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Kazakhstan: End of the Orphanage Era?

“Measures to reduce the number of children in orphanages in Kazakhstan at the moment cannot be called effective due to the underdevelopment of measures to prevent children from entering orphanages and alternative forms of child care,” Aigerim Mussabalinova, a child rights expert, analyzes the problems of deinstitutionalization of children in Kazakhstan specifically for CABAR. asia.


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After critical statements by the President of Kazakhstan at the VIII Civil Forum in Astana, authorities began to take urgent measures towards “getting rid” of orphanages from the end of 2018.[1] However, in the pursuit of immediate results, they have begun to reduce the statistics of children in orphanages, while reducing the number of social care institutions themselves. Logical questions as: “Why orphanages should be closed? How to prevent children from getting there? How effective are the measures taken to reduce the number of children in orphanages? ” still remain open.

An analysis of the annual reports of the Committee on Protection of Children’s Rights in Kazakhstan from 2010 to 2018 showed that the number of orphaned children and children without parental care in child welfare institutions has decreased by one and a half times, and the number of childcare institutions from 209 to 138.

However, the National Compendium of Statistics of the Education System of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2018, has shown that children without parental care have access to only 190 organizations in Kazakhstan, where 12,271 children are living.[2] It can be assumed that the statistics of the Committee on Protection of Children’s Rights in Kazakhstan do not include children who live in shelters and Juvenile Adaptation Centers (JAC), the number of which reaches 4525.

Children continue to come in, but what happens to newcomers remains an open and problematic issue. 

Orphanages: good or bad?

The reasons why the placement of children in orphanages should be replaced by the placement in families is reflected in numerous studies, both in Kazakhstan and abroad.[3] Thus, a study conducted in 2010 on the initiative of UNICEF in Kazakhstan and the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan showed that every second child who is in a public institution for children is subjected to violence.[4] From this we can conclude that the institutionalization of children can be attributed to one of the forms of child abuse.

The delay in the psychological, mental, and physical development of children compared with their peers brought up in a family is one of the negative consequences for children living in orphanages.

Another significant drawback of institutionalization lies in the internal regime of children’s institutions. Inmates of orphanages have no right to choose what to wear, what to eat, what to do in their free time, everything is decided in advance for them. It is no secret that children in such institutions live according to a certain regime: eating food, going to sleep, going to school, everything is done as per schedule. At the same time, children do not participate in cleaning the premises, in cooking, in the purchase of food and clothing. Thus, taking on the full maintenance of children and adolescents under 18, the state provides them with conditions for a short term perspective, without considering the fact that such children will not be able to adapt to independent living in the future. There is a violation of the main interest of the child – the full development and preparation for independent life in society.[5]

The lack of social adaptation skills makes graduates of orphanages vulnerable to the new realities of life outside the walls of the institution. Unable to meet the current demands of the labor market, they often become easy target for the criminal environment.[6] This fact is also indicated in a Kaisar Public Foundation study from 2017, according to which graduates of orphanages, due to lack of housing and work, are at high risk of becoming victims of crimes related to human trafficking and slavery.[7]

The paradox is that institutionalization costs the state much more than placing a child in a family. 

In 2013, at the civil forum “Child must live in a family”, the results of a study by the consulting company Ulagat Business Groups were presented, according to which the cost of maintaining one child in an orphanage amounted to 2.1 million tenge per year (5200 US dollars) while under custody this sum was reduced by 15 times and amounted to only 137 thousand tenge (390 US dollars) annually.[8] Thus, conclusions drawn from the forum that “orphanages have long become a honeypot for officials,”[9] which is typical not only in Kazakhstan, but also in other post-Soviet countries that have inherited the system of institutionalization of children from the times of the USSR, seem reasonable.[10]

Despite the above-mentioned facts of violence and negative impact that children receive from staying in institutions, there is an opinion in society that children in orphanages are shod, fed, and have the opportunity to study. It is also believed that they have a separate quota for admission to educational institutions and housing from the state after graduating from orphanages. These social beliefs started to change only recently when the facts of violence against children in child welfare institutions became known, as well as facts about underdevelopment of children due to lack of attention and attachment from adults, the social maladaptation of graduates of orphanages and, as a result, criminal or very uncertain future.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their supporting media have played a significant role in informing the public and raising awareness about child psychology and the importance of the family. In particular, an analysis of the measures taken by the state and NGOs to reduce children in orphanages showed that the social movement “The child must live in the family” served as an appropriate message to society and many officials. However, at present, issues of preventing orphanhood and timely social support for socially vulnerable families have come forward and are a priority for both the non-governmental sector and the state.[11]

Measures towards preventing children from getting into child welfare institutions

In order to prevent children from getting into orphanages in Kazakhstan, it is necessary to review the whole system of social support for the population and build a new social work. The lack of qualified personnel and the negligible number of existing social workers is acute in the regions of the country, where, for example, only one densely populated area accounts for only one specialist of guardianship and custody bodies.

As UNICEF studies have shown, the social protection of children in Kazakhstan is not child-centred and has declarative nature rather than revealing. The entire protection function is reduced to solving the current situation, and not its prevention as a whole.[12] This refers to minimum payments to the family and paperwork for such payments. As a rule, important decisions on removal of a child from birth family are made on the basis of information provided by police, and not a social worker. This is due to the lack of social workers in the national child protection system, hence the lack of measures to prevent orphanhood in Kazakhstan occur.

The social protection of children in Kazakhstan is not child-centred and has declarative nature rather than revealing.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly approved the Guidelines for Alternative Child Care, according to which states were encouraged to “develop and consistently apply appropriate criteria based on sound professional principles to assess the situation of the child and the family, including the actual and potential family opportunities for childcare”.[13] The analysis of the work carried out by the state in Kazakhstan once again points to irrational and unprofessional approaches, which are explained by the desire to adapt children with their problems to the existing system and resources. This is evidenced by the fact that the prevention of children from entering orphanages is entrusted to JACs, who, like the custody authorities, are engaged in issue upon the fact of receipt or removal of the child from the family. The education system does not assume the responsibility of dealing with the family itself, since social support and work with the family are not within the competence of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MES RK) and its territorial state bodies and organizations.

In Kazakhstan, measures have not been developed to prevent children from entering orphanages with an individual assessment of the needs of the family and the child, their support and the provision of social assistance and to help the family out of difficult life situations. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan and its subordinate territorial state bodies and organizations do not have trained social workers, relevant infrastructure, and standards for the provision of special social services to assist families with children. In addition, the territorial guardianship and custodianship agencies that deal with the issues of arranging orphans and children left without parental care are included in the structure of the territorial departments of education, which in turn are vertically subordinate to the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. As indicated above, by the laws of the country, The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan and its subordinate bodies and organizations of education are not endowed with the function of social support for the family and do not show initiative in gaining such competence or integration with the bodies of social protection of the population. At the same time, 82.4% of children in institutions have parents,[14] that is, conducting preventive social work with biological parents to avoid separation of the child from the family, or conducting social work with parents to return the child to the birth family where possible, should be one of the main areas of work of the state apparatus, in order to reduce the number of children in institutions. At the same time, both alternative families and the families of relatives of parents who take custody of the child need social support and assistance in adapting a child. As indicated at the beginning of the article, children continue to enter the Adaptation Centers for Minors and Shelters, but their further fate is not known. As a result, reducing orphanages, Kazakhstan may face the problem of placing children who will continue to arrive.

Measures taken to reduce the number of children in orphanages

“There is no separate plan for the de-institutionalization of children in Kazakhstan, nor are there policies or programs for de-institutionalization.” In December 2016, as part of the Concept of Family and Gender Policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2030, the need to promote the upbringing of the child in the family, development and material support of alternative families was identified in the family policy section.[15] According to the Action Plan for the implementation of this concept (the first stage of 2017-2019), among other family and gender events, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with local territorial bodies, had to carry out work on the transformation of educational institutions for orphans and children, left without parental care, in family and child support centers.[16] However, the proposal for the transformation of orphanages into family and child support centers, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan interpreted in its own way and decided to limit itself to Child Support Centers in Difficult Life Situation (DLS), excluding the most important thing from this chain – the family.[17]  Firstly, this is due to the lack of competence of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan to deal with families, and secondly, as usual, the MES of RK chose only children in DLS. Children in DLS are a new state stigma and a sign of discrimination. For a full coverage of children and earlier identification of problems, a different state structure is needed, but not the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, whose main function is education (not social work).

At the same time, as indicated in the Plan, all the activities related to the transformation of educational institutions for children without parental care were planned to be carried out at the expense of available resources without allocating money from the budget. The above measures are of forced nature, adopted as if under pressure from the public and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The latter, as early as 2015, pointed out to Kazakhstan the need for measures to prevent the placement of children in childcare facilities, an alternative placement of children in families and the return of children back to birth families.[18]

As of July 1, 2018, out of 26,263 children, only 2,148 are placed in foster and adoptive families. However, it is precisely these forms of alternative childcare, that are developed around the world, and do not receive due attention in Kazakhstan.[19] Thus, foster and adoptive families are not yet developed in Kazakhstan, and the system does not have social workers to work with birth parents and close relatives. To get into the foster or adoptive family, the child is inevitably placed in the JAC or shelter, after which their data is entered into the database, from where the foster or adoptive family can choose them for family.

The process is almost similar to adoption, therefore, these forms are rather simplified forms of adoption than alternative forms of placement, since these forms are used as permanent forms of placement of the child, and not temporary. In this connection, this approach does not meet international standards for an alternative placement of children. In order to develop alternative forms of placement of children in Kazakhstan, it is necessary to finalize the country’s legislation taking into account the interests and rights of children, as well as to conduct full-fledged informational work with society to work out their motivation in the intention to take a child to the family so that not a child is for the family, but the family is for the child.

In general, measures to reduce the number of children in orphanages in Kazakhstan at the moment cannot be called effective due to the high percentage of return of children. According to the annual report of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Kazakhstan, in 2015, of 1107 children placed in families, 19% were returned to orphanages. In 2016, this percentage amounted to 26% of 734 placed in a foster family.[20] Over the past few years, training services for potential parents of alternative families of all forms: adoption, guardianship, foster or adoptive care, have been provided mainly by non-governmental organizations. The social movement “Child must live in the family”, the SOS “Children’s Village”, the Institution “Kovcheg” and others are conducting pilot projects to transform orphanages. The success of the “School of Foster Parents” project, which currently does not have a state-approved curriculum, nevertheless convinced government agencies that such schools were necessary.

From July 1, 2020, it will be necessary in Kazakhstan to have a certificate of psychological training for all forms of placement in the family, except for guardianship.[21] Also from July 1, 2020, Kazakhstan will begin work on the accreditation of adoption agencies and organizations to assist in the placement of orphans, children left without parental care, in the families of citizens of Kazakhstan.[22] Legalization of the work of NGOs in placing children in families is a positive result of the joint work of the state and the non-governmental sector. If we single out individuals, then the practice, promise and methodology was laid down by the team of volunteers of the social movement “The child must live in the family” led by Sholpan Baibolova.[23] Later work in this direction was continued by “Ana Yi” (translated as house for mother) Public Fund led by Aydin Rakhimbayev.[24] It was with his proposal in November 2018 that the initiative to create national agencies for placing children in families at the expense of the non-governmental sector was approved by the President of the country, and in December 2019 the corresponding amendments were made to the legislation. From this we can conclude that the state delegated part of its work to the non-governmental sector. Only time will tell whether it was a correct decision or not.

Conclusions and recommendations

The analysis shows that orphanages do not protect the interests of the child, since children and teenagers do not receive the necessary attention, have developmental delays, often become victims of violence (physical, sexual and psychological), develop a consumer attitude to life and are not able to find themselves in society. However, the rejection of such institutions should have a clear plan focused on the observance of the interests and rights of the child, as well as the financial and human resources that need to be formed in Kazakhstan.

As we see today, Kazakhstan is focused on closing orphanages as such, but not on preventing children from getting there in the long run. The current system for protecting children’s rights serves the interests of those who need to report on the reduction in the number of children in orphanages and the orphanages themselves. The state should move away from lobbying for the interests of the state system and study the interests of children and put them in priority, as it is required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Simply put, first of all, it is necessary to ask the children what they want and put their opinions and desires in the forefront. Unfortunately, the authorities concerned about children who suffer from this approach in the last turn.

As the analysis showed, the richest state in the Central Asian region lacks the means to transform and develop alternative forms of placing children and providing related services. It is not known where the multimillion budgets of closed orphanages and those in process of closure go. Logically, they should be reoriented to the development of new social services that help prevent the separation of the child from the birth family, the placement of the child in an alternative family, and the creation of family-type orphanages.

However, observations show a different approach to the de-institutionalization of children in Kazakhstan. State functions are transferred to the non-governmental sector. At the moment, it is not yet clear how and at whose expense adoption agencies and organizations will assist in the placement of orphans, children left without parental care in families of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is hoped that the interests and rights of children will be respected, while relations and work will not be built as it is in business environment, which comes from the founder of the first national adoption agency (not yet accredited).


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 donor.


Cover photo: Danil Usmanov / Kloop.kg

[1] Tengrinews.kz, Meyirim Smayil, “There should be no orphanages in Kazakhstan”, news, November 28, 2018, < https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/detskih-domov-ne-doljno-byit-v- kazahstane-nazarbaev-358559 / >; Kazaifrom, Damir Baymanov, “There should be no orphanages in Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazarbayev”, news, February 27, 2019, < https://www.inform.kz/ru/v-kazahstane-ne-dolzhno-byt-detskih- domov-nursultan-nazarbaev_a3502563 >.

[2] National collection “Statistics of the education system of the Republic of Kazakhstan” – (JSC “Information and Analytical Center”: Astana, 2019) 231-235.

[3] Nurgul Elisinova, “Scientific justification of preventive measures for social orphanhood and its consequences, taking into account age-related characteristics and quality of life of children” (doctoral dissertation, Semey, State Medical University, 2013); Jean-Claude Legrand, ‘Child care system reforms in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia: Why there is a need to focus on children below three years’ (2015) 15 Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies 2; Mary O Hearst and others, ‘Growth, nutritional, and developmental status of young children living in orphanages in Kazakhstan’ (2014) 35 Infant mental health journal 94; Roza Alimbayeva and others, ‘Psychological peculiarities of the professional self-determination of social orphans in senior adolescence’ (2018) International Journal of Adolescence and Youth 1; Maria G Kroupina and others, ‘Predictors of developmental status in young children living in institutional care in Kazakhstan’ (2015) 19 Maternal and child health journal 1408.

[4] UNICEF in Kazakhstan, Robin Haarr, Violence against Children in Boarding Facilities in Kazakhstan: Assessment, 2011< https://www.unicef.org/kazakhstan/sites/unicef.org.kazakhstan/files/2018-07/00000544.pdf >; Radio Azattyk, Svetlana Glushkova, “Every second child in orphanages in Kazakhstan is subjected to violence”, news, May 27, 2011, < https://rus.azattyq.org/a/orphan_children_violence/24207076.html >

[5] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, preamble.

[6] Public Fund Kaysar, ‘Monitoring the implementation of the rights of graduates of boarding schools to work and provide housing for the prevention of human trafficking (2017) 

[7] Public Fund Kaysar, ‘Monitoring the implementation of the rights of graduates of boarding schools to work and provide housing for the prevention of human trafficking (2017) 

[8] Bazmukhambetova A, “Each boarding school student costs the state 2.1 million tenge per year” Z akon.kz (February 28, 2013) <https://www.zakon.kz/4544037-kazhdyjj-vospitannik-internata.html > access September 5, 2018

[9] Evgenia Bodrova, “A child must live in a family!” – a civil forum started in Astana. ‘, News, February 28, 2013, < https://www.ktk.kz/ru/news/video/2013/02/28/21529/ >.

[10] German Pyatov, “Nursing on Orphans,” newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, No. 27407 of June 1, 2017.

[11] Guri Shedin, “Together with UNICEF,” Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper (August 12, 2019) < https://www.kazpravda.kz/fresh/view/sovmestno-s-unisef1 > access February 7, 2020; UNICEF, ‘In the capital, they discussed the introduction of an integrated model of targeted social assistance “Benefit +” (Posobie+)

 (press release, August 8, 2019), < https://www.unicef.org/kazakhstan/ Press releases / in-capital-discussed-implementation-integrated-model-rendering-targeted-social-access> February 7, 2020; Alena Smirnova, ‘The Onege Project: Conscious Parenthood and a Happy Childhood’ New Television (July 16, 2019) <http://novoetv.kz/2019/07/proekt-onege-osoznannoe-roditelstvo-i-schastlivoe-detstvo/> Access October 14, 2019.

[12] UNICEF in Kazakhstan, Caroline Hamilton, and Jonathan Watkins, “Modeling an Integrated Social Protection System for Children in Kazakhstan,” 2011,

<https://www.unicef.org/kazakhstan/sites/unicef.org.kazakhstan/files/2018-07/554753f91e5ad_en.pdf>.

[13] UN Guidelines on Alternative Child Care adopted by the UN General Assembly on February 24, 2010 (A / RES / 64/142), paragraph 39.

[14] Dzhandosova JS, Sharipbaeva AE, Kudasheva TV, Nikolaev OV, Baitugelova NU, Dzhandosova FS, Smagulova ShK and others, Report on the situation of children in the Republic of Kazakhstan (Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan 2019) 135

[15] The concept of family and gender policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2030, approved by Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 6, 2016 No. 384.

[16] The action plan for the implementation of the Concept of family and gender policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2030 (the first stage of 2017 – 2019), approved by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated March 3, 2017 No. 106.                       

[17] The standard rules for the activities of Child Support Centers (Appendix 7), approved by Order of the Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated June 18, 2013 No. 229 On the approval of the standard rules for the activities of types of educational organizations for orphans and children left without parental care.

[18] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Seventieth session September 14 – October 2, 2015, List of issues in connection with the fourth periodic report of Kazakhstan (CRC / C / KAZ / Q / 4).

[19] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Children of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “Main Results in the Field of the Protection of Children’s Rights for the 1st half of 2018 and Priorities for Activities Until the End of 2018”.

[20] Report on the activities of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2017, 77, <https://ombudsman.kz/images/files/otchet2017.pdf>.

[21] Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 27, 2019 No. 292-VІ ЗРК On introducing amendments and addenda to some legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the improvement of criminal procedure legislation and strengthening the protection of personal rights

[22] The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 27, 2019 No. 292-VІ ЗРК On introducing amendments and addenda to some legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on improving criminal procedure legislation and strengthening the protection of personal rights; Zhadra Zhulmukhametova , ‘The agency for the adoption of children and adoptive school have been legalized. How it will work ‘, Infromburo.kz (February 12, 2020) < https://informburo.kz/stati/agentstvo-po-usynovleniyu-detey-i-shkoly-priyomnyh-roditeley-uzakonili-kak-eto-budet-rabotat .html > accessed May 09, 2020.

[23] The public movement “The child must live in the family”, < http://happychild.kz/ > access May 12, 2020

[24] Public Foundation “ANA UYI”, < http://www.dom-mamy.kz/o-fonde/ > access May 12, 2020.

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