Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under the law a prosecutor may not initiate a rape case absent aggravating circumstances, such as gang rape, unless the victim files a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the criminal investigation may not be dismissed if the rape victim recants or refuses to cooperate further with the investigation. 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.
The government stated that domestic violence is a serious problem. NGOs estimated one in four families suffered some form of domestic violence.
Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Every regional administrative police unit has a specialist on gender issues, and these specialists are primarily women. Local community police, however, are generally men, and they are the first responders to calls and the first to work with victims. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile. Even when a charge was filed, the victim often withdrew the charge later. NGOs reported women often withdrew their complaints because of economic insecurity.
In the aftermath of the 2014 changes to the law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, the government opened domestic violence shelters in each region that did not already have an established shelter. As a result approximately 3,500 women were referred to crisis centers in 2015 for legal and psychological support. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are 28 crisis centers. 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 if, in this action, he/she did not commit another offense. Because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible for the act. Cases were typically not pursued, since families and victims usually did not file complaints or withdrew them and found ways to resolve the problem privately. 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. If a complaint is filed, the government is obliged to take action on it but rarely did so. The growing number of news stories and publications about bride kidnapping generated strong public reaction.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law prohibits some forms of sexual harassment, but legal and gender experts regarded the legislation as inadequate. There were reports of incidents of harassment, but in no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions. 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.
Anna Belousova, a cleaner at a primary school in Kostanay region, was harassed by the school director who tried to force her into a sexual relationship with him. She refused and lost her job. After police dismissed Belousova’s complaints, she filed a complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which found that Kazakhstan failed to fulfill its obligations under the UN convention and that it should provide appropriate reparation to her for moral and material damages. On September 29, the Kostanay court of appeals rejected her appeal on restitution of damages.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had the means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women and men received equal treatment for sexually transmitted infections. According to a study published by the UN Fund for Population, in 2014 approximately 50 percent of women used some form of contraception.
According to the UN Population Division, an estimated 53 percent of women used a modern method of contraception during the year. According to the UN Population Fund, in 2015 skilled health personnel attended more than 99 percent of births.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender. 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.
On February 10, 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. In March a member of the Mazhilis, Zagipa Baliyeva, was appointed commissioner for child 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 can come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred.
Child Abuse: School violence was a problem, and experts estimated two out of three schoolchildren suffered or witnessed violence. The majority of crimes remained unreported and thus not included in official statistics. An estimated 17,000-18,000 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. Sixty-two percent of children were subjected to abuse in families. Abuse was more common in rural areas. Minors age 16 or older have the right to file petitions related to their interests directly with a court. According to official statistics, 156 criminal beatings and intentional infliction of bodily harm to children were registered in 2016. The Children’s Rights Protection Committee of the Education and Science Ministry reported that nearly 700 parents were deprived of their parental rights in 2015.
The president of the NGO Union of Crisis Centers stated the number of psychological abuse cases exceeded the number of physical abuse cases. In 2016, the union’s hotline received 272,953 calls, including 7,707 reported violation of the rights of children. The union’s call center received 325 calls on suicide issues, including 164 from children.
There were reported incidents of child selling. In 2015 Shymkent police arrested two doctors of a perinatal center on suspicion of selling newborn babies. On June 20, the Shymkent interdistrict specialized court convicted the two doctors for selling at least 21 babies. The doctors were sentenced to 10 to 11 years in prison. In July a specialized interdistrict court in Almaty convicted 15 doctors and staff of the Almaty clinical hospital who sold babies to childless couples. Sentences varied from two to nine years in prison, depending on the defendant’s role in the crimes.
In November an employee of the Mangistau perinatal hospital was sentenced to eight years in prison for sale of newborn babies. A lawyer who helped to fix the paperwork was sentenced to 7.5 years, and one of the mothers was sentenced to five years of imprisonment.
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. NGOs noted several cases of marriage under 18, especially in the south. According to the NGO League of Women of Creative Initiative, 2,000-3,000 early and forced marriages occur annually. According to the NGO, there were approximately 2,200 such marriages in 2014. The majority of these were due to cultural traditions. 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. In September 2015 the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan issued an order forbidding mosques to conduct religious marriage rites (nikah) without an official marriage certificate, but the practice continued.
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. According to official statistics, there were 364 incidents of forced sexual intercourse with minors, and 158 incidents of corruption and seduction of minors were registered in 2016. The Children’s Ombudsman noted that the number of sexual violence incidents reported increased 38.2 percent in the country 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: Under the 2015-20 National Plan for Strengthening Family, Moral, Spiritual, and Ethical Values, the country was working to reduce the number of orphanages and referring children to smaller, family-type orphanages and to foster and patronage families. According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, approximately 8,000 of the country’s 30,000 orphaned children lived in 146 orphanages. The rest of the children were in foster or other home care. 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 half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children.
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 lived in the country. 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 Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development was the primary government agency responsible for protecting the rights of 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 in the areas of employment, education, and access to government services.
The law provides for access to information for persons with disabilities. The government produced periodicals, scientific journals, reference literature, and fictional works that were recorded either on disc or in Braille. The law requires one national television channel to broadcast news programs with sign-language interpretation. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was lacking, and the Nur Otan Party’s Institute of Parliamentary Development concluded that access for persons with disabilities to information and communications was insufficient.
The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities. International and local observers noted some improvement regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. During the year the government showed commitment to addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, including high-level enforcement of measures to enhance their economic opportunities. Nevertheless, there were reports persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment. The vice minister of Healthcare and Social Development identified the two biggest problems facing persons with disabilities as poor infrastructure and lack of access to education. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing public transportation. The government has enacted high-level enforcement of measures to enhance economic opportunities for citizens with disabilities, part of the president’s Strategy 2050.
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. Institutions were poorly managed, understaffed, and inadequately funded.
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. 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.
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 polling places inaccessible to them.
Kazakh is the official state language, although Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication. The law does not require the ability to speak Kazakh for entry into the civil service and prohibits discrimination based on language. Nonetheless, Kazakh language ability is looked upon favorably, which non-Kazakh speakers protested as language discrimination. The law requires presidential candidates to be fluent in Kazakh.
The creation of Kazakh-language schools and the conversion of some Russian-language schools to Kazakh reduced the number of Russian-only language schools.
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. During the year a law on “protecting the child,” which included a provision that would have prohibited “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” was discussed in parliament. The Senate chairman sent the law to the Constitutional Council, which declared it unconstitutional.
Although gender reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill three steps before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender: (1) a month of inpatient psychiatric evaluation, (2) a course of hormone replacement therapy, and (3) approval and completion of gender reassignment surgery. Those who receive such surgery outside of the country fall outside this process. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care.
According to a 2015 survey, half of transgender persons indicated that they experienced physical abuse due to prejudice against transgender individuals or did not experience such abuse because their gender identity was unknown. NGOs reported court cases on discrimination against sexual minorities.
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 representatives of international and local organizations, negative social attitudes towards members of marginalized groups, including LGBTI persons, impeded the willingness of the latter to come forward, organize, or seek access to HIV/AIDS programs. Hate crime legislation or other legal mechanisms do not exist to aid prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community. There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence.
NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and occasionally 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
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. Observers reported cultural stigma against drug users and other at-risk groups 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. Several NGOs under the Association for Kazakhstan’s People Living with AIDS help solve social and economic problems related to diagnosing and living with AIDS. They work with sex workers, the LGBTI community, and injection drug users.