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What Is Harassment and How Is It Punished in Central Asia?

In recent years, the term ‘sexual harassment’ and associated scandals frequently appear in media. For Central Asia, the term is relatively new, but this does not mean that there is no harassment in the countries of the region.

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We discussed the topic of harassment with the expert on gender violence and gender equality, the founder of the SVET public fund Moldir Alban.

What is harassment?

Harassment means offence. However, this term is much broader in reality.

Harassment is a violation of personal boundaries and subordination, sexual harassment, humiliation and violation of privacy.

What exactly can be considered as harassment?

It can be both physical (unwanted touching, kissing, hugging, pinching) or verbal (vulgar or offensive compliments, ambiguous implications of sexual intercourse, etc.).

Thus, is it just words and touches?

Not really. Unwanted calls, vulgar gestures, insults, sexual abuse, stalking, whistling, and shouting in the street can also be considered as harassment.

Where can it happen?

Almost everywhere: at work, on the street, in an institution, restaurant, etc. It is not limited to specific locations.

Harassment is about power. Therefore, harassment often occurs in situations where one person depends on another: a manager and a subordinate, a teacher and a student, a train conductor and a passenger, or a taxi driver and a passenger.

Due to the increased number of harassment cases at work, the UN International Labour Organization adopted a convention to combat harassment in the workplace.

Can harassment happen on the street as well?

Yes. This is called ‘catcalling’. You, probably, heard or saw such situations when men whistle to girls, compliment them about their sexuality or shout out their sexual fantasies. All these situations are considered as catcalling.

How do I know if I am being harassed?

It is important to remember that harassment is a psychological attack. If you feel uncomfortable with unwanted compliments or your boss’s suggestions to have dinner together, chances are high that this is harassment.

Is harassment only about sex?

No, not only. It can include derogatory statements, in regular hostile and offensive comments about your views, and even when you are forced to participate in religious activities that do not comply with your beliefs.

People can also be harassed because of the sexual orientation or gender identity, ethnicity, race, physical ability, or other characteristics. If you regularly endure hate speech, derogatory jokes, or even threats of physical harm, this is also harassment.

It may be similar to bullying, but the difference is that bullying is an act of aggression for no particular reason. Harassment is a form of discrimination, that is, the abuser considers the victim to be worse, because she or he has a different gender, skin colour, religion, etc.

Is harassment punished in Central Asia?


Unfortunately, there is no such term as ‘harassment’ in the legislation of the Central Asian countries. The law does not regulate such violations, and there is no criminal liability for harassment either. Most often, such actions are defined as “petty hooliganism” and regulated by the Administrative Code.

The punishment for it:

  • in Kazakhstan: a fine of 5 monthly indicators for calculations ($32.5) or arrest for 10 days;
  • in Kyrgyzstan: a fine of 15 indicators for calculations ($18) with community service or arrest for 5 days;
  • in Tajikistan: a fine from 7 to 10 indicators for calculations (from $39 to $56) or arrest from 5 to 15 days;
  • in Uzbekistan: a fine from 3 to 5 indicators for calculations (from $64.62 to $108) or arrest up to 15 days.

Sexual harassment is regulated by the Criminal Code:

  • in Kazakhstan: Article 123 of the Penal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Coercion to Sexual Relationship, Pederasty, Lesbianism or Other Actions of Sexual Nature”. The punishment is a fine of up to 3000 monthly indicators for calculations ($19,517) or correctional works equal to the same amount, or imprisonment for up to 3 years;
  • In Kyrgyzstan: Article 163 of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic “Coercion to Sexual Actions”. The punishment is deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities from 4 to 5 years, or correctional works from 2.5 to 3 years, or a fine from 2200 to 2600 indicators for calculations (from $2,709 to $3,202), or imprisonment up to 2.5 years;
  • in Tajikistan: Article 140 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan “Coercion to Sexual Actions”. The punishment is a fine in the amount of 500 to 700 indicators for calculations (from $2,815 to $3,941), correctional works for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to two years;
  • in Uzbekistan: Article 121 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan “Coercion of Woman to Sexual Intercourse”. The punishment is compulsory community service up to 300 hours or correctional works up to two years. If the crime led to sexual intercourse, it is the community service from 300 to 480 hours, or correctional works from two to three years, or restriction of liberty from three to five years, or imprisonment from three to five years.
What should I do if I am harassed at my workplace, but afraid to lose my job?

In this case, you can file a complaint to the HR department. Then, the company should conduct an internal investigation.

In addition, you can find witnesses and collect evidence independently before it disappears: videos from surveillance cameras where the incident took place, screenshots of private messages with sexual comments. The proof can also be your psychological condition: the results of examination by a psychologist.

In such a case, it is better to find the support of a competent lawyer.

Are there any examples when abusers were punished for sexual harassment?

Yes, such case occurred in Kazakhstan, in Pertsovka village of Kostanay region. Anna Belousova, 35, worked as a cloakroom attendant at a local school and, according to her, has repeatedly received offers of a sexual nature from the school principal. If she would refuse, he demanded 10 thousand tenge ($23.37), while her salary was 15 thousand tenge ($35).

She was fired later, and contacted the city education department and the police. However, they did not find the body of a crime in her case. At the same time, the school principal sued her for slander and won: Anna Belousova was ordered to make a public apology.

In 2012, she addressed the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Three years later, the Committee made a decision in her favour and called on the Kazakh authorities to provide Anna Belousova with “adequate financial compensation for moral and financial damage caused by the violation of her rights”.

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