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The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Kazakhstan remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by expanding protection of victims by opening seven new shelters for Kazakhstani human trafficking victims, increasing funding for shelter and victim assistance for Kazakhstani victims, and hosting awareness-raising events. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Efforts to identify and protect foreign victims remained inadequate. Foreign victims could receive comprehensive assistance if they participated in criminal investigations; victims who chose not to participate in these proceedings were ineligible for services and had no legal alternatives to removal. NGOs continued to report allegations of police officers’ complicity in human trafficking. While the government convicted two police officers complicit in trafficking crimes, there remained few investigations or prosecutions of police or other government officials suspected of complicity. Legislative norms allowed for alleged traffickers to pay a settlement to victims to withdraw their criminal cases.


Significantly increase efforts to identify trafficking victims—particularly foreign forced labor victims—among vulnerable populations and refer these victims for assistance; significantly increase assistance for foreign trafficking victims and ensure victim identification and assistance are not contingent on participation in investigation and prosecution efforts; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict suspected trafficking cases, respecting due process, including allegedly complicit government officials and police officers; increase funding and resources for anti-trafficking police units; amend laws to remove the option for traffickers to avoid criminal liability through “conciliation of parties,” or otherwise ensure such crimes are subject to criminal investigation and prosecution; cease deporting victims and provide legal alternatives to forced repatriation; continue to train labor inspectors to identify victims of forced labor and report potential trafficking cases to the police; and provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for diplomatic personnel to prevent their engagement in or facilitation of trafficking crimes.


The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Articles 128, 134, 135, and 308 of the penal code criminalized all forms of trafficking. However, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not include force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime, but rather considered it an aggravated circumstance. The law prescribed penalties of three to five years imprisonment for adult trafficking and five to seven years imprisonment for child trafficking; the penalties could be increased to up to 15 years imprisonment under aggravated circumstances. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 68 of the criminal code allowed defendants to pursue settlements by paying monetary compensation to the victim in exchange for having the criminal case withdrawn; while this option was not available in cases involving sex crimes against minors, it was an option in cases involving other forms of trafficking under article 128, part 1; in 2017, this article was not applied in any trafficking cases.

Police investigated 101 trafficking cases in 2017, compared to 147 in 2016. The government did not report the number of prosecutions. The government convicted 29 offenders, compared to 45 in 2016; of which, 20 sex traffickers received sentences ranging from two and a half years conditional sentence to seven years imprisonment and eight labor traffickers received sentences of three years and six months to 10 years; one trafficker received a six years and eight months sentence for forced criminality. In addition, the government opened 200 investigations of trafficking-related crimes, including pimping and brothel maintenance. NGOs continued to report traffickers bribed low-ranking police officials to avoid these charges, and alleged that some police officers facilitated forced labor or sex trafficking crimes. In June 2017, the government sentenced the former head of the Aktobe state-run railway station to five years and six months in prison for labor exploitation of three individuals. In June 2017, a local police officer in Aktobe was sentenced to three years in prison for the extortion of a sauna owner for the purposes of commercial sex.

The government maintained its efforts on training police, prosecutors, and judges in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of trafficking crimes and funded police participation in international anti-trafficking conferences. In 2017, the Judicial Academy conducted five training sessions for 183 judges on the protection of trafficking victims during the criminal process. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ (MVD) Trafficking in Persons Training Center conducted eight training sessions on investigative techniques for 143 police officers. An estimated 174 police officers participated jointly with social workers in training events on victim assistance. In all training programs, the government provided the venue while international organizations, NGOs, and international donors covered other costs, including the travel of trainers and provision of training materials. During the reporting period, the government jointly investigated 14 cases related to trafficking in cooperation with foreign governments, including Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. In 2017, the government extradited two foreign citizens wanted in their home countries for trafficking-related crimes.


The government increased protection efforts for Kazakhstani victims, but made uneven protection efforts for foreign victims. While it improved the availability of protection services for Kazakhstani victims, efforts to identify and assist foreign victims remained negligible, with no shelters available to foreign victims. The government identified 76 trafficking victims, a decrease from 110 in 2016. Of those, 50 were victims of sex trafficking, 20 of forced labor, and six of forced criminality. All but five of the identified victims were from Kazakhstan; of five foreign victims, four were from Uzbekistan and one from Georgia; five of the Kazakhstani victims were subjected to trafficking in Brazil, four in Bahrain, and three each in Turkey and South Korea, while the rest were subjected to trafficking in Kazakhstan, recruited from rural to urban areas for both labor and sexual exploitation. All 71 Kazakhstani victims identified by the government received assistance from government-funded programs; however, foreign victims were not eligible for assistance in government-funded shelters. In 2017, NGOs reported assisting 177 trafficking victims, compared to 167 in 2016; among these, police referred 22 while 155 referrals came from international organizations, embassies, NGOs, and the victims themselves. Of the 177 trafficking victims assisted by NGOs, 39 were Kazakhstani and 138 were foreigners; 13 were victims of sex trafficking, 158 of forced labor; 36 were female, and 141 male. Of the 138 foreign victims, 131 were from Uzbekistan. The government-funded and NGO-operated trafficking hotline received 1,350 phone calls in 2017, the vast majority of which were requests for information while 13 were referred to anti-trafficking police units; these referrals resulted in six confirmed cases of labor exploitation. Observers noted many foreign victims were reluctant to self-identify to the police due to lack of trust, perceived corruption, and fear of punishment or deportation due to their unlawful status, among other reasons. In cases where law enforcement identified foreign victims, victims often refused to cooperate. According to experts, foreign victims report to local police upon return to their home country, where they feel safer.

In addition to four existing government-funded, NGO-operated shelters, in 2017 the government opened trafficking shelters in seven cities: Almaty, Temirtau, Petropavlovsk, Uralsk, Aktobe, Kyzylorda, and Taldykorgan. The 11 NGO-operated trafficking shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance and were accessible to all Kazakhstani trafficking victims, regardless of gender or age. Shelter services were not conditional upon victim’s cooperation with law enforcement. Foreign citizens were not eligible to receive services at these shelters. In 2017, the government allocated at least 162.7 million Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT) ($491,080) to direct victim assistance, including 159 million KZT ($479,910) for shelter assistance and 3.7 million KZT ($11,170) for victim assistance during investigations, an increase from 25.97 million KZT ($78,390) in 2016. The shelters were opened and staffed in accordance with the 2016 established standards for trafficking victim shelters. In 2017, a law on victim compensation was adopted, which allowed victims, including foreign victims to request monetary compensation as a part of the criminal proceedings, instead of filing a civil suit in conjunction with the criminal case; the law was scheduled to be implemented in 2020.

NGOs reported effective victim referral and police cooperation with anti-trafficking units assigned to each region. Law enforcement units mandated to address migration or trafficking issues have a formal system to identify trafficking victims among at-risk persons, such as undocumented migrants or persons in prostitution; nonetheless, officials’ efforts to identify foreign victims were limited. The government encouraged victims—including foreigners—to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings, access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, and medical and legal assistance. However, if a criminal case was not initiated, authorities did not recognize or give protective status to foreign victims. In 2017, the government provided two foreign victims legal protection (compared to 15 foreign victims in 2016), including suspension of deportation proceedings, and special temporary residency throughout the criminal investigation. NGOs reported foreign victims sometimes experienced problems in accessing local medical care due to a lack of health insurance or residence permits. The government did not offer legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship and, according to local law, victims were deported after expiration of their temporary residency rights. In 2017, there were no reports of authorities criminally punishing victims for crimes as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, authorities routinely detained and deported possible foreign victims with no proactive efforts made to screen for trafficking victimization, offer referral to care providers, or ensure they were not penalized for crimes committed as a result of their trafficking.


The government maintained prevention efforts, under the direction of the Interagency Trafficking in Persons Working Group, led by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. During the reporting period, the government adopted a new Concept of Migration policy for 2017-2021 and an associated Action Plan. This policy addressed internal and external migration challenges, particularly the status of Kazakhstan as a destination country. The government completed implementation of the national action plan for 2015-2017, which included activities to improve anti-trafficking legislation; investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases; victim identification and assistance; cooperation with international and NGOs; and prevention efforts such as public awareness programs. The government developed an anti-trafficking national action plan for 2018-2020, but did not formally adopt it during the reporting period. The government continued to fund anti-trafficking information and education campaigns targeting potential trafficking victims, including children. The Ministry of Information and Communication funded radio and television programs, as well as the publication of newspaper articles and web-publications, designed to raise public awareness and prevent the crime. In July 2017, the MVD began a second annual public information campaign in commemoration of International Day against Human Trafficking. During the campaign, police participated in television and radio programs, conducted presentations at hospitals and tourist information and construction offices, and organized flash mobs at sporting events to raise public awareness of human trafficking. The MVD also distributed information in parks, shopping malls, rail stations, airports, hotels, and markets that included the number for the national anti-trafficking hotline. The hotline received more than 1,325 calls in 2017, which led to the investigation of 13 cases of human trafficking. In 2017, labor inspectors under the Ministry of Health and Social Protection conducted 8,393 inspections to identify labor violations, which resulted in 2,335 recruiters and employers receiving administrative fines for violations of foreign labor recruitment rules and employment of undocumented foreign laborers and the opening of 158 criminal cases by the MVD. NGOs reported receiving an estimated 10.5 million tenge ($31,690) from the government for prevention projects, including public awareness campaigns. The government did not take any action to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, Kazakhstan is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Domestic trafficking remains a consistent problem, as victims are lured from rural areas to larger cities with mala fide offers of employment. Kazakhstani men and women are subjected to forced labor mostly in Russia, but also in Bahrain, Brazil, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Kazakhstani women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, and the United States. Women and girls from neighboring Central Asian and Eastern European countries, as well as from rural areas in Kazakhstan, are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan; in most cases, traffickers target young girls and women, luring them with promises of employment as waitresses, models, or nannies in large cities. Some children are forced to beg. Adults and children may be coerced into criminal behavior. The relative economic prosperity in the government capital Astana, the financial capital Almaty, and the western oil cities Aktau and Atyrau, attract large numbers of Kazakhstanis from rural villages, some of whom become victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Chinese, Filipino, Ukrainian, Kazakhstani, and other Central Asian citizens, in particular Uzbekistani men and women, are subjected to forced labor in domestic service, construction, and agriculture in Kazakhstan. Since Russia banned re-entry for an estimated one million Uzbek migrants, many of them have sought temporary work and residence in Kazakhstan, where they remained vulnerable to trafficking; since 2014, the year the ban entered into effect, NGOs have identified more than 100 foreign victims each year, likely only a portion of the overall victims in this migrant population. Many victims of trafficking in Kazakhstan indicate they were lured through fraud and deceit, sometimes by friends or acquaintances, and, at times, exploited by small organized criminal groups in Kazakhstan. Traffickers capitalize on tough law enforcement policies to coerce migrants to remain in exploitative situations and leverage these policies to threaten victims with punishment and deportation if they notify authorities, fostering distrust in law enforcement.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future