crisis centers in 2016. They received 20 percent of their funding from the government and 80 percent through international grants from NGOs.
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 eight to 10 years for 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 sort out their situation 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.
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.
On July 25, a court in Astana declined to hear Anna Belousova’s lawsuit for moral and material damages against the Finance Ministry for sexual harassment and attempted extortion in her workplace. Belousova appealed unsuccessfully to courts in Kostanay and Astana. She had filed her lawsuit pursuant to the 2015 decision of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that Kazakhstan should fulfill its obligations under the UN convention and provide appropriate recompense to Belousova.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
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 (67 percent) 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.
In 2016 the president issued a decree to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Child Rights (Children’s Ombudsman) to improve the national system of child rights protection.
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 can come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers were denied birth certificates.
Child Abuse: School violence was a problem, and experts estimated two out of three schoolchildren suffered or witnessed violence. Violence and abuse were particularly serious in boarding schools and orphanages. An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 children suffered from either psychological or physical abuse by their parents.
According to UNICEF, 65 percent of respondents applied psychological pressure and 40 percent used corporal punishment to discipline their children. Family abuse occurred for 62 percent of children.
There were reports of selling newborn babies.
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. According to the NGO League of Women of Creative Initiative, 2,000-3,000 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 any 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 as punishment for individuals who force boys or girls under age 18 to have sexual intercourse. The children’s ombudsman noted that the number of sexual violence incidents reported increased 38 percent compared with the previous year.
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 receive a lifetime ban on working with children.
Displaced Children: According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, more than 5,000 street children were referred to temporary housing centers for delinquent minors, and from there, 4,993 were sent back to families, 432 to orphanages, and 79 to foster and adoptive families in 2015.
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 alleged one-half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, the number of orphans who lived in orphanages decreased from 8,000 to 7,000 in 2016. The rest of the 30,000 orphan children were in foster or other home care.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Jews live in the country. Almaty has the largest Jewish community at about 10,000. Leaders of the Jewish community reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
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. 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.
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. The government identified the two biggest barriers facing persons with disabilities as poor infrastructure and lack of access to education, while persons with disabilities expressed difficulty accessing public transportation. 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.
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 young persons under age 18 with the permission of their families. According to an NPM report, most of the hospitals required extensive maintenance. Other problems observed included shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary-hygienic 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, but any institutions holding children, including orphanages, were not on the list of institutions NPM members may visit.
Kazakh is the official state language, although Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication. The law requires presidential candidates to be fluent in Kazakh. The law does not require the ability to speak Kazakh for entry into the civil service and prohibits discrimination based on language.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
According to the constitution, no one shall be subject 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 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.
According to a 2015 survey, one-half of transgender persons indicated that they experienced physical abuse due to prejudice against transgender individuals.
There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence. Although there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were reports of such actions. According to an 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.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.