Kyrgyzstan: Children with Nowhere to Go

The Kyrgyz authorities are turning a blind eye to the increasing number of street children in the southern city of Jalalabad.

Kyrgyzstan: Children with Nowhere to Go

The Kyrgyz authorities are turning a blind eye to the increasing number of street children in the southern city of Jalalabad.

One night, just before New Year, Slava Radnikov went door to door down the streets of the southern Kyrgyz town of Jalal-Abad pleading with owners to give him shelter for the night.

The nine-year-old was turned away every time. Then he was spotted by Chinara Akmatova, a women's rights worker, who remembers thinking how poorly dressed he was on such a cold night.

Slava then told her how he came to be there. His parents, he said, had tried to put him into an orphanage in his home village, complaining that they couldn't afford to look after him. When he had been refused, they tried to palm him off at the local police station but were turned away again.

At this point, Slava says, his mother and father just abandoned him before leaving for Russia with his youngest sister.

Akmatova fed the boy and put him up for the night. Then she set about tracking down an agency which could provide help for him. Her first port of call was the town council where she met with Kubat Mamatkulov, chairman of the committee dealing with minors.

"I told Kubat his story," Akmatova said, "but he said that since the boy's parents currently live in Russia, taking care of him was not his responsibility."

She went next to the juvenile offender's division at the city police who told her that they knew of Slava since he had been caught stealing an umbrella. However, they also were unable to do anything for him.

Chief of Jalalabad's police force Sheker Eshbaev said that his department simply couldn't cope with the number of street kids who passed through its doors. It was wrong, he said, that the police should be held solely responsible for the problem of homelessness.

Akmatova was then pointed in the direction of an orphanage in the city centre. "When we arrived, the director of the children's home Rysbek Kochobaev started whining that he didn't get any financial assistance for the home," she said.

It was made pretty clear that he didn't want to take Slava in but with some persistence and a call to the police to verify he had been sent by them he caved in. Slava was the only child there.

A few days later, Aidai Mamatova, one of the teachers at the orphanage, agreed to look after him. "It's very cold in the orphanage - it's simply impossible to live there, especially, since he would have been alone there. So I took him home. He will be warmer here and he can spend time with my son," she explained.

Slava is just one of 140 children officially registered in Jalal-Abad although the true number is much higher.

The problem drew the attention of human rights activist Abdumalik Sharipov who made a documentary about the children for the local television station in Jalal-Abad. It presented a bleak and disturbing picture of this juvenile underclass. One 14-year-old girl he interviewed described how she had been forced into prostitution in order to eat.

However shocking, the programme failed to elicit any sort of response from the authorities. "Perhaps, they have other more important issues to tackle rather than homeless children," said Shapirov with some bitterness.

He pointed out that the state was failing to live up to the Convention on Children's Rights which the country had signed and that anything the authorities did say on the issue was bluster.

Orphanages are often empty as children unused to any discipline after living on the streets find it impossible to adapt.

"Having slept, eaten and played with the toys, many children go back to the markets and stations," said Eshenbaev. " They are more comfortable there. The children need experienced psychologists who can convince them that real life is not on the street."

With the lack of such professional attention and a general apathy about their plight, the number of street children is growing daily. But without the intervention of the Kyrgyz government, boys and girls not so lucky as Slava look set to remain out in the cold for some time yet.

Ulugbek Babakulov is an IWPR contributor

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