Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kyrgyzstan: Few Choices Amid Rising Abuse
(Photo: RFE/RL Kyrgyzstan)
Meerim (not her real name), a 24-year-old mother of two small children, was hospitalised in Bishkek with concussion and bruising after being beaten by her husband.
This was not the first time he had assaulted her, but she had never filed a formal complaint against him before. On April 27, he beat her so badly that she asked neighbours for help and they called the police. And this time, she made a statement to officers, who referred her to a crisis centre.
But amid the state of emergency imposed in Kyrgyzstan due to the Covid-19 crisis, her choices are now limited.
Tolkun Tyulekova, chair of the Association of Crisis Centres, said that Meerim will be soon discharged from the hospital and provided with temporary shelter, along with her children. With services under immense pressure due to the crisis, no one knows where she can go afterwards.
“Now her relatives are coercing her,” Tyulekova said. “She filed a police statement against her husband, but her relatives want her to withdraw it. They threaten her they will not help her if she gets divorced.”
As in many other places around the world, cases of domestic violence have soared in Kyrgyzstan since the state of emergency began, exacerbated by lockdown measures, economic problems and social uncertainty. A strict curfew imposed on March 25 lasted until May 10, and although this has now been relaxed many restrictions have been extended indefinitely.
According to the ministry of interior affairs, law enforcement bodies registered 2,319 cases of domestic violence between January to March 2020; 65 per cent more than in the same period last year.
Bishkek police commandant Almaz Orozaliev told reporters on April 24 that 162 cases of domestic violence had been reported in the capital between March 24 and April 24, compared to 100 in the same period last year.
“The state of emergency has worsened the situation,” Tyulekova said. “People who lost their daily income were left without any means of support, which aggravated family relations and gave rise to domestic violence.”
She said that crisis centres had received nearly 700 calls from victims of domestic violence during just one month of lockdown, most of them from those who simply needed food for themselves and their family.
“Then there were the people who suffered distress and anxiety because of the lockdown,” she continued. “These were mainly those people who were left without work during this period. Then followed calls regarding domestic violence,” Tyulekova said.
Although there are five crisis centres operating under the remit of the ministry of labour and social development, the state of emergency has prevented people from physically accessing them Staff work remotely, providing psychological and legal aid by phone.
“The lockdown limited our capacities and we cannot receive citizens and provide them with shelter as they need to meet certain health requirements,” Tyulekova said. “Crisis centres were not ready for such an emergency as the state procurement funds are not intended for the procurement of antiseptics to those in shelter.”
Instead, crisis centres have helped those in need find temporary housing in rented or donated accommodation. Demand has outstripped supply; since the beginning of the lockdown in Bishkek, just five women and their children were provided with lodging. Others in distress were given no choice but to return to their families.
The Ak Zhurok crisis centre in Osh hosted eight women before the lockdown. Since the closure began, 16 women, including four minors, asked for refuge there.
“During the lockdown, we could neither receive them nor send them home,” Tyulekova said. “Crisis centres received these women and helped them return to their relatives.”
According to Aliza Soltonbekova, the deputy head of the ministry of labour and social development, crisis centres had to close so that new guests would not threaten the health of those already there.
“Therefore, we will temporarily place the victims of domestic violence, if necessary, in safe places where they can get psychological, medical and legal aid,” Soltonbekova told AKIpress.
On March 16, the government announced it would create a group to coordinate the emergency response to aspects of the crisis including child protection and gender-based violence.
At the moment, official advice is for women who feel there is a threat to their life to leave their house and ask neighbours or relatives for help, call the police or a helpline.
Lawmaker Gulshat Aslbaeva, arguing that these measures were insufficient, submitted a draft law that would see measures including perpetrators of placed in administrative detention for 15 days and paying a significant fine.
The bill is currently under discussion and needs to pass three readings and be signed into law by the president before it can be enacted.
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