“When I learned from my daughter that our 65-year-old neighbour took her to the basement and committed improprieties, I could no longer stand it. I took my daughter by the hand and together we went to the department of internal affairs to file an accusation complaint”. This is the story of a father, who told how his minor daughter became a victim of a sexual abuse by a neighbour. The daughter of this man is one of dozens of children who, according to their parents, were victims of sexual abuse, which will haunt the victims with the negative consequences for the rest of their lives.
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Our journalistic investigation revealed that minors in Tajikistan are vulnerable not only in terms of sexual violence, but also to many other forms of abuse – the protection of their rights is still far from great. One of the serious problems in the protection of the rights of minors subjected to sexual violence is the intention of the society to leave such cases in silence. According to psychologists, for avoiding the transformation of girls sexually abused or harassed into outcasts and “disgraced”, the cases of sexual abuse are concealed in Tajik society.
“When My Daughter Told How He Took Her to the Basement …”
There are many cases of rape of or improprieties against minors in Tajikistan; we decided to fully cover one of them to reflect the problems.
For almost half a year, the parents of A have been trying to bring the offender of their minor daughter to justice. The name of the child, her parents and the suspected man, former judge, are well documented. However, their names will not be disclosed for ethical reasons, and due to the fact that the case is heard in court behind closed doors.
The affected girl (we will continue to refer to her as to A for ethical reasons) has been depressed since June 2019. This was disclosed by parents of A.
“She used to be a calm girl, she spent her days playing with her friends, just like all her peers,” the parents say. N. M., the father of our minor heroine, says that the suspected man, a former judge, lives with them in the same multi-storey block building. He learned that his daughter was subject to abuse by the neighbour on many occasions in the period of March – June only after four months passed.
N.M. heard a continuation of the story when his daughter told it to police officers. According to the girl’s father, she was subject to sexual abuse more than five times.
Our investigation into the circumstances of the incident with A was conducted based on the case files and conversations with relatives of both parties. The investigation materials indicate that the 65-year-old suspect sexually abused a minor several times in the basement of his house. The suspect is accused of committing improprieties against A “when family members were absent in the apartment”.
The suspect himself, charged with sexual assault on a minor, is in a pre-trial detention centre; for this reason, the journalist could not get an access to him.
It is known that the suspect does not admit guilt. His family members categorically refused to talk to us on this topic.
The suspect’s wife, a lawyer by training, during interrogations said that the circumstances described by minor A could be fictitious. Relatives of the suspect raised a question in why did A come to them without fear if she was subject to improprieties on the part of the father of their family.
The case of a sexual abuse of minor A is now heard for the second time in a court of Dushanbe Firdavsi district. First time, the court began case hearing in September and even held several hearing sessions. However, according to the father of a minor, after media covered the case, the court sent the case to the Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office. The victim’s father complained that the charge against the suspect was then changed.
N.M. says that at the beginning, on the basis of his filed statement dated June 25, 2019, a criminal case was opened under Article 139 Part 4, Paragraph “A” of the Criminal Code or “forcible actions of sexual character committed in regard to a person at the age under 14 years old.” The sanction for the crime under this article involves imprisonment for a term of 15 to 20 years. However, according to the girl’s father, having received the case from the Firdavsi District Prosecutor’s Office, Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office re-qualified the case to be heard under the Article 142 Part 2, Paragraph “D”. Under a new charge for “debauched actions committed a person at the age under 14 years old”, the sanction involves an imprisonment for a term of only 2 to 5 years, despite the fact that under the first charge the suspect was facing a term of 15 to 20 years.
Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office, which investigated the case, refrained from commenting. On October 17, 2019, we sent a request to Khairullo Saidzoda, the Prosecutor of Dushanbe, asking him to answer our questions in the case of assault against minor A. In particular, we wanted him to clarify whether the charge against the suspect was changed from Article 139, Part 4 to Article 142, Part 2, Paragraph “D”. If this was the case, then what was the basis for such a decision?
Over the past three weeks, Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office refrained from commenting on our request. The response of Prosecutor’s Office, signed by Ja’fari N., investigator of the Department of Investigation of Particularly Important Crimes of the Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office, says:
“After the preliminary investigation and confirmation of the indictment for consideration as the criminal case, the criminal case against A. P. was sent to Dushanbe Firdavsi District Court. For this reason, for information on this criminal case, we ask you to contact the Dushanbe Firdavsi District Court.”
However, the indictment of the Dushanbe Prosecutor’s Office dated August 20, 2019 on this case indicates that the actions of the suspected man demonstrate signs of a crime under Article 139 of the Criminal Code or “forcible actions of sexual character committed in regard to a person at the age under 14 years old”.
On December 6, 2019, two months after the first conversation with us, the minor’s father told us that after the case was returned to the Prosecutor’s Office again, the Article was changed from 142 to 139 once more.
This case was sent again to the Dushanbe court. On December 6, 2019, the court representatives confirmed they received a criminal case on sexual abuse of an underage A again. However, the judge on this case told us that he would not provide any information on the case and would not let us to attend a hearing session. According to the judge, to protect the rights of the minor, the trial will be held behind closed doors and only persons related to it will be allowed to attend.
After the media coverage, the case of a minor A attracted the attention of the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child, who says she is following the progress. Responding to our query, the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child Rajabmo Habibullozoda noted that at the request of the parents of the minor, the employee of her office takes part in court hearings. The Commissioner stated that her agency’s staff cannot intervene into the investigation or hearings, however, the parents of the underage girl may file a complaint.
The case is currently pending before the Firdavsi District Court and the court will issue a verdict. We have no right to accuse the suspect, but our investigation, the findings of psychologists and investigators indicate that the minor A was sexually assaulted. However, it is the court that will finally determine who exactly is guilty of this crime.
“Teacher Imprisoned for 17.5 Years on Such a Charge”
The case of a minor A is not the only case of improprieties committed against minors in Tajikistan. Before this incident, several people were detained and convicted on charges of sexual violence against minors.
Thus, a teacher from the city of Norak was sentenced to 17.5 years in October 2019 on charges of “forcible actions of sexual character” against his student. Despite this, in an interview with Radio Ozodi, the teachers close to him called the accusation unsubstantiated and stated that the congratulation this teacher gave to his student was the reason for accusation. The children of teacher Mirzokhon Aliyev told Radio Ozodi that their father was the victim of slander and the court should reconsider its decision. “They say that the accusationы began in April of this year, when Mirzokhon Aliyev, after the victory of his student in a chess tournament, shook her hand and allegedly kissed her,” the source said.
On November 21, 2019, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan reported of the detention of a man accused of raping an 8-year-old child. According to the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ramazon Salimov, the 38-year-old amnestied resident of the Vakhsh district was detained on charges of raping a minor child. The investigation accuses Salimov of that having noticed a minor child grazing the livestock on the territory of the Rudaki district of the Vakhsh region, he tricked him into a nearby thicket and committed improprieties. Ramazon Salimov’s point of view on this issue has not been presented, and therefore it is not known to what extent he agrees with the indictment.
“If I Openly Say About It, No One Will Marry Her”
The issue of sexual violence against minors is sensitive in Tajik society. Cases of rape and sexual abuse of minors in Tajikistan are poorly covered in the media.
It is a month since we sent the request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan, but we have not yet receive a response. The representatives of the MIA said the answer is not yet ready. It is important to bear in mind the law establishes that a response to a request should be provided as soon as possible, but no more than 30 calendar days from the date of its receipt. If the requested information cannot be provided within the specified time, a written notice on the postponement of the response should be sent to those who have requested information within seven working days after receiving the request. The notice must indicate the reasons for the delay and the deadline for providing the requested information, which cannot exceed fifteen calendar days in excess of the deadline for the response established by the Law of the Republic of Tajikistan “On the Right to Access to Information” (Article 13).
However, according to the people familiar with the situation, it is impossible to evaluate the situation with sexual violence against minors only based on official statistics. Since, psychologists say, in Tajik society, some parents try to hide such facts.
Nargis Toymastova, psychologist at the “ABC of Personality” Centre, provides psychological assistance to citizens. “In rural areas, this problem is more acute. Because in the village, everyone knows each other. They probably live in such conditions when, according to established practice, after reaching the full legal age, no one marries such people. Of course, we cannot force our parents to do something specific; we only recommend that they contact the appropriate authorities. Anyone who has committed a sexual offense against a minor may repeat these actions against another person down the road,” says the psychologist.
The psychologist notes that people in Tajikistan try to hide sexual violence against minors. It is very difficult to prove the fact and persuade parents to turn to law enforcement agencies, because, according to Nargis Toymastova, parents are afraid that if they openly talk about such cases, their children will become social outcasts.
Toymastova says that in some cases, improprieties are committed by men who themselves became victims in childhood. In such situations, according to the psychologist, such persons avenge minors for their grievances.
“Another reason is that tricking children is easier. There are those who are sick with paedophilia and want to have contact with children. It is likely that they themselves became a victim of sexual violence in childhood and therefore have mental health problems. Sometimes they do not realize the seriousness of the situation. They see something that becomes an incitement to impropriety,” says the psychologist.
Lawyer: “The Law Must Be Amended”
Gulchehra Rakhmonova, the head of the “Legal Initiative” Public Foundation, which monitored several cases involving minors, says the Criminal Procedure Code provides for a special procedure in interrogating minor victims and witnesses during the preliminary investigation and in court.
Ms. Rakhmonova added that “the state guarantee of the provision of free legal aid, mentioned in the Law “On the Protection of the Rights of Children”, applies only to orphans and children without care. Tajikistan has a special law aimed at protecting participants in criminal proceedings. However, unfortunately, the measures provided for in this law, in most cases, are aimed at protecting adults and are not adapted to protect juvenile victims and witnesses of crimes taking into account the interests and needs of children.”
According to Gulchekhra Rakhmonova, if these legislative problems are addressed, it is likely that there will be improvements in the protection of minors who faced abuse.
Having recognized two international documents on the prevention of sexual violence against minors, Tajikistan took a responsibility to comply with their provisions. These documents are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
In particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the state is committed to “protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse”.
Our journalistic investigation determined that minors are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Children left unattended, deceived, by force or in other ways, become victims of sexual violence. Disclosing that a child has been the victim of rape or indecent assault can turn him/her and his/her parents into outcasts in a traditional Tajik society. This is despite the fact that children are victims of violence against their will.
In Tajikistan, the explanatory work to keep the parents free of a fear to reveal the cases of sexual violence their children faced, is not adjusted well. As a last resort, the parents should be explained that if their child has been subject to sexual misconduct or abuse, they should contact the law enforcement authorities.
This article was 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 or donor.