Aigerim Musabalinova, an expert on children’s rights tries to find an answer to the question of how the social and cultural aspect of the country affects the well-being of children and the observance of their rights and interests, in an article for CABAR.asia.
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The system of protecting the rights of children is a hot-button topic against the background of increased crime in relation to the sexual integrity of children in Kazakhstan, as well as identified cases of violence in institutional entities of certain regions of the country.
This article is the author’s attempt to answer the question of how the social and cultural aspects of the country affect the well-being of children and the observance of their rights and interests. In particular, this article examines how the formalism of government officials can lead to the violation of the rights and interests of children, as well as how tribalism and nationalism can become a barrier.
As an example, the article uses the situation when children are most vulnerable and in need of protection. Namely, we are talking about orphans and children deprived of parental care for one reason or another.
Formalism of the policy for the protection of children’s rights
The formal approach to the protection of children’s rights is expressed primarily by the outdated mentality of government officials who are responsible for the system of protecting children’s rights. Namely, the mentality, in which the key point is not the interests and rights of children, but a report to seniors or international organizations. According to the author, the conclusions of the report on family problems in Kazakhstan remain relevant, namely:
“If judging by the legislative framework, it can be argued that protection of the rights and interests of children is sufficiently ensured in Kazakhstan, however, a completely different impression arises when analyzing the existing situation based on empirical indicators. Practice shows that violations of the rights of the child take place in almost all spheres of life.” 
Thus, according to the analysis carried out by UNICEF in 2018, in general, every third child aged 3 to 9 is subject to physical punishment in Kazakhstan.  Every second child in orphanages suffers from violence. 
According to the report on the situation of children in Kazakhstan for 2018, prepared by order of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at the end of 2018 there were 5,044 children living in the system of child care institutions for orphans and children left without parental care, or 20% of the total number of orphans and children left without parental care. The low indicators of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan raise doubts against the background of UNICEF data according to which “53,500 children are in childcare entities in Kazakhstan”,  which is 10 times more than the official data.
At the same time, according to the statistics of the education system of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the number of children (under 18 years old) in educational institutions for orphans and children left without parental care amounted to 10,511, or twice as much as in the Report on the situation of children in the Republic of Kazakhstan. The fact is that the statistics of the education system, unlike the Report, includes the number of children living in shelters (orphanages) and juvenile adaptation centers.
Hence, one can draw an observation that the data of state statistics cannot be called reliable, and much less considered as indicators of improving the well-being of orphans and children left without parental care.
Another example of a superficial approach to the rights and interests of orphans and children left without parental care is the delegation by the state of its responsibilities for the protection of orphans to the non-governmental sector. Namely, from July 1, 2020, the issues of placing these children in families have been transferred to the national adoption agencies and organizations which assist in the placement of orphans, children left without parental care in the families of citizens.
Firstly, this initiative of the state does not comply with international standards. Namely, according to article 20 of the UN Convention “On the Rights of the Child”: “A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.” As indicated at the beginning of the article, orphans and children without parental care are the most vulnerable group of children and need state protection. Secondly, according to Article 115 of the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan On Marriage and Family, the protection of the rights and interests of orphans, children left without parental care is assigned to the state, while:
“The mediatory and any other activity of individuals and legal entities on selection, arrangement, transfer of children-orphans, children left without a parental custody shall be prohibited, with the exception of state bodies within their competence.” 
Thirdly, as of August 19, 2020, not a single organization which is providing assistance in the placement of orphans, children left without parental care in the families of citizens in Kazakhstan has passed state accreditation. At the same time, from July 1, 2020, the placement of children in families is possible only after passing the schools of foster parents and receiving a certificate of psychological training, which must be carried out by accredited organizations.
In this connection, it can be assumed that a formal or ill-considered approach to innovation has led to the fact that about 5,000 children are temporarily stuck in orphanages until accredited agencies appear and foster parent schools are available in all regions for everyone. Thus, the innovations were introduced before the state created the conditions for them to work.
Based on the foregoing, one can conclude that the key point for representatives of the government of Kazakhstan is the need to report that: firstly, in Kazakhstan, the indicator of children living in institutional entities has been reduced, secondly, that the government has fulfilled the president’s order, given in the Civil Alliance on November 28, 2018, on the creation of the first Kazakhstani adoption agency.
In matters of placing children in families and observing their rights and interests, the new trend of placing children in families in rural areas is also doubtful. Some villagers are forced to take children to their families in order to save the local school, which may be closed due to the low number of students. In the latter cases, children are taken in large numbers, but the further fate of children remains in question due to improper motivation of adults. This applies to both adults (representatives of the state responsible for protecting the rights and interests of children), who gave children to families in order to reduce their indicators, and adults who took children in the name of their interests in the first place (so that the village school does not close in order to save jobs and teacher salaries). This practice requires additional social services and monitoring measures by the state. Namely, ensuring that villagers undergo compulsory psychological training, and monitoring the well-being of children before and after placing children in such families.
The double effect of tribalism on the children of Kazakhstan: barrier or potential?
How does tribalism begin in the country? It begins with an ordinary question to which “ru” (clan) do you belong? The answer to this question is very important when it comes to family and career issues. With regard to the family, Kazakhs do not marry each other if there is a relationship up to the seventh generation. Thus, if an orphan child (a child without parental care) is a Kazakh by nationality, and he does not know his roots, then tribalism can become a barrier in creating a family with a girl of Kazakh nationality. An exception is when a child is adopted or brought up among relatives. In such cases, the child can relate himself to the family and clan according to his surname.
At the end of 2018, 82.4% of children from orphanages have parents.
It remains questionable to what extent the state is taking measures to preserve / restore kinship of children with their parents and thereby ensure the child’s right to know his parents and other close relatives, as well as the right to receive information about the parent living separately from him, to meet and communicate with them.
As for career, that is, among foreign analysts and scholars, it is observed that only people from the Senior zhuz come to power, a little from the Junior and almost none from the Middle zhuz. “Zhuz” translates as 100, during the formation of the Kazakh Khanate it was the unification of the clans of three zhuzes – the Senior, Middle and Junior, who were the heirs of the Mongol ulus, and lived, respectively, the Senior zhuz in the southern part of Kazakhstan, the Middle in the North-East, and the Junior is in the Northwest. According to analysts, people from the Senior zhuz come to power thanks to ties with the clan of the country’s first president, which also belongs to the Senior zhuz, people from the Junior zhuz get power thanks to the oil-rich lands, and the people of the Middle zhuz do not possess any other advantage.
My analysis of the birthplaces of the heads of the central authorities in the country showed this tendency, and suggests that, if not tribalism (since there are no official data on belonging to a particular genus), then there are signs of relationship and friendly associations of persons coming from the same area (sign of community). As the analysis has shown, 69% of the heads of the country’s central authorities are from the southern regions of the country, 41% from the Almaty region, where the First and current Presidents of Kazakhstan are from.
Thus, for a child who does not know his “ru” (clan), this may become a problem in his career, but at the same time, if one uses the sign of community, it may not be an issue. According to the vision of the first president of Kazakhstan, there is a meritocracy in the country, that is, when everyone who works can achieve success. However, given the narrow “market” for the formation of the highest echelon of government, the level of development of a child (person) does not play a decisive role in building a career in Kazakhstan.
Nationalism, religion, and sexual education in the protection of children’s rights
Nationalism in Kazakhstan can be judged in both positive and negative contexts. It is a well-known fact that due to the prevailing historical facts Kazakhstan became the homeland for 125 ethnic groups. In Kazakhstan there is a national holiday of the unity of the people of Kazakhstan, which is celebrated on May 1. In addition, in Kazakhstan there is an Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, the purpose of which is to promote the preservation of interethnic and interfaith harmony in the republic, stability in society.
According to the Agency on Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at the beginning of 2018, Kazakhs accounted for 67.5%, Russians 19.7%, the remaining 123 ethnic groups accounted for 12.7%. Consequently, the dominant nation is Kazakh (in Soviet times, Kazakhs accounted for only 30% of the population of the Kazakh SSR). It is logical that the Kazakh culture has become the hallmark of the country, which also corresponds to the policy article of the Elbasy of the country dated April 12, 2017. Namely, the policy article of the first president of the country is focused on the revival of the spiritual values of Kazakhstanis and the preservation of the national spirit, traditions, customs, language, music, literature, and wedding ceremonies. 
The author’s concern about the revival of Kazakh culture is associated with a possible strengthening of the patriarchal structure of society, which may lead to an increase in domestic violence and gender inequality. The reason for this concern of the author is the increased crime against children and women and the increase in domestic violence. So, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in 2018 the number of crimes in the field of family and domestic relations increased by 103.7%, and in relation to women and children by 90% (compared to 2015). 
In such a society, the rights, and interests of children, as shown by the world history of human development, are in last place. As it is known, the rights of children were officially recognized by the international community only at the end of the 20th century with the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.
Religion and sexual education
70% of the population of Kazakhstan identify themselves as Muslims, while Kazakhstan, according to the Constitution of the country, is a secular country where everyone is equal and no one can be subjected to any discrimination based on origin, social, official and property status, gender, race, nationality , language, attitude to religion, or for any other reason. That is, both girls and boys have an equal right to the full development of their potential, including intellectual development. However, given the growth in the birth rate in Kazakhstan by almost 4 times from (72,276 in 2000 to 269,575 in 2019), a limited tendency in the development of girls can be noted, since with an increase in the birth rate in the family, a woman’s activity is limited by caring for children and family.
In particular, talking about the need to increase the country’s demography and children in Kazakhstan is welcomed, but not encouraged to talk about the sexual health of girls at puberty. Back in 2015, the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of the Child raised the issue of the need for Kazakhstan to take measures to prevent early marriages, however, as it is known, Islam allows early marriages, respectively, and society allows this as well. The result of this double standard of society is the abandoned children conceived by the unprotected sex of the younger generation. As shown by the practice of preventing abandonment of newborn children in Kazakhstan, 4280 young mothers were ready to abandon children for the period from 2013 to 2020. The reason for such refusals is an unplanned pregnancy, lack of support, lack of livelihood and lack of marriage. Thus, the lack of understanding in society of the interests of the child for their full development, regardless of the sex of the child, can lead to the fact that both the mother and the child may eventually suffer. The mother, being a child herself, may suffer from not being able to fully develop her potential, and the child may suffer from lack of parental and family care.
This article is the author’s attempt to reveal the regional context of Kazakhstan in the field of protecting the rights of children. On the one hand, the formalism of state structures, built on the interests of state bodies, and not on the interests of children. On the other hand, tribalism, and nationalism of the country, which partly does not correspond to the rights and interests of the child. Namely, tribalism, which is de facto present in society and is not officially enshrined, can become a motivating point to strengthen de jure and de facto the structure of protecting children’s rights. According to the author, tribalism can become an additional barrier in such interests of a child as creating a family or building a career if a child of Kazakh nationality does not know which “ru” (clan) he belongs to. In this regard, ensuring the child’s right to know their biological parents, maintaining communication where possible, should be strengthened.
As for the nationalization in matters of protecting the rights of children, the author notes that the nationalization of the country is taking place against the background of increased crime against children and women, which requires special attention from the developers of programs in the field of nationalization and religion in the country. The national policy of the country requires revision in accordance with signed international conventions such as: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The following are suggested as recommendations:
- Regarding formalism, the author proposes to revise all reporting of state structures and their submission from the point of view of the rights and interests of the child, and not the indicators of the state (their departments). All authorized bodies of the country, including the Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child in the Republic of Kazakhstan, pay attention to the discrepancy in statistics and increased responsibility for such discrepancy. In the case of orphans discussed in the article, it is proposed to adopt a temporary regulation and regulate the procedure for placing children for the period of accreditation of organizations for placing children in families and for the period of training high-quality personnel for psychological training. It is also proposed that the state carry out active and high-quality work to inform the population about the procedure for placing children in families, the correct motivation for placing children in families and the need, first of all, to respect the rights and interests of the child.
- In terms of tribalism, all authorized bodies of the country in terms of protecting the rights and interests of children are encouraged to strengthen support for families and family ties, including in cases where parents, for one reason or another, cannot fulfill their duties. It is necessary to supplement the reporting of the state with regard to ensuring the child’s right to know his parents and other close relatives, as well as the right to receive information about a parent living separately from them, to meet and communicate with the parent. To ensure this indicator, the state needs to allocate resources, human and financial, for the provision of additional social services to support the relationship of an orphan child and a child deprived of parental care.
- On national issues, the state apparatus of Kazakhstan must take control of a balanced return to the cultural roots of the country’s dominant nation. In particular, in matters related to ensuring gender equality in everything, including the right of children of both sexes to fully develop their potential and the child’s right to protection of the state from all types of violence (domestic, sexual, psychological, emotional). In addition, it is proposed to take practical measures to prevent child abandonment, unplanned pregnancy, and early marriage. It is necessary to talk about sex and its possible consequences from school age when a child’s puberty takes place. Thus, teaching the child the sex difference and what can happen after an unprotected sex. At the same time, just like in developed countries, contraceptives, as well as vaccination, should be available within the framework of state health care for the population of the country from the age of puberty.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.
Cover photo material: AFP 2020 / STR
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