CURBING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN KAZAKSTAN  Government needs to do more to
combat sexual exploitation and forced labour.  By Almaz Kumenov

KYRGYZ WOMEN TAKE TO HIJAB  Islamic dress becomes more popular in
previously secular urban communities.  By Asyl Osmonalieva

educated brides stems from fear they will rebel against traditional
domestic roles.  By Haramgul Qodir

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Government needs to do more to combat sexual exploitation and forced labour.

By Almaz Kumenov

People-smuggling and forced labour are thriving in Kazakstan, and
lacklustre responses from government, police and the legal system are
part of the problem, a leading anti-trafficking activist says.

Kazakstan’s geographical location as Central Asia’s gateway to Russia
and other countries is being exploited by criminal groups. In its 2011
Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department said Kazakstan
had become an end destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and
transit country for victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation.

As a transit country, Kazakstan is a stopping-off point for people
brought in from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and then then
transported to destinations including Russia, the United Arab
Emirates, Turkey and Greece. Women may be tricked into making the trip
and then forced into the sex industry in the country they end up in.

Forced labour is also a problem within Kazakstan itself, and while
coercion into the sex trade is an issue, there are other forms such as
people being effectively enslaved in farming or as domestic servants.

Activists say combating trafficking and forced labour is difficult
because few people are aware of the problem, and corrupt police
officers often turn a blind eye. Even when cases are reported, few
ever make it to court.

IWPR discussed these issues with Nina Balabaeva, the head of Rodnik, a
rescue and rehabilitation centre for women and children which runs a
shelter for trafficking victims in Almaty. Balabaeva described how
traffickers entrap people with offers of legitimate work, and how
shortfalls in the law and a lack of specialist anti-trafficking police
allow the trade to continue.

Nina Balabaeva: There is both labour and sexual exploitation here [in
Central Asia generally]. People in search of an income accept tempting
job offers and travel to other countries where they end up in the
hands of the traffickers, who take their documents from them and can
effectively do what they like with them.

There’s also domestic trafficking – from village to town, and also
vice versa. In addition to the traditional scenario of unemployed
villagers going off to town to earn money, there’s a reverse flow as
well to the fields, farms, pasturelands, and peasant landholdings
which are desperately short of labour.

Trends are changing in this country. The start of the 2000s saw a mass
outflow of girls [from Kazakstan] abroad, to Turkey, the Emirates,
Greece and elsewhere, but now Kazakstan is itself receiving illegal
migrants from neighbouring states. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan remain the same – people leave there to other countries.
The direction of labour migration – for men – is to Russia, whereas
for sexual exploitation it’s Turkey and the Emirates as before, and
more recently the Philippines. The geographical reach is widening.

Our refuge was established in 2006 and since then it has helped up to
150 people, most of them women. The total includes 119 women aged
between 18 and 30, and 31 men aged from 20 to 40. Of the total, 29
people were first coerced into labour while they were under 18.

Citizens of Uzbekistan made up the largest number, followed by
Kazakstan nationals and then people from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
We’ve also had applications for help from individuals from Moldova,
Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Turkmenistan.

IWPR: How do people get ensnared by traffickers?

Balabaeva: A typical scenario is that some sympathetic man or woman,
often recommended by an acquaintance, will suggest they spend some
time working abroad as a nanny, waitress, private tutor or in some
other apparently respectable position.

On arrival, people discover they are there to perform completely
different duties. The victims’ passports are confiscated on the
pretext of registering them with authorities. From then on, life
becomes hell for them.

IWPR: Opinion polls on trafficking reveal that some people believe
female victims of sexual exploitation are to blame themselves, for
falling into a trap out of naivety. How would you respond to that?

Balabaeva: I don’t agree with that view – it’s a stereotype. It’s
human nature to make mistakes, to trust people and to be naive. Young
women aren’t warned in advance that they are to be sold for sexual
exploitation, are they?

I’ve heard this view blaming trafficking victims for their
circumstances even from judges and prosecutors who are meant to
provide protection and enforce the law.

The problem is that there are people who simply have nothing to eat.
You can’t blame them for trying to survive.

IWPR: Are all young women entrapped or do some of them go into the sex
trade voluntarily?

Balabaeva: Yes, there are some who do. They agree with a pimp to share
the earnings equally. But the pimp then breaks the deal by taking the
woman’s passport away and threatening her. Young women are beaten and
raped. They did go into sex work voluntarily, but they then become
trafficking victims because they are threatened, deprived of their
liberty and money, and subjected to coercion.

IWPR: What are the authorities doing to tackle the problem, and how
effective are their efforts?

Balabaeva: In Kazakstan, it’s mainly NGOs funded by international
organisations that work on human trafficking issues.

There is a government decree and an action plan with specific
deadlines which the justice ministry is coordinating. But the question
is how this is all being implemented. There’s been no monitoring of
how the programme is being carried through. There’s no information
about what work is being undertaken, on a website nor in any published
reports. We don’t see any government information leaflets or TV slots.

For the sake of fairness, I should point out that the justice ministry
provides partial funding for the Korgau-Astana foundation in the
capital. But all four shelters for trafficking victims in Kazakstan
are mainly supported by international donors. Apart from our shelter
and Korgau-Astana’s, there are the refuges set up by the Feminist
League [in the northern city of Kokshetau] and by the Women’s Support
Centre in Petropavlovsk [also in the north].

If the problem is to be tackled effectively, the law has to be made to
work. Kazakstan’s criminal code contains articles prohibiting pimping
and prostitution. In the case of human trafficking, the law should
cover networks of people – those involved in recruiting and
transportation, and those who make threats and use force. Police
investigators haven’t created mechanisms to swiftly and effectively
identify and detain individuals who form links in the chain.

In Almaty, for example, which has a population of almost two million,
there are only four officers in the organised crime department’s human
trafficking unit. That is why the rate at which trafficking offences
are solved isn’t high.

Some police officers take money in return for protecting the
traffickers, which only makes the situation worse.

IWPR: How would you describe the public’s understanding of human trafficking?

Balabaeva: We regularly conduct opinion polls on public attitudes
towards human trafficking. Respondents used to think these terrible
things were something from the Middle Ages, but now they understand
that slavery happens today and needs to be tackled. But that doesn’t
mean that if someone witnesses a case of exploitation they will pick
up the phone and report it to the police. Unfortunately, many people
prefer not to get involved, so as to have a quiet life.

Almaz Kumenov is IWPR’s editor in Kazakstan.


Islamic dress becomes more popular in previously secular urban communities.

By Asyl Osmonalieva

For the last six months, 17 year-old Zarina Barinova has worn a
Muslim-style headscarf whenever she goes out in northern Kyrgyzstan’s
Chui province.

A confident and outspoken student from the town of Karabalta, Barinova
defies the common stereotype in Kyrgyzstan that women wearing “hijab”
or Islamic dress should be shy and retiring, typically from rural
backgrounds, and raised only to be obedient housewives.

“As a rule, they’re seen as quiet, dull, obedient and submissive
people who can’t speak Russian,” she said. “In reality, that’s far
from being the case. I went to a Russian-language school, I’ve done
well at my studies and I’m involved in various activities at college.”

Women in urban areas are more likely to know Russian, the lingua
franca, in addition to Kyrgyz or a minority language.

Barinova knows that when people see her head-covering, they may jump
to conclusions. But that does not matter to her.

“I am answerable only to Allah,” she said.

“When I’m wearing hijab, I feel protected. Young men don’t harass me,
and I feel I get treated with more respect within my group."

Since adopting hijab, Barinova has not altered her plans – she still
intends to complete her studies, find a job and get married.

Barinova was raised in a religious household; her parents are devout
Muslims who pray and have made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

But increasing numbers of women from non-religious backgrounds are
taking up Islam and adopting hijab, often as a matter of personal
choice rather because of family background.

The growth in hijab-wearing is happening in the more secular north of
Kyrgyzstan as well as in the south, where Islamic observance was
traditionally stronger and more women covered their heads as a matter
of course.

The situation is changing in the south, too. Whereas women often just
wore a local-style headscarf, now many opt for a more enveloping form
that covers the neck as well as the head.

The changing patterns nationwide reflect an evolution in developing
attitudes towards Islam, which used to be viewed as backward-looking –
a legacy of Soviet atheism – but now is seen by many as a source of
spiritual guidance through turbulent times.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has undergone bouts
of instability. Its first president, Askar Akayev, was ousted in a
popular uprising in 2005. He was replaced by Kurmanbek Bakiev, but he
too was forced out in April 2010. In June that year, more than 400
people were killed in ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Analysts believe that in the north especially, people are embracing
Islam as part of an attempt to fill the post-Soviet ideological

“They are consciously subscribing to religious values,” Esen
Usubaliev, head of the Sensible Solutions think tank, told IWPR.

He believes the differences between religious attitudes in the north
and south are disappearing.

“Even in the north, you now see many women wearing hijab, with the
rising number of observant people, including women,” he said.

Kadyr Malikov, an Islamic expert and head of the Religion, Law and
Politics Centre, said many people turned to Islam through “a personal
quest, struggle and reflection” rather than because they were brought
up that way.

Thirty nine-year-old Saltanat (not her real name) was born and raised
in the capital Bishkek and has worn hijab for more than a decade.

She has a higher education degree, and became more interested in
religion while lecturing at a foreign-funded university, where she
taught alongside Arab colleagues. She initially wore modern fashions
before making the change.

“No one ever asked me to start wearing Islamic dress. I came to
[Islam] on my own terms, out of respect to the people I worked with. I
wanted to study Arabic, learn more about Islam and read the Koran,”
Saltanat said. “For me, hijab is not just clothing. It’s about
responsibility before Allah, faith and choice.”

Like many of her peers who grew up under Soviet rule, Saltanat grew up
in a secular household. She remembers when hijab-wearing women began
appearing in the Kyrgyz capital after the Soviet Union broke up in
1991 and Muslim missionaries started arriving from abroad.

“I remember clearly what I thought of the first young women who
appeared in hijab on the streets of Bishkek,” Saltanat said. “I
regarded them as backward, narrow-minded village women who weren’t
very well educated.”

As part of the general revival of Islam in Kyrgyzstan, many mosques
have been built and more people attend them than before.

Nonetheless, negative attitudes towards Islam still persist. Some see
outward signs of devotion like hijab as the products of unwelcome
outside influence, and as a departure from Kyrgyzstan’s own tradition,
in which faith was largely a private matter and public life was

Saltanat described how a woman she knows was pressured not to wear a
Muslim headscarf at work.

“An acquaintance of mine who’s a nurse at a state hospital had to
fight for her right to wear the hijab,” Saltanat said, adding that she
had experienced similar pressure herself, though to a lesser extent.

Nazira Jusupova, a journalist based in the northwestern town of Talas,
said hijab was becoming a normal fixture of life there. And in another
northern town, Naryn, city resident Erkingul Bokoeva said Muslim
headscarves were less common there, but this was starting to change.

The trend has fostered a growth in the number of shops selling
headscarves and halal-certified cosmetics that contain neither alcohol
nor animal extracts.

Ayjan, a 27-year-old shop assistant in Karabalta, said her store was
doing a brisk trade.

“Our shop opened six months ago and the number of clients is on the
up,” she said. “We get women of various ethnicities coming in –
Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Dungans [ethnic Chinese Muslims], and even
Russians who’ve converted to Islam. We help them to choose hijab for
both casual wear and festive occasions.”

Ayjan has worn hijab for almost a year, and says she was influenced to
do so by friends at university in Bishkek.

“We used to live in the same student house and we had conversations –
that’s how I came to Islam,” she said. “My parents welcomed it, and
because of the example I set, they too started fulfilling the Muslim

The shops are a significant development – according to Saltanat, ten
years ago no one sold Muslim headscarves, and no one knew how to make
them if you tried to order one.

Mayramgul Kadyrova owns a clothing business that makes the headscarves.

“Most of the workshops make inexpensive, standard headscarves, as if
they’re just testing the market. I think some of them will specialise
in hijab in future, and quality will improve accordingly,” she said.
“For now, women who want to buy a beautiful hijab prefer to buy
imports from Turkey or Syria.”

As well as adopting the hijab, some women are also spurning cosmetics.

Saltanat usd to wear light make-up in public, but now only puts it on at home.

“When I see girls in hijab and wearing make-up in public, I understand
that they’re just at the beginning of the road,” she said.

Asyl Osmonalieva is IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan.


Prejudice against educated brides stems from fear they will rebel
against traditional domestic roles.

By Haramgul Qodir

Gulnoza Kabirova’s dream of attending nursing college ended in
February when her family decided the 17-year-old would be better off
getting married instead.

Her mother Gulandom, who has raised 13 children in the village of
Vahdat in southern Tajikistan, says she had her daughter’s best
interests in mind when she declined to help pay 600 US dollars in
college fees. Instead, when another family asked if Gulnoza would
marry their son, Gulandom borrowed 7,000 dollars to pay for the

Like many parents in rural Tajikistan, Gulandom believed her
daughter’s marriage prospects would suffer if she were educated, so
she was keen to marry her off quickly.

“I see [the example] of girls in the neighbourhood who are educated.
Years go by and no one wants them as daughters-in-law. That was my
worry, and that is why I didn’t allow my daughter to go to study,” she

Gulandom still owes 3,000 dollars from the wedding, but believes it
was a price worth paying.

“I’d rather cope with the difficulties of repaying the loan than face
the situation of no one wanting to marry my daughter,” she said.
“These days it is difficult to marry off young people.”

After women marry in Tajikistan, they move in with their husband’s
extended family and are expected to submit to the authority of the men
and older in-laws. From the family’s point of view, educated women are
seen as unattractive marriage material, particularly in the

Educated women are perceived as less likely to be submissive towards
their in-laws. If a bride’s education leads to formal employment, some
villagers fear she will not be available to work in the fields, do the
housework and care for the children and elderly. In case of divorce,
such women will also be better placed to defend their legal rights.

Many parents, like Gulandom, do not feel it is worth investing in
their daughters’ education. They expect their daughters to move
straight to their husband’s home after marriage and never seek formal
employment, meaning their college fees will have been wasted.

There is also an expectation that women will be married by 20. Women
beyond that age – who might have postponed starting a family to
complete their education – are considered too old to wed.

Dushanbe-based sociologist Rustam Akramov said there was nothing new
in families rejecting educated women as prospective wives for their

“In rural areas, young men prefer to marry young girls with no
schooling, or who attended for only a few years and then stopped,
because it is easy to control them. They are naive,” Akramov said.

In case of divorce or in legal disputes, educated women are educated
are able to demand their full entitlements, Akramov said.

While Tajik legislation grants women equal status, custom and practice
dictate that they have fewer property and inheritance rights.

Auntie Rohila, as she is known to her neighbours in Vahdat, is a
respected 63-year-old whom villagers frequently invite to weddings and
other social gatherings. When conducting rites and rituals, they often
consult her on the details. Asked about educated women, Rohila summed
up her view with a common stereotype.

“An educated daughter-in-law will sling her handbag over her shoulder
in the morning [to go to work] and will come back in the evening –
someone else will have to do the housework for her. Such a
daughter-in-law isn’t suited to us. For city life, yes, but not for
us,” Rohila said.

A chronic shortage of men has been a feature of Tajikistan since
independence in 1991, and adds to the pressure on parents who have
daughters. First there was the 1992-97 civil war in which many men
were killed or displaced. Then came the mass exodus of men as labour
migrants to Russia and other countries in search of work.

Munira Rozikova, a 37-year- old doctor in the village of Kaduchi, in
the Vose district also in the south of Tajikistan, said she was still
single because educated women had such a poor reputation.

“[Families] don’t want us as daughters-in-law. In our village,
educated girls are considered to have libertine attitudes,” Rozikova

But she noted that when her neighbours fell sick, they had no problem
seeking help from female doctors or nurses.

Sometimes Rozikova – who still lives with her mother and siblings –
regrets the price she has paid for her education. But her mother
Manzura Boboeva is proud of her daughter’s achievements, even though
she worries what will happen when she dies, as Munira’s brothers could
ask her to leave the family home.

“Where would she go? I often hear my neighbours criticising my
daughter, saying she is still unmarried, and blaming her education for
it,” Boboeva said.

Having witnessed her daughter’s experiences, Boboeva had no hesitation
in blessing her son’s marriage to a university student. But such
attitudes remain unusual.

Public attitudes towards educated women undermine the Tajik
authorities’ efforts to encourage female education. Though the
government tries to improve the status of women, analysts note that it
stops short of intervening in the way families deal with their

In 1997, the government launched a scheme to attract rural women into
higher education, and by 2011, more than 7,000 women had received a
free university education, according to official statistics.

Today, there are signs that attitudes are beginning to change amongst
younger Tajik men. Some view education as an advantage when seeking a
bride, as this increases the chance of providing a better future for
children, both economically and by creating a stimulating home

Karim, a 24-year-old student in the southern Bokhtar district, said
his family rejected a girlfriend he met at university, setting his
love for her against his loyalty to them.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “If I was to live well and be
happy, I needed to have their consent and blessing, but my heart was
against it.”

It was not a problem he had to worry about for long. After his
girlfriend learned of his family’s hostility to the match, she left
him for someone else.

For Muhammad, a 24-year old student at Kulob State University, his
family’s rejection of his medical student girlfriend proved too much.
Not only did his mother object to his girlfriend studying, his
brothers said that at 24, she was too old for him.

His mother said she did not trust a career-orientated woman, saying
she would be focused solely on her job.

Unlike Karim, Mohammad plans to ignore his family’s concerns. He
expects to spend some time working in Russia after graduating, but
hopes his girlfriend will be waiting for him when he returns.

Haramgul Qodir is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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