In Kazakhstan, women’s organizations are raising alarm and calling on authorities to take action against abusers and aggressors.
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Kristina, 31, is in the crisis center in Almaty. She came here with two children running away from her alcohol- and drug-addicted husband. During quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic, he began to drink again and beat her.
“In autumn, my husband swore that this would not happen again. He kept his promise until quarantine. However, it happened again. I want to file for divorce after quarantine. I addressed police twice to stop him from approaching us. That did not help. It is comfortable and calm here. They help me morally and with papers,” says Kristina.
According to the public organization “Union of Crisis Centres”, in Kazakhstan, 40% of all violent crimes are committed by family members. Domestic violence most often affects the weakest and most vulnerable family members: women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
In 2019, more than two million women suffered from domestic violence in Kazakhstan: 45% of them were subjected to psychological abuse, 20% – to physical abuse. Only 7% of the victims address the police. For a woman, the probability of becoming a victim of domestic violence is higher than of any other type of violence.
After the quarantine introduction, the number of calls to the helpline of the Union doubled, notes Zulfiya Baysakova, chairwoman of the organization’s board.
“We receive more helpline calls. In January-February, we received about 150 calls to a single helpline, now there are 200-250 calls specifically about domestic violence. In addition, we receive messages on WhatsApp number 8 708 10 608 10 and in SMS messages. People being indoors and strictly controlled often cannot even call,” said Baysakova.
The crisis center in Almaty urgently decided to open separate rooms for new violence victims. Since late March, they have hosted 7 women and 12 children. Many refuse to come, because under quarantine they cannot freely move around. In the regions, women cannot even access the services of the crisis center at all, because Almaty entrance is closed.
“The additional cause of the violence is the socio-economic situation, which put families into a very difficult position. Another aspect: the victim stays with abuser during 24 hours each day; abuser can isolate her by taking away her phone, and she will not be able to ask for help. We are witnessing a collective psychosis which is caused by the escalation of the epidemiological situation,” says the director of the crisis center.
Dina Smailova, director of the public fund “Ne Molchi” (“Do Not Be Silent” – Tr.), also tells stories of violence victims on her Facebook and Instagram pages. She notes that they receive 10-15 calls each day. Children who suffer from abusive parents also call them. She told that on April 14, in a rented dormitory a woman was attacked by her male friend who had previously been convicted for physical injury.
Smailova receives many similar complaints. She launched an online petition “Stop Violence Against Women,” signed by over 10,000 people.
“According to the legal statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Supreme Court in Kazakhstan, per day: 1 woman is killed, 4 women are raped, 2 women commit suicide, 5 women attempt suicide; per month: 9 woman are driven to suicide, 18 women are threatened. 218 restraining orders are issued per day. This means that 218 women were beaten so brutally that a restraining order was necessary; four women of those are moderately or severely injured,” the petition states.
This document demands to recognize the ongoing and systematic violence against women and to create quick response police groups for victims of domestic violence, to toughen punishment for beatings during the emergency, and improve the assistance to victims.
According to Zulfiya Baysakova, state authorities were not ready for the coronavirus pandemic, but even more for the domestic violence pandemic.
“No measures have been taken. We addressed even the President, because the “Union of Crisis Centres” unites 18 crisis centres in Kazakhstan. We appealed to the Commissioner for Human Rights and the National Commission. State structures do nothing, they just wait,” says Baysakova.
Together with other organizations combating violence, they developed the necessary measures and recommendations.
“To fight domestic violence, the victims have to address police. Police must either arrest the abuser forbidding him to enter the house, or bring the victim with children to the crisis center, if this happens in Almaty. It is more difficult in other regions,” Baysakova notes. “Today, we recommend the state to allocate separate premises for violence victims. Courts are closed; cases of emergency violation are the priority. It is impossible to pass a forensic examination because movement is limited.”
Later, the Presidential Office replied to the activists that it had instructed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and local akimats to strengthen measures to prevent domestic violence.
In particular, police in Nur-Sultan announced a special secret password for victims of domestic violence.
“If you are a violence victim, law enforcement officers advise you to immediately contact the police by number 102 with complaints on violence stating a secret password: “Have you received the masks and antiseptics?”. Thereby you will report domestic violence, after which it is necessary to state your address,” the police press service reported on April 22.
It is also possible to address police via website qamqor.gov.kz. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reminded that police officers are required to drive to the crime scene immediately and take action against the abuser.
Under the new amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, the punishment for domestic violence has been eased, despite activists and women’s organizations’ appeals and protests. Now, a warning or administrative arrest up to 15 days are the sanctions for the intended bodily harm to the spouse.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.