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The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Kazakhstan remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included elevating the status of its law enforcement unit dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts and increasing the number of its specialized anti-trafficking police officers.  The government identified more trafficking victims.  The President amended the Law on Migration and Law on Special Social Services, which entitled foreign victims to the same benefits as Kazakh citizens, including temporary residency with permission to work.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  It prosecuted and convicted significantly fewer traffickers, and civil society and government interlocutors reported legislative insufficiencies continued to hinder effective anti-trafficking enforcement and victim identification efforts.  Authorities continued to identify few foreign victims and efforts to address forced labor remained inadequate.

  • Significantly increase efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, with an emphasis on forced labor and foreign victims, and refer victims for assistance.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including potential forced labor cases, especially in remote areas and cases involving foreign victims or allegedly complicit government officials, and convict traffickers and seek adequate penalties.
  • Ensure government-funded trafficking victim shelters have sufficient funding and resources for victim assistance and that foreign trafficking victims have access to benefits entitled by law, including temporary residency and work permits.
  • Amend Kazakhstan’s penal code to align the definition of trafficking with the international law definition.
  • Train law enforcement officers and labor inspectors to apply Kazakhstan’s trafficking laws, particularly in the detection of cases involving psychological coercion and other less overt trafficking indicators.
  • Strengthen the capacity of the Labor Inspectorate to identify forced labor victims, including by increased training on victim identification and procedures to report potential trafficking cases to the police, and allow unfettered access to factories, construction sites, and farms for unannounced inspections.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Ensure victims are aware of their right to seek compensation, and train attorneys and law enforcement officials on how to assist in that process.
  • Establish and implement a centralized anti-trafficking data collection system.
  • Enhance oversight and regulation of labor recruitment agencies.

The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  Articles 128 (“human trafficking”) and 135 (“trafficking in minors”) of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  However, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, Articles 128 and 135 of the penal code did not include force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime but rather considered them an aggravating circumstance.  The law prescribed penalties of four to seven years’ imprisonment for adult trafficking and five to nine years’ imprisonment for child trafficking; the penalties could be increased under aggravated circumstances to up to 15 years for adult trafficking and up to 18 years for child trafficking.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Sex trafficking crimes could also be prosecuted under Articles 134 (“involvement of a minor in prostitution”) and 308 (“involvement in prostitution”). Article 134 prescribed penalties of three to six years’ imprisonment.  However, Article 308 prescribed penalties of only up to three years’ restriction of liberty, up to three years’ imprisonment, or a fine; these penalties were substantially lower than those available for sex trafficking offenses under the human trafficking provision.

Police initiated investigations in 26 trafficking cases (23 for sex trafficking and three for forced labor), compared with 20 in 2021, and continued 14 investigations initiated in the previous reporting period.  The government prosecuted 18 human trafficking cases (six for sex trafficking, five for forced labor, and seven for unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with 49 prosecutions in 2021; and it convicted six traffickers (five for sex trafficking and one for forced labor) under articles 128, 134, and 308 of the Criminal Code, compared with 23 sex traffickers in 2021.  Of the six convictions, four traffickers received sentences ranging from four to 15 years’ imprisonment, one trafficker was a minor and received three months’ imprisonment, and one trafficker received three years and five months of probation.  As in previous years, many of the trafficking cases were the result of three multi-day special anti-trafficking police operations, called “Stop Trafficking,” in which police conducted enforcement operations with local authorities in brothels, massage parlors, construction sites, and farms and collaborated with NGOs to interview potential victims.   The government made limited efforts to investigate forced labor involving foreign nationals in the country.  For example, observers noted cases with indicators of forced labor involving Uzbekistani labor migrants in the construction sector that law enforcement declined to investigate due to limited understanding of the crime and coercive methods utilized by employers, contributing to the low number of forced labor cases identified.  NGOs noted some police lacked understanding of trafficking and the criminal code necessary to effectively investigate cases, which was further hindered by staffing rotations in law enforcement agencies.  NGOs previously reported victims were often dismissed as violators of migration laws or as individuals experiencing homelessness.  NGOs continued to report investigators closed or decided not to pursue some criminal cases due to a perceived lack of evidence, especially among cases in rural areas, and that they continued to focus on investigating sex trafficking cases to the exclusion of those involving forced labor.  Civil society noted the current definition of trafficking in the criminal code prevented some authorities from properly investigating or prosecuting cases that involved more complex trafficking indicators, including labor trafficking cases.  Criminal statutes carrying lesser penalties were widely used, and the significant leeway in how to categorize trafficking crimes given to investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial authorities made the statutes vulnerable to abuses of the law.  Kazakh law enforcement continued to cooperate with foreign governments (Uzbekistan, Russia, and Bahrain) on trafficking investigations, which resulted in 11 extraditions (three to Uzbekistan and eight to Russia) and one Kazakh citizen extradited from Bahrain.  Law enforcement arrested 11 traffickers who recruited women and children for sex trafficking, including in hotels and saunas, in Shymkent, Taraz, and Turkestan.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  In previous years, NGOs reported traffickers bribed low-ranking police officials to avoid charges and alleged some police officers facilitated forced labor or sex trafficking crimes.  Observers alleged local official complicity in the unauthorized entry, transportation, and harboring of foreign nationals.

The government continued to train law enforcement and inspectors on the identification and investigation of trafficking crimes, including in collaboration with civil society and neighboring countries.  In July 2022, the MIA established a new division for Combating Trafficking in Persons and Protection of the Participants of Criminal Proceedings, elevating the prior anti-trafficking police unit to division-level, and increased the number of anti-trafficking police officers from 44 to 110.  The new division had offices in each region’s MIA department and in Astana, Almaty, and Shymkent.  The government reported dedicating a budget for anti-trafficking efforts but did not report an amount.

The government slightly increased protection efforts.  The government identified 24 trafficking victims, compared with 20 in 2021.  Of the 24 victims identified, 21 were sex trafficking victims (20 Kazakhstani citizens and one foreign national) and three were forced labor victims (two Kazakhstani citizens and one foreign national).  Law enforcement units dedicated to migration and trafficking issues had standard guidelines for the identification of victims among vulnerable populations, including undocumented migrant communities and individuals in commercial sex.    Separate referral procedures instructed law enforcement agencies on effective coordination with NGOs to connect trafficking victims with protection services.  Police also maintained a formal referral mechanism for victims initially arrested or detained during police operations.  In collaboration with an international NGO and a foreign donor, the government drafted and finalized standard guidelines on victim identification and referral to care for labor inspectors, diplomatic missions, healthcare workers, and education stakeholders, as well as NGOs, during the reporting period; these guidelines were disseminated among stakeholders, including during public events.  NGOs continued to report regional anti-trafficking units, composed of specialized police officers responsible for trafficking cases, effectively referred victims to NGOs for care and facilitated strong collaboration.  In August 2022, the governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan established a working group to create a transnational referral mechanism for trafficking victims.

Trafficking victims identified by government authorities could be referred to mostly government-funded, NGO-run shelters.  Prior to referring a victim for assistance to a government-funded shelter, law enforcement, social services, or in some cases NGOs conducted a formal identification process, which included an interview and assessment.  Unaccompanied child victims were placed in separate shelters from adults.  The government did not report how many victims it referred to care.  Trafficking victims were entitled to free medical, educational, employment, financial, psychological, and legal assistance.  These and other protection services were not conditional upon Kazakhstani victims’ cooperation with law enforcement.  The government allocated 101 million tenge ($218,360) in 2022, compared with 107 million tenge ($231,330) in 2021, to fund 10 trafficking shelters.  These shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance to trafficking victims.  However, civil society reported shelters had insufficient government resources and funding, including insufficient capacity to assist the number of victims referred.  NGOs managing shelters noted the government allocated funding depending on the number of trafficking cases in a given region, which did not take into account the number of identified victims per case, often leading to funding shortages.  Observers noted that, while most labor trafficking cases occurred in rural areas, most services were available in larger cities.  NGOs reported an unknown number of forced labor victims may remain unidentified and without access to services due to the remote location of farms throughout the country.

In 2022, President Tokayev signed amendments to the Law on Migration and Law on Special Social Services that enhanced protections for foreign trafficking victims, entitling them to the same benefits as Kazakh citizens, including temporary residency with permission to work, access to government-funded shelters and services (including psychological and legal assistance), and a reflection period of six months allowing victims time to decide whether to participate in law enforcement proceedings, which could be extended until court proceedings were finalized.  However, medical services were not free for foreign victims, and NGOs noted insufficient funding to cover additional services available for foreign victims.  While the government improved access to care for foreign victims, observers reported delays in implementation of the 2022 amendments; officials’ efforts to identify and refer foreign victims and labor trafficking victims remained inadequate.

The government provided victim-witness assistance during court proceedings, including access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical and legal assistance.  The Criminal Procedure Code allowed video recording of victim testimony to prevent the need for multiple interviews and prevent re-traumatization.  Trafficking victims were eligible to seek employment during their criminal proceedings and cases could continue under counsel representation if a victim decided to leave Kazakhstan.  In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, social workers could be present during victim interviews and interviews could take place in shelters instead of police stations to avoid re-traumatization.  All 24 identified victims participated in investigations during the reporting period; and the government provided 1.2 million tenge ($2,590) for victim services for four Kazakhstani citizens and one foreign citizen that participated in criminal proceedings under the Protection of Participants of Criminal Proceedings program – the remainder of the victims received assistance at shelters.  While victims were able to receive compensation by filing civil suits in conjunction with the criminal cases, many victims and their attorneys continued to be unaware of the right to seek compensation, and high legal fees continued to dissuade some victims from doing so.  The government could provide pro bono attorneys to trafficking victims, although statistics on provision of legal services were unavailable, and NGOs previously reported these attorneys were often inexperienced.  NGOs noted a lack of legal assistance and affordable lawyers for civil society and victims and an unwillingness of attorneys take trafficking cases.  The government did not report screening undocumented migrants for trafficking indicators prior to deportation.  Enduring insufficiencies in victim identification procedures likely led to some unidentified foreign national victims, especially those exploited in forced labor, being inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  Kazakh authorities reportedly worked to repatriate Kazakh nationals subjected to arbitrary detention in facilities known to perpetrate forced labor in Xinjiang, China, but additional information on these cases was unavailable.  Authorities at times committed politically-motivated harassment against activists attempting to raise awareness of widespread abuses, including forced labor, perpetrated against ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The Interagency Trafficking in Persons Working Group, led by the MIA, included participation from NGOs and international organizations.  The Working Group held regular meetings in 2022 to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts, including on amending the law to provide assistance to foreign victims.  In July 2022, the Working Group formally added the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Financial Monitoring Agency as members.  The Working Group drafted a stand-alone trafficking law and included participation from international organizations and NGOs; the draft law aims to clarify government agency responsibilities and expand victim services.  The draft law was published for public comment during the reporting period; civil society voiced concerns with the proposed trafficking definition, which was not aligned with the definition under the UN TIP Protocol.  The government continued to implement and fund its 2021-2023 NAP.  Some anti-trafficking NGOs noted increased political will, more proactive efforts, and enhanced coordination with NGOs on the part of the government; however, NGOs reported available resources to address trafficking remained inadequate.  The government continued to fund anti-trafficking information and education campaigns targeting potential trafficking victims, including children, migrants, and Kazakhstani citizens traveling abroad.  The government continued conducting awareness campaigns, including in collaboration with civil society.  The government did not provide any funds to the country’s NGO-operated trafficking hotline in 2022.

In 2020, the government formally amended the position descriptions of labor inspectors to include responsibility for the identification of trafficking victims and subsequent notification to law enforcement.   In 2022, state labor inspectors carried out 4,920 inspections, including on farms and construction sites for forced labor crimes, compared to 4,300 inspections in 2021; however, the government did not report if any inspections led to the identification of forced labor cases or opening of criminal case investigations.  Authorities acknowledged the labor inspectorate was underfunded, and civil society reported inspectors required more training to identify trafficking cases.  Additionally, the frequent use of inspection moratoriums on certain types of businesses made it difficult to ensure compliance with Kazakhstan’s labor laws.  In previous years, migrant workers reported using unofficial third-party intermediaries to find employment and meet Kazakhstani migration registration requirements; these intermediaries often circumvented the law and could facilitate the trafficking of foreign national victims with relative impunity due to their unofficial status.  International experts reported construction companies used sub-contractors as intermediaries to hire labor migrants without government oversight or the use of contracts, generating vulnerabilities to trafficking.  Civil society reported a lack of knowledge on labor rights, including human trafficking, among migrant laborers.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government reported providing anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.  The government provided anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment on UN peacekeeping missions.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Kazakhstan, and traffickers exploit victims from Kazakhstan abroad.  Domestically, the relative economic prosperity in the capital Astana, the financial center Almaty, and the western oil cities of Aktau and Atyrau attracts large numbers of rural Kazakhs, some of whom traffickers lure through fraudulent offers of employment and then exploit in sex trafficking and forced labor in agriculture, construction, and other sectors.  Traffickers force some children to beg and may also coerce adults and children into criminal behavior.  The most vulnerable groups at risk of trafficking include undocumented migrants, persons without identity documents, unemployed individuals, individuals experiencing homelessness, and disabled persons.

Some members of Kazakhstan’s LGBTQI+ communities are at risk of police abuse, extortion, and coercion into informant roles; LGBTQI+ individuals, particularly transgender persons required to undergo invasive and bureaucratic processes for gender-affirming care, are vulnerable to trafficking amid widespread social stigma and discrimination that often jeopardizes their employment status or prospects in the formal sector and complicates their access to justice.  Domestic violence victims may seek and accept unsafe employment opportunities in which traffickers may exploit them.  Kazakhstani and foreign national forced labor victims may go unidentified in farms located in remote rural areas, such as in Karaganda.  An increasing number of Turkmen citizens entering Kazakhstan without proper documentation are vulnerable to forced labor on farms.

Women and children from neighboring East Asian, Central Asian, and Eastern European countries, as well as from rural areas in Kazakhstan, are exploited in sex trafficking in Kazakhstan; in most cases, traffickers target young girls and women, luring them with promises of employment, including through social media, as waitresses, models, or nannies in large cities.  Observers noted increased use of online recruitment by traffickers.  Experts noted individuals with substance use issues are at increased risk for trafficking.  Children are increasingly targeted for forced criminality in drug trafficking.  Traffickers increasingly exploit Central Asian citizens, in particular Uzbekistani men and women and lesser numbers from Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, in forced labor in domestic service, construction, bazaars, and agriculture in Kazakhstan.  Many Central Asian migrant workers that were subjected to Russia’s 2014 re-entry ban have subsequently sought temporary work and residence in Kazakhstan, where traffickers exploit them.  Thousands of undocumented Uzbekistani migrants transit into Kazakhstan each day via informal border crossings for seasonal labor in construction, agriculture, retail, hospitality, and commercial sex; these individuals are particularly vulnerable to trafficking by virtue of their irregular immigration status, as are their accompanying children, who often do not attend school despite their eligibility to do so.  NGOs have reported an increase in traffickers’ use of debt-based coercion in the exploitation of migrants in recent years.  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.  Some Russian citizens fleeing Russia, some by irregular means, in order to avoid conscription into military service and military mobilization to fight in Russia’s war against Ukraine, may be vulnerable to trafficking.

Traffickers exploit Kazakh men and women in forced labor, mostly in Russia, but also in Bahrain, Brazil, the Republic of Korea, Türkiye, and the United Arab Emirates.  Sex traffickers exploit Kazakh women and girls in Russia, Uzbekistan, the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, and the United States.  People’s Republic of China authorities arbitrarily detain some Kazakh citizens visiting family in Xinjiang and subject them to forced labor.  Some Kazakh migrants in Russia are vulnerable to forced recruitment to fight in Russia’s war against Ukraine.  Organized crime groups and small trafficking rings with recruiters operate in conjunction with brothel operators in Kazakhstan and abroad.  Kazakh men who traveled to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to fight alongside or seek employment within armed groups brought their families with them, at times under deception.  Kazakh citizens remaining in these conflict zones, including children, may be at risk of trafficking, including in refugee camps in Syria.

U.S. Department of State

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