Lockdown and financial problems cause jumpiness in families and lead to conflicts and violence.
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24-year-old Meerim (not her real name) is a mother of two children: three years old and an infant. She lived at one of the communities of Bishkek with her family. Meerim did not work and her husband had to stay at home due to the lockdown. The family encountered financial and other issues.
On April 27, her husband during another quarrel forced Meerim to leave. When the girl tried to enter the house with her children, her husband beat her. According to her, he beat her more often lately and she never called the police. But last time she asked her neighbours to help her and they called the police. Meerim was hospitalised with brain concussion, brushes and rib bruises. She took her children with her to the hospital.
Police officers advised her to go to the crisis centre where she would get legal aid. According to Tolkun Tyulekova, chair of the Association of Crisis Centres, Meerim will be soon discharged from the hospital and provided with a temporary housing with her children. But no one knows where she would go afterwards.
“Now she is under the moral coercion of her relatives. She filed a police statement against her husband, but her relatives want her to withdraw it. They even threaten her they would not help her if she gets divorced,” Tyulekova said.
At a briefing on April 24, the commandant of Bishkek, Almaz Orozaliev, reported the city had more domestic violence cases.
According to him, 162 domestic violence cases were reported from March 24 to April 24, 2020, whereas the were only 100 cases in the same period of last year.
Moreover, domestic violence cases rose not only in the last month. According to the ministry of interior affairs, law enforcement bodies of Kyrgyzstan registered 2,319 cases of domestic violence from January to March 2020. This is 65 per cent more than the number in the similar period of last year.
“They have nowhere to go”
Specialists explain a large number of cases during the lockdown by the worsened financial condition of a family.
“The state of emergency has worsened the situation. People who lost their daily earnings were left without means of support, which aggravated family relations and gave rise to domestic violence,” Tolkun Tyulekova, the chair of the Association of Crisis Centres, said.
According to her, nearly 700 calls were received by crisis centres for the victims of domestic violence during one month of lockdown and the majority of them were from those who needed food.
“Then follow citizens that suffered distress and anxiety because of the lockdown. These were mainly those people who were left without work during this period. Then follow calls regarding domestic violence. In the first 10 days of the lockdown, the rise in the number of domestic violence cases was not clear. Only after April 20, we determined there were more repeated calls regarding domestic violence cases,” Tyulekova said.
During the state of emergency, crisis centres as well as the majority of organisations cannot receive citizens who need help. However, they continue to give advices.
According to Tyulekova, today five crisis centres work with domestic violence issues according to the social procurement contract with the ministry of labour and social development. Employees of centres work remotely and provide psychological and legal aid by phone.
Meanwhile, they admit the state of emergency has made their work more complicated and they cannot provide help to citizens fully.
“The lockdown limited our capacities and we cannot receive citizens and provide them with shelters as they should meet certain health requirements. Crisis centres were not ready for such emergency as the state procurement funds are not intended for the procurement of antiseptics to those in shelter,” Tyulekova said adding that some crisis centres have to ask for food.
“We can neither receive them nor send them home”
Despite this, crisis centres help women suffering from domestic violence find temporary housing. These women are placed into rented apartments out of money received from business communities until they find a safe place to stay.
Since the beginning of the lockdown in Bishkek, five women with children were provided with temporary housing. There were much more seekers but crisis centres managed to help only five of them due to limited resources.
Eight women lived in Ak Zhurok crisis centre at Osh before the lockdown. 16 women, including four minor girls, sought help in it since the beginning of the lockdown.
“During the lockdown, we could neither receive them nor send them home. Crisis centres received these women and helped them return to their relatives,” Tyulekova said.
According to deputy head of the ministry of labour and social development, Aliza Soltonbekova, crisis centres in Kyrgyzstan are closed as the reception of new guests can threaten the health of those who are already in shelters.
“Therefore, we will temporarily place the victims of domestic violence, if necessary, to safe places where they can get psychological, medical and legal aid,” Soltonbekova said (as cited in AKIpress).
She also noted that on March 16 the government asked to create a group for coordination of response to emergency in order to solve joint tasks, which should provide assistance in preparing measures to emergency and response to COVID-19 and early recovery.
This group is led by the UN resident coordinator in Kyrgyzstan, Ozonnia Ojielo, and one of the tasks is to protect children and to prevent gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, the Zhogorku Kenesh received a draft law from deputy Gulshat Aslbaeva that provided for administrative arrest of domestic abusers for 15 days.
According to the note, new codes provide for a significant fine for domestic violence and petty crime – now the abuser must pay to the state 30 to 60 thousand som (380-760 dollars). The victims understand their family won’t pay such an amount, and refuse to write a statement.
Also, the parliamentarian called the measures taken by the government to fight domestic violence inefficient. The measures were “to work together to avoid all kinds of violation through change of the norms of behaviour, to improve law knowledge, education, expand economic capacities of women, raise information awareness.”
Now this draft law is in discussion. To become valid, it should be agreed by the deputies in three readings at the parliament session, and then signed by the president.
So far, whenever there’s threat to the life and health, specialists recommend that women leave their houses and ask neighbours, relatives who live near to go to the closest checkpoint, call the police or hotline: 111, 112, 1227.
Main photo: shutterstock
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.