Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: Apr/May '11

IWPR round table spurs officials to consider development of a national plan to address the problem.
By Saule Mukhametrakhimova
  • IWPR-supported round table on preventing suicide in the Kazak capital Astana. (Photo: Institute for Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities)
    IWPR-supported round table on preventing suicide in the Kazak capital Astana. (Photo: Institute for Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities)

A round table on the prevention of teenage suicide in Kazakstan, which was jointly organised by IWPR, and inspired by one of its report on the subject, has prompted the authorities into action.

The June 7 event - which was organised by IWPR, the Institute for Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities and the ministry of education and science - brought together rights activists, ministry officials, psychologists, doctors, parliamentary representatives and journalists.

Head of the Institute For Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities Margarita Uskembaeva said the idea for the debate came after she read an IWPR story on teenage suicide in Kazakstan, which has one of the highest rates in central and eastern Europe.

Publicity around the event and subsequent media coverage is said to have led to the Public Prosecution Service - which among other things is responsible for the protection of the rights of minors – issuing a statement that acknowledged the urgency and necessity of adopting a national plan for tackling teenage suicides.

Uskembaeva was subsequently invited to present her recommendations for legislation on addressing the problem to the National Commission for Women Affairs, Family and Demographic Policy.

In addition, on June 23, Prime Minister Karim Masimov tasked one of his deputies to come up with concrete measures aimed at preventing adolescent suicide, it was reported in the press.

The thrust of the IWPR-backed event was a debate about what long-term policies should be included into a national plan and how they should be implemented.

Addressing the conference, Uskembaeva said the extent and complexity of the problem requires a long-term strategy.

According to Uskembaeva, the government’s current efforts are too reactive and not sufficiently strategic, and only involve input from state bodies.

The national plan she is proposing is about drawing on a diverse range of opinion, from the likes of civil society activists and independent experts. Moreover, it puts an emphasis on transparency so that information from the national statistics agency concerning suicide is open and more easily available to the public. The national plan also envisages comprehensive research into the issue through the commission of studies and systematic public monitoring.

Round-table participant, Alexey Kildishov, an aide to parliamentarian Darya Klebanova, a member of the National Commission for Women Affairs, Family and Demographic Policy, agreed that a long-term strategy was critical. “I see a direct link between the necessity to [adopt] national programme and reducing suicide among children,” he said.

He offered to raise the proposal with Klebanova, who is a member of the ruling Nur Otan party and assist in preparing recommendations to parliament. 

Aina Shormanbaeva, head of NGO International Legal Initiative - who consulted organisers of the round table on legal aspects of a national programme - pointed at the importance of the move by the Public Prosecution Service.

“When government bodies are instructed [to tackle the issue], they will start acting upon,” AIna said.

Shormanbaeva said the debate had such an impact because of media publicity and the fact that this was the first event of its kind to bring together all the parties concerned with the problem.

“Media coverage triggered reaction from the civil society [which in turn] brought response from government agencies,” Shormanbaeva said.

Another contribution of the round table was in reinforcing the emerging consensus that suicidal tendencies are not confined to people who have a predisposition to mental health problems.

Referring to speeches by medical professionals at the debate, the head of the Foundation for the Development of Parliamentarianism, Zauresh Battalova, noted that perfectly healthy people can also fall victim to suicidal tendencies.

Moreover, a notion was put forward to extend the list of factors that might trigger suicide attempts by children affected by their family’s economic problems. 

Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor in London.