CHILDREN AND CHILD CUSTOMS IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyz families have traditionally had had many children. As the head of family was responsible to continue his lineage having many son was the most likely way for this to happen. A man, who did not have a son, was a very unhappy person as his family line had to stop with him. The Manas epos opens with the childless Djakyp's expressing grief because he has no son to carry on his name and care for him in his old age. If the wife of a nomad could not have children, (or she was just gave birth to girls), then he could marry a second wife, or even a third - although this is not practiced today. [Source: advantour.com]
Birth Registration: Although the law provides that every child born in the country has the right to receive a birth certificate, local registration, and citizenship, some children were stateless (see section 2.d.). The UNHCR reported that children of migrant parents who have moved and/or acquired citizenship of another country--in many cases, Russia--had to prove both of their parents were Kyrgyz citizens. These children encountered difficulties obtaining citizenship if their parents lacked the necessary documentation. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]
There is a phrase amongst the Kyrgyz that when a daughter is born the family is not raising a child of their own, they are raising a child for someone else. If she is later “stolen” as a bride, the groom’s family may well call her parents with the news, “You no longer have a daughter – she is our daughter now”. At that time her allegiances are supposed to switch her natural family to her husband’s family. Another interesting saying is: "The birth of a girl is an addition to the herd, the birth of a boy is an addition to the defenders".
Life was not easy for nomadic Kyrgyz children. They are expected to undertake tasks and take on responsibility from an early age. Girls learned domestic tasks and helped the older women do their chores while boys were generally assigned to look after some of the livestock. Idle, or lazy, children were scolded and criticized, with statements like: "hopeless Aybek's son is still a baby after ten years". Children were expected to show deference and respect for their elders ... and do what they said.
Kyrgyz Baby Customs and Superstitions
When most Kyrgy were nomadic herders, life for children could be extremely harsh and the infant mortality rate was high. As a result birth and childhood were associated with many beliefs, superstitions and rituals - many with "shamanistic" overtones. Many of these have survived to the present day. [Source:advantour.com]
A talisman, or a charm, was also believed to protect the child from evil spirits. Talismans could be in the form of a tip of a yak’s tail, or one from a newly born colt, which was stitched into the child's clothing. Later on, when Kyrgyz tribes converted to Islam, they started using a scroll with a Sura taken from the Koran, which was given in an amulet in the shape of a triangle – called a tumar. Sometimes the parents would put a bracelet on their child’s leg, or an earring in one ear, assuming that evil spirits fear metallic things. Bracelets made of black beads were put on a child’s wrist. A black bead in an earring was also believed to act as a protecting amulet. Even today these amulets can be seen on children.
Regarding babies Kyrgyz say: 1) Do not let a baby look at the mirror, she/he will have bad dreams; 2) Do not leave baby's clothes outside at night; 3) Never say good words about a baby, the evil spirits may be attracted by them and may harm the baby. [Source: fantasticasia.net ~~]
The birth of the baby is marked with the preparation of zhentek, boorsok and bread (lepyoshka) with melted butter. A week after birth the child is placed into the cradle (beshik). This event marked a with the celebration “beshik toi. Another celebration is held on the 40th day when the child wears a shirt, sewn out of 40 grafts collected from neighbors and bathed in 40 spoonfuls of water. All these rituals are intended to preserve and protect a child's life. [Source: advantour.com]
Childbirth in Kyrgyzstan
The birth of a child was expected with great trepidation, and required the fulfillment of various traditional ceremonies and rituals - many of which carry "shamanistic" overtones - although Islam has also had an influence, (For example: When a child was born, one of the men shouted: "Azan!" (which is a call to prayer) and would read a Sura from the Koran). [Source: advantour.com]
A long stake was placed in the middle of the family yurt at the start of the delivery symbolizing the "cosmic tree" which, it was believed, helped the mother in her labor. She kneeled and held the stake during the delivery. The father could, if he wanted, assist with the birth. (If he did so, then he would embrace her from behind and push on the top of her belly.)
A midwife (Kindik-ene, "mother-navel") assisted in the delivery. She placed the child in a better pre-natal position and cut the child's umbilical chord immediately after the birth. As a new born child was considered "impure", only the midwife could touch it, as she was treated as an earthly reincarnation of Umai-ene (the earth goddess - Mother Umai) — the protector of women in childbirth and of babies (until they were three years old). She stayed with the family for several two or three days to protect the newborn from the demon albarty. During the toi (party) organized to celebrate the birth, the midwife receive gifts including a sheepskin and the most valuable part of the meat - brisket.
As an additional precaution, sometimes an eagle-owl was brought to the yurt and made to screech because of belief that albarty would be scared off by this noise. In addition, one of the women helping in the childbirth, would walk around the yurt and tapping a stick on the ground, saying: "Tuishtuiby, Tuishtuiby?’, ("Was a child born? Was a child born?"), as a magic spell to cast out evil spirits.
Childbirth Customs and Superstitions in Kyrgyzstan
Dje-entek Toi celebrates the birth of the newborn child. People are given melted butter (“sary mal”) which has been kept especially for the occasion in the stomach of a slaughtered lamb (or calf). Guests usually bring clothes for the baby – or maybe a shyrdak. Another celebration — Kyrkan Chygatuu — was organized held on the fourth day after the birth. [Source: advantour.com]
Premature babies were placed in a tumak, (a special "hammock" made from a fox fur), which was hung from the top of the kerege — the wooden frame of the yurt. This was hung to the right of the entrance at a different place: moving it a set distance further to the left, according to the date (nine months, nine days, nine hours and nine minutes) so that it would be next to the entrance at the end of the normal gestation period. The child was considered to be “really born” at this point, and only then was the baby was taken out of the tumak, and the happy parents organized the dje-entek toi.
Because of the high infant mortality rate, special customs developed to help preserve newborn infants. For example, families, where children did not usually survive, might give a newborn child to another family on the understanding that the biological parents would “buy” the child back shortly afterwards - three, seven or 40 days later ... and sometimes even one year later. For all intents and purposes, for this period the child was regarded as belonging to the foster family. They informed everybody that they had a new baby and would organize the dje-entek toi. The biological mother, upon meeting the foster-mother would ask: “How is your child?” When the time for “buying back” the child arrived, the biological parents would pay the foster parents a "redemption" fee comprised of nine objects — usually inexpensive things like potholders, (tutkuch), dishes (tavak), a sickle (orok), a knife (bychak) and so forth.
If boys did not survive in a family, then the parents used to dress their son in girl’s clothing and braid his hair until he was 10 or 12 years old, and then his hair would be ceremonially cut, at some "sacred" place. This was done to trick evil spirits into thinking that the precious boy was a girl and this would not waste their efforts trying to harm her (him).
Tusho'o Kesu'u: Cutting the Strings of a Baby
Tusho'o kesu'u is a Kyrgyz tradition, which is held when the child is one year old, around the time he begins to walk. Wishing the child's future steps to be better and faster, or just wishing him a bright future, happiness and success in everything, his parents slaughter a sheep — devoting it to the child — and organize a big toi (party). They invite their relatives and neighbors. [Source: fantasticasia.net ~~]
After the guests have had a meal and have given "bata" (blessing for the child) to the child, his parents invite the guests to a race for children. Parents tie up the legs of the children with white and black striped wool cords. The children race for a certain distance. The first and second place finishers have their cords cut and are embraced by their parents. The winner is usually given an expensive present and knife with which he uses to cut the cord. The second and third place finishers are also given presents. The other participants are given sweets, various toys, etc. The children whose tusho'os (cords) are not cut are said to be unlucky in their future life.
Kyrgyz Cradles and Besheek Toi ( The Cradle Feast )
Small babies are kept strapped into wooden cradles that can be rocked on the ground and have a hole at the bottom that more or less lines up the baby’s genitals. Instead of a proper diaper sometimes a cloth is wrapped around the baby’s buttocks and genital area. For a boy a wooden thing that looks like a primitive smoking pipe is attached to the boy’s penis and the other end goes out the hole at the bottom of the cradle. When the boy pees his urine goes through the wooden thing into a small bucket under the cradle. There is a similar wooden thing with a different shape for girls that does the same thing.
A Beshik is a traditional wooden cradle found throughout Central Asia, the Caucasas and India – with an arc at each end and a rod joining them which is used to rock the baby to sleep. Traditionally, it is made from archa, (juniper). In the past, Kyrgyz used simple beshiks that were practical for their nomadic lifestyle. Two curves are made using dry and thick willow and then holes are made in the bottom. Bamboos are fixed in these holes, and a rope is tied to fasten the bamboo sticks. Inside the cradle, a pad is fixed for a baby to sit on.[Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]
The Beshik Toi is another party held after a child is born. It is organized for the occasion when the child is placed in the cradle for the first time – usually in the first seven days after the birth. An old woman places the child into the cradle, as a (hopeful) sign that the child would live as long as this old woman. (Interestingly - the shroud in which the dead are laid in the grave is also called a Beshik ... it is the first and last bed). [Source: advantour.com]
For the ceremonial"beshike saluu" feast, the child's parents slaughter a sheep, lay a table with many different dishes on it and invite their relatives and neighbors to dinner. After everybody finishes dinner and have blessed the new born child, the cradle, especially prepared for the child is brought before the elderly women who are in charge of laying the baby into the cradle. These women are very respected and wise. The parents make a wish for their child's future: they desire the child to become as respected and wise s they are. [Source: fantasticasia.net ~~]
First, the women burn up the juniper and make "alastoo" with it. They move the burning juniper around the cradle to drive away evil spirits from the cradle. Second, the cradle is buttered so that the child can have a smooth future and live satisfied. Then all the ancestors for the cradle are placed in it. At last, the cradlesong is sung. The child is laid into the cradle. The cradle is warm and comfortable. It is sanitary and hygienically clean and useful for the child's health.
Naming a Child and Giving "Jentek"
Naming a newborn child and giving "jentek" on the occasion of his birth is another Kyrgyz traditions. When a child is born, his name is announced loudly to all the people, according to a rite called "Asan chakyru'u'. Once a name is given to a baby, it should not be changed during his entire life. They say that if the child's name is changed all the benevolences sent him by Allah will go to others with the same name. [Source: fantasticasia.net ~~]
In honor of the newborn child, the parents hold a toi (feast): laying a table with a plenty of food on and slaughtering a sheep. Right after a baby is born, he is bathed and fed a little. A morsel of melted butter is prepared in advance for "jentek" (feast on the occasion of the child's birth) and it is put into the baby's mouth. It is called "o'ozantu'u" (feeding). The same melted butter is used for "jentek". It is mixed up with sugar and oatmeal and set out on the table laid for the "jentek". Nowadays, a newborn child is given a name chosen by people close to him. But according to the old tradition to name a baby by "asan chakyru'u" is still considered to be the right way.
The “appearance” — Koroonduk, from the Kyrgyz word “to see” — is another family festival associated with the birth of a child. In the old days, a newborn infant was kept in seclusion for forty days: it was believed that a child stepped from the animal kingdom into the human world only after forty days. The baby iwas "anointed" with forty drops of salted water by specially chosen people and presented with a piece of patchwork – Kudak – which is made from forty pieces of material stitched together forty, one for each day the child has lived.) The baby's hair is cut by an aksakal, who receives a chapan for his services, and then buried in a sacred spot so that it could not be used in magical rites to harm the child. When neighbors, friends and relatives see the new born baby for the first time then they traditionally give a monetary gift to the parents. [Source: advantour.com]
Childrearing and Circumcisions in Kyrgyzstan
Infants are primarily cared for by their mothers or other female family members. For the first forty days of an infant's life, he or she cannot be taken outside the home or be seen by anyone but the immediate family. Infants are strapped into their cradles much of the time and quieted when they make noise. When a mother visits another woman the mother usually will take her infant along. A child is rarely taken from his or her mother without the child's consent, and sometimes bribes are used to make the child reach out to another family member. [Source: everyculture.com]
Children are expected to be quiet. They are not brought to parties or official functions, and so are prevented from disturbing guests. Girls begin to take on household duties when they are six or seven years old. By the time she is sixteen, the eldest daughter may be responsible for running the household. Boys are considered rowdy and active and often have fewer household chores.
Circumcision is known as "sunnotko oturgizu'u " in Kyrgyzstan. It is regarded as as “a kind of medicine procedure, that helps boys and man in future to be save from sexual diseases.” In the old days it was performed by the oldest man of the village with a primitive tool - blade. It was performed when a boy was two or three years old. Nowadays, the procedure is often done in a hospital. To mark the event, the boy’s parents slaughter a sheep and organize a big toi (feast) for relatives and neighbors. Only Muslim people observe this rite. [Source: fantasticasia.net ~~]
see Education, School
Child Abuse in Kyrgyzstan
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Child abuse, including beatings, child labor, and commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls, continued to be problems. In addition, gang-related child-on-child violence in schools was a growing trend. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“Sexual Exploitation of Children: The criminal code prohibits the sale of children, child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as other sexual crimes against children. The law criminalizes the sale of persons and forced prostitution and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison when the act is directed at a child. The law also makes it a crime to involve someone in prostitution by violence or the threat of violence, blackmail, destroying or damaging property, or fraud. Prosecutors have to prove the element of force, coercion, or fraud in the case of children recruited into prostitution; coercion or force is not simply assumed when the victim is a minor. \*\
“The criminal code prohibits the distribution of child pornography and the possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The law does not specifically define child pornography, and the criminal code does not fully criminalize computer-related use, access to child pornography online, or simple possession of child pornography. The law does not contain an explicit age of consent. Under the criminal code, it is illegal for persons who are 18 years old and older to have sexual relations with someone under 16 years of age. \*\
“The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated up to 20 percent of children under 18 were regularly involved in prostitution. In her December 2013 report on the country, the special rapporteur noted “serious concerns” of child prostitution in saunas and other brothel-like environments. She also reported that authorities “turned a blind eye” to the presence of prostitutes in these environments. \*\
“Displaced Children: As in previous years, there were numerous reports of child abandonment due to parents’ lack of resources, and large numbers of children lived in institutions, foster care, or on the streets. Approximately 80 percent of street children were internal migrants. Street children had difficulty accessing educational and medical services. Police detained street children and sent them home if an address was known or to a rehabilitation center or orphanage. The Rehabilitation Center for Street Children in Bishkek, maintained by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, continued to lack sufficient food, clothes, and medicine and remained in poor condition. \*\
“Institutionalized Children: State orphanages and foster homes lacked resources and often were unable to provide proper care, sometimes resulting in, for example, the transfer of older children to mental health care facilities even when they did not exhibit mental health problems. According to the Ministry of Social Development, there were 15 children with no parental supervision or other guardianship reported in the first half of the year and 1,528 children left without parents, 529 of whom were placed into guardianship and 204 placed in orphanages. According to a 2012 UNICEF estimate, approximately 11,000 children lived in state institutions. UNICEF also pointed to a lack of foster homes in the country, which only has nine.” \*\
International Child Abductions: The country is a not party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Child Labor in Kyrgyzstan
According to the U.S. Department of State:Kyrgyzstani boys and girls are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including the forced selling and distribution of drugs, within the country. NGOs continue to report that some schools in the south of the country cancel classes in the fall to send children to pick cotton, and other schools require children to harvest tobacco on school grounds. Street children who engage in begging and children engaged in domestic work (often in the homes of extended family members) are vulnerable to human trafficking. [Source: “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Kyrgyzstan”, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State ||||]
“The law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16 years, except for work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers. Children as young as 14 years old may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons under the age of 18 years at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children who are 14 or 15 years old may work up to five hours a day; children who are 16 to 18 years old may work up to seven hours a day. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. The government operated under the 2012-14 Social Protection Development Strategy and Action Plan, which provides for protection of children and families in difficult conditions, including child laborers.[Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“Child labor remained a widespread problem, as did internal trafficking of children for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. According to 2011 data, children engaged in dangerous agricultural work in the tobacco, rice, and cotton sectors, and some schools canceled classes to send children to pick cotton while others required children to harvest tobacco on school grounds.\*\
The Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Labor Inspectorate are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. Inspectors conducted infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, it was difficult for the government to determine whether work complied with the labor code. During the first half of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office conducted 24 checks based on complaints of exploitation of underage workers; none of the checks resulted in the opening of a criminal case. The Ministry of Social Development reported 77 cases of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the first half of year. The government supported several social programs to prevent the engagement of children in exploitative child labor.” \*\
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.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016