A typical Kazakh household is made up of a married couple, their unmarried children and elderly parents. Traditionally, when a son was married his father gave him livestock and he went on to establish a new household. The youngest son traditionally was not given livestock. He was expected to take care of his elderly parents and was the heir to the ancestral hearth.

Large extended families were common among settled and semi-nomadic families. These were usually comprised of an elderly man, his wife and their unmarried children and their married children, their spouses and children, and families of married brothers. When the elder male died, the married brothers were expect to take care of themselves and their married daughters were supposed to live with the families of their father.

Sons were expected to keep close ties with their parents even if they established a household of their own. For example, they were expected to return home and help with certain chores such as pasturing the livestock, shearing the sheep and preparing felt. The family-kin group, defined by sons of one father, were expected to help defend their parents camp from intruders. There are many stories of such groups in Kazakh literature.

Close kin relations were counted back seven generations. Men in such a kinship group are not allowed to marry women within the same group. One Kazakh told National Geographic, “If a man cannot name his ancestors for seven generations, he is no Kazakh.” In the old days, knowing the background of potential a groom or bride was important on the open steppe too prevent inbreeding.

Traditionally men were in charge of taking care of the livestock, including the milking of the horses. Traditionally women were in charge of domestic chores, including erecting and dismantling the yurts. Young wives are expected to act modestly and deferentially to her husbands’ family. She may not address her husband’s family members by name and is expected to get out of the way when they pass by and jump to their orders. These customs continue today.

Women in Kazakhstan

Kazakh women are regarded as the freest and most confident in Central Asia. On the streets of Almaty you can see young Muslim women wearing tight jeans and revealing tops just like Russian women.

Like its 1993 predecessor, the constitution of 1995 defends women's rights implicitly, if not entirely explicitly. The document guarantees citizens the right to work and forbids discrimination based on geographic origin, gender, race, nationality, religious or political belief, and language.

In practice, social opinion tends to associate women in the workplace with the abuses of the Soviet past. The early 1990s saw the loss of more than 100,000 day-care spaces, and public opinion strongly favors returning primary responsibility for the rearing and educating of children to mothers. In April 1995, President Nazarbayev said that one of the republic's goals must be to create an economy in which a mother can work at home, raising her children. This general opinion has been reflected in governmental appointments and private enterprise; almost no women occupy senior positions in the country, either in government or in business. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics. As of September there were one female deputy prime minister, two female ministers, 28 female members of the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament), and three female senators. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Women's health issues have not been addressed effectively in Kazakhstan. Maternal mortality rates average 80 per 10,000 births for the entire country, but they are believed to be much higher in rural areas. Of the 4.2 million women of childbearing age, an estimated 15 percent have borne seven or more children. *

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination of Women in Kazakhstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law prohibits some forms of sexual harassment, but legal and gender experts regarded the legislation as inadequate. There were reports of incidents of harassment, but in no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The gender equality law prohibits discrimination based on gender. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing the legislation and asserted the definition of gender discrimination does not comply with international standards. *\

More women than men were self-employed or underemployed relative to their education level. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education, and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and property rights. According to the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law 2013 report, women in the country faced discrimination obtaining work in the same industries as men, and no laws protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace. *\

Rape and Domestic Violence in Kazakhstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under the law a procurator cannot initiate a rape case absent aggravating circumstances, such as gang rape, unless the victim files a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the criminal investigation cannot be dismissed if the rape victim recants or refuses to cooperate further with the investigation. This provision was intended to protect victims from coercion. There were anecdotal reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem. Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of the local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The criminal procedure code sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, which is the same as for any assault. *\

In February 2014, the president signed a law aimed at preventing and combating domestic violence and helping victims of domestic abuse. The law raises punishment for offenders, who can now be banned from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live; allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence; replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest because paying fines hurt victims as well as perpetrators. *\

NGOs maintained the domestic violence law does not have an effective mechanism for implementation. According to NGOs, domestic violence remained a serious problem. Although official statistics were scarce, activists estimated one in four families suffered from some form of domestic violence. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. According to NGO estimates, police investigated approximately 10 percent of such cases. *\

NGOs conducted training for police officers on how to handle victims of domestic violence. During the year the OSCE Center worked with the Interior Ministry to conduct five training seminars to increase the capacity of police inspectors of the ministry’s division in charge of women’s protection against violence. Another training goal was to enhance the knowledge and improve the skills of police to investigate and counter domestic violence. *\

NGOs reported women often withdrew their complaints because of economic insecurity. When victims pressed charges for domestic violence or spousal rape, police occasionally tried to persuade them not to pursue a case. When domestic violence cases came to trial, the charge was most often light battery, for which judges sentenced domestic abusers to incarceration at a minimum-security labor colony and 120 to 180 hours of work. Sentences for more serious cases of battery, including spousal battery, ranged from three months to three years of imprisonment; the maximum sentence for aggravated battery is 10 years’ imprisonment. *\

In 2013 the government stated 29 crisis centers assisted women and two centers assisted men, although NGOs reported the number of active centers was 20. All the crisis centers received funding through government and international grants to NGOs. A number of smaller NGOs assisted victims, and six of the crisis centers provided shelter for victims of violence. *\

Children in Kazakhstan

Great significance is attached to the birth and raising of children. A family without children, particularly sons, is regarded as incomplete. There are many customs and ceremonies associated with the birth of children and protection for them. Pregnant women are expected to wear amulets to protect them from the evil eye; live in a house with no weapons, wolf teeth, or eagle talons present; and observe a number of taboos. She can not eat camel meat because it was thought that that would extend her pregnancy to 12 months, the same as a camel. She could not step the pole used to support a yurt out of fear that if she did her child would get tangled in her umbilical chord during birth.

Kazakhs attach much importance to the birth of new life. After a baby is born, they will hold a three-day celebration, which is called the cradle ceremony. Great care is taken to protect it for the first 40 day period of its life, which is regarded as a particularly dangerous time. On the seventh day after the birth the child is placed in a special cradle. On the 40th day after a birth, when the danger period is deemed to have passed, a large party attended only by women is held.

Children are expected to pitch in with family chores and be skilled horsemen at an early age. Boys are taught to ride horses beginning at age three and begin helping to tend livestock at age six or seven. A shaving ceremony is held for boys anywhere between the ages of three and 10. Girls are taught to sew, embroider and do other household activities. In the old days, children were regarded as old enough for independence and starting their own households when they were 13 to 15.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government has a duty to register all births immediately. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

see Education, Schools

Kazakh Child Traditions and Customs

Traditions and connected with the birth of children are very important in Kazakhstan. All of these rituals are usually followed by celebrations. Shildehana is a festivity that is associated with childbirth. Besikke salu, besik toy is a holiday, hosted when the newborn is put to a cradle — a besik. As a rule, it is organized on the third to fifth day after umbilical cord falls off. Kyrkynan shygaru is a ritual performed on the 40th day after birth that includes bathing baby in 40 tablespoons of water, and the first haircut and nail cut and other rituals. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

Tusau kesu is the a day when a baby takes his first steps. The oldest and most respected people in a family or community are invited to perform a ceremony called Tusau keser. They cut special ropes that tie the baby's legs together in order to ensure that in future the kid will walk nicely and run fast. Sundetke otyrgyzu is the Kazakh name for the Muslim rite of circumcision. The ceremony is held when a boy is five to seven years old. A big festival to which all relatives and friends are invited is held after this. On the occasion of Sundetke otyrgyzu guests usually make generous gifts to the hero of the occasion and his parents.

Ashamayga mingizu — one the most oldest traditions of Kazakh people — is a ritual whereby a six- or seven-year-old boy is given a horse and whip. Such a ritual is a kind of "initiation", having proclaimed that the child is old enough to command his own horse. On this day, elders bless the young rider and parents and organize a small celebration in honor of their son. Bastangy is a ritual rooted in centuries-old traditions. Traditionally, these celebrations were conducted immediately after the departure of adults. During Bastangy, guests express only one wish: that the travel of adults would be accompanied by luck.

Adoptions of Children from Kazakhstan

According to Kazakhstan’s Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights since 1999 over 47,000 children had been adopted in Kazakhstan, 8,800 of them by foreign citizens. Kazakhstan, is a signatory to the Hague Adoption Convention.

Kazakhstan has been a leading source of children adopted by Americans. According to adoption.com: “The Kazakhstan adoption program has been growing in popularity in recent years. In 1998, it didn't appear on the list of the Top 20 sending countries, and in 2005, it was at number six. In 2011, U.S. citizens adopted approximately 86 children from Kazakhstan. Children available for adoption are healthy infants, toddlers, and school-aged children, as well as older and special needs children, and represent a variety of ethnicities including Asian, Eurasian, and Caucasian. The children reside in orphanages. [Source: adoption.com]

Travel required: Yes; one trip of 5-7 weeks or two trips - first of approximately 3 weeks, and three weeks later, a second of approximately 2 weeks; if married, both must travel for the first two weeks to identify and meet the child, and one can remain. Singles are accepted. No pre-selection of children is allowed; matching is done in-country. Post-adoption registration is required and failure of families to comply could affect the future of the program. Post-placement supervision required for three years.

Kazakhstan Reiterates American Adoption Ban

In 2012, Americans were stopped from adopting Kazakh children after two orphans from Kazakhstan were found in a home for troubled kids. Joanna Lillis of Eurasia.net wrote: “The two children were found on a ranch housing children with “deviant behavior” in July 2012, Raisa Sher, chairwoman of the government’s Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights, told Tengri News. She did not name the children’s home, but last July there were children from Kazakhstan among those staying at the Ranch for Kids Project in Montana when a group of Russian officials turned up with a film crew in tow to demand access to Russian orphans and created an outcry when they were refused. [Source: Joanna Lillis, Eurasia.net, June 12, 2013 |=|]

“The ranch describes itself as “a respite care home for adopted children who are experiencing difficulties in their families.” Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, a member of the delegation that visited last summer, described it as “a trash can for unwanted children.” Sher said that Astana had not received “information” from the American authorities despite requesting clarification over the incident, and therefore “we are not renewing the adoption procedure with the United States of America until we receive a response from that country under the Hague Convention on the fulfilment of international obligations.” |=|

Kazakhstan suspended adoptions by citizens of the United States in August 2012 but stopped short of slapping an outright ban on US adoptions as Russia did at the beginning of 2013. Moscow was acting in response to American legislation that banned Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses from visiting the United States. Critics said the Kremlin was punishing Russian children with an overtly political move.

Kazakhstan Demands Post-Adoption Reports

In July 2015, the U.S. State Department said: “The Ministry of Education and Science in Kazakhstan has requested the submission of all outstanding post-adoption reports on Kazakhstani children adopted by U.S. families. This includes 237 reports that the Ministry has identified as missing. We urge families to comply with Kazakhstan's post-adoption requirements as soon as possible. Timely submission of the reports is a central part of our ongoing efforts to resume intercountry adoptions between the United States and Kazakhstan. [Source: U.S. State Department, July 2015]

Kazakhstan requires post-adoption reports detailing the general welfare, education, upbringing, and health of all adopted Kazakhstani children. In accordance with Kazakhstani family law, adoptive parents must provide post-placement reports every six months for the first three years after the adoption is finalized and then once a year until the child is 18 years old.

U.S. adoptive parents of children from Kazakhstan should work with one of the U.S. Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) authorized by Kazakhstan to prepare post adoption reports. They should submit all reports by mail or email to the attention of the Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights (CPCR), the Kazakhstani Central Authority for the Hague Adoption Convention.

Child Abuse in Kazakhstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “There were reports of child abuse. NGOs estimated more than one-half of all children younger than 14 experienced at least one incident of physical or psychological abuse by adults. Abuse was more common in rural areas. Minors age 16 or older have the right to file petitions related to their interests directly with a court. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

The president of the NGO Union of Crisis Centers stated the number of psychological abuse cases exceeded the number of physical abuse cases. In the first seven months of the year, the union’s hotline for children received 158 calls regarding child abuse, 60 percent of which were complaints about abused girls. *\

There was one reported incident of child-selling. In July the South Kazakhstan Juvenile Court convicted a 27-year-old woman, a resident of Saryagash District, of selling her four children. The mother and her accomplice, a nurse at a rural outpatient clinic, who was in charge of finding buyers, were each sentenced to eight years in prison for trafficking in minors. The women who bought three children received seven-year suspended sentences. *\

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The criminal code does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex, but an article provides for eight to 15 years in prison as punishment for individuals who force boys or girls under the age of 18 to have sexual intercourse. A statute criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country retains administrative penalties for child pornography. The new criminal code toughens penalties for crimes against minors. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors receive a lifetime ban on the right to engage in activities related to working with children. *\

Displaced and Institutionalized Children in Kazakhstan

In the 1990s, there were reports of children in orphanages suffering malnutrition and high rates of disease. Since money from oil wealth has poured in, this problem has been solved.

According to the Ministry of Education, 3,984 children were identified as “street children” during 2012. According to media reports, police placed homeless children in institutions run by the Ministry of Education for delinquent and street children. There they received medical and psychological assistance before they were released or sent to orphanages. During 2012 authorities sent 3,941 children back to their families and placed 25 children in orphanages and institutions for children deprived of parental care. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

NGOs reported many incidents of violence against children in orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children, and there were increased media reports of abuses in orphanages and other institutions. NGOs alleged half of the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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