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

Kazak Domestic Abuse Law Slow to Take Root

More needs to be done to ensure government agencies work together to enforce legislation.
By Almaz Rysaliev

Implementation of a domestic violence law passed in Kazakstan last year has been patchy, with some state institutions doing more than others to enforce it. 

There have been improvements in the way the police handle such cases, with more restraining orders issued to protect victims.

But women’s rights groups say the government has been slow to fund the crisis centres envisaged in the law, which provide refuge to victims of domestic abuse and offer them psychological help and legal advice.

Before the law was enacted in January 2010, Kazakstan lacked effective mechanisms for addressing violence in the home. The legislation contains a clear definition of what constitutes domestic violence, describes how cases should be prosecuted, and provides guidelines for how the state should try to prevent them happening.

Roza Bekisheva, chief inspector with the domestic violence unit of Kazakstan’s interior ministry, which controls the police, says a great deal of progress has been made.

Restraining orders came into force in May last year, and some 40,000 have been issued since then, in most cases proving effective, Bekisheva said.

The orders are for ten days’ duration and offenders can be jailed for ten days or fined the equivalent of 50 US dollars if they contact their partner, even by phone. Police can also place offenders on a register, issue warnings, detain them, and impose other restrictions including on travel.

A hotline for domestic violence victims is being piloted in the capital Astana and will be rolled out across the country.

In terms of training, Bekisheva said, “We in the interior ministry have put together a manual and sent it out to law-enforcement personnel in every region, so that the police know what course of action they need to take in domestic violence cases.”

Bekisheva noted that other sections of the law fell to the ministries of justice and of labour and welfare to implement, and they were still developing their plans to support crisis centres.

The arrival of the domestic violence law was hailed by non-government groups which had struggled to keep crisis centres open with donor money.

Nadezhda Gladyr, head of the Podruga centre in Almaty, said many of the 21 operating across Kazakstan were experiencing difficulties as their foreign funding dried up.

The Podruga centre has helped thousands of victims of domestic violence over its 13-year existence. According to Gladyr, cases typically involve married women aged from 20 to 40.

The law now requires local government to fund crisis centres, but according to Gladyr, “not one of the [existing] centres is a state institution. Neither national nor local budgets have set aside funds to establish them.”

She argues that there is nothing on paper to say how the law should be translated into actions by the various state agencies concerned, and that until such an action plan is produced, “local authorities and other agencies like law-enforcement, women’s commissions, and NGOs cannot start actively engaging in implementing the law”.

Irina Unjakova, a member of the official National Commission for Women’s Affairs and for Family and Demographic Policy, agreed coordination among various government agencies was inadequate, which sometimes led to the system of protections breaking down.

Many victims are too fearful to make a statement to the police, and this makes it extremely difficult to bring cases to court.

“If police bring a husband who’s been violent to the [police] station and place him in detention, but the victim hasn’t filed a complaint, prosecutors can lodge a petition against their actions,” Unjakova said.

Unjakova said the domestic violence law itself needed to be amended in some areas. While it provided a good definition of domestic violence, the system for deciding how to proceed against alleged perpetrators was so convoluted that it was difficult to follow it through.

Bekisheva said the interior ministry’s domestic violence specialists were planning to mount a joint campaign with local government education and welfare departments later this year. The awareness campaign, called Families Without Violence, will include public meetings and practical measure such as providing jobs or financial assistance to victims.

Encouraging victims to seek out the assistance available to them will take time. Many women are still reluctant to air their problems in public, and therefore avoid applying for restraining orders and the like.

IWPR spoke to a 36-year-old mother of two in Almaty who described a pattern of attacks by her husband.

“My husband beats me up when he gets drunk,” the woman, who gave her name as Inna, said. “When he’s sober, he is an exemplary husband and father. As soon as he meets up with his friends and starts drinking, everything changes.”

Inna described the effects that her husband’s violent behaviour had on their seven-year old daughter and five-year old son.

“When he comes homes drunk, which can be at three in the morning, and starts acting violently, they cry. They huddle together in the corner and ask their father not to beat me. I feel sorry for them,” she said.

Despite this, Inna said she did not feel she needed psychological or legal assistance, and would not turn to a crisis centre or to the police. She did not want her troubles to be made public, and did not trust outsiders to address the basic problem – her husband’s drinking.

“My husband doesn’t drink so often that things become unbearable and I need to take radical steps,” she said.

Not did she want her husband to be placed in detention.

“That would only make things worse for my children and me,” she said. “I really haven’t anywhere to go. Where would I go? All my relatives have their own families, so how could I move in with them.

“In the end, the children need their father. I’ve got used to it.”

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.