Protecting Our Future: Kazakhstan’s Bold Steps Towards Safeguarding Women and Children

by Ms. Dinara Zakiyeva, Commissioner for Children’s Rights of Kazakhstan

As the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Kazakhstan, I have witnessed firsthand the critical need for comprehensive legislative reforms to safeguard the most vulnerable members of our society – women and children.

The recent enactment of a law by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to protect women’s rights and children represents a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to foster a safer and more inclusive environment for all. President Tokayev’s commitment to fortifying laws that shield children and women has been the driving force behind this groundbreaking legislation. His impassioned call to action during his Address to the Nation in 2022 and 2023 laid the groundwork for a collaborative endeavour to address urgent issues such as domestic violence, violence prevention, and the necessity for stricter penalties for all forms of violence against children.

This law has become the first in the Commonwealth of Independent States region to introduce a wide range of novel measures for the protection of women and children.

Over three years, there have been important changes in legislation, for example, allowing the registration of a case of domestic violence without a statement, among others. Under the President’s initiative, we began working on this law last summer in collaboration with government officials and civil society, shaping the law’s provisions. NGOs, regional representatives, and public entities have all played pivotal roles in guiding our approach, ensuring that the voices of victims —women and children —are not only heard but also reflected in the legislation.

In September 2023, we presented it to the Parliament, and with their support and additions, it was signed by the President on April 15. Thus, it was a step-by-step effort led by the President to create protection for kids and women from violence.

This new suite of laws is designed primarily to establish a system for the prevention of and strict punishment for any kind of abuse or violence. For example, it includes life sentences for raping children and criminal liability for minor health harm and battery, which was previously decriminalised in 2017, ensuring harsh penalties.

Additionally, the law introduces preventative measures that allow for prosecution regardless of a victim’s complaint. It implements protective steps such as isolating offenders and enforcing no-contact orders to support victims’ rehabilitation, psychological work with the aggressor, and the creation of a unified hotline (111) – a call centre providing support for the victims, among other services. This hotline operates 24/7 to help protect the rights of families, women, and children, collaborating with all government agencies to provide assistance and organise psychological, legal, and social support.

The changes also entail assigning the coordination of assistance to families to the regional departments of Social Protection. A mechanism for the operation of mobile groups tasked with early identification of individuals and families in challenging life circumstances has been introduced. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population is designated as the responsible state body for maintaining Medical and Social Records. Local executive bodies have been granted the authority to establish Family Support Centres, which, by presidential decree, will be opened in every district of the country. These centres aim to provide essential government services and programs to families in need, aiding them in overcoming difficult situations. Additionally, the changes will consolidate the status of regional commissioners for the rights of the child.

The legislative package imposes stringent punishments and establishes a comprehensive socio-cultural framework that supports victims and deters potential offenders. By increasing penalties for crimes against minors and enhancing crime prevention through psychological and educational support, it aims to foster a safer, more equitable society.

Furthermore, the new legislative measures introduced for child protection aim to ensure children’s well-being and safety, mirroring practices seen in developed nations. These laws significantly enhance the penalties for violence against women and children while bolstering the family institution and the overall safety of minors. The revised Criminal Code now enumerates specific crimes against minors, including health harm, kidnapping, and murder, emphasising that reconciliation will not exempt anyone from criminal responsibility in these severe cases.

The legislation imposes severe punishments for major offences involving minors. This includes life imprisonment for crimes such as the murder of a minor, rape of a minor, and other violent sexual actions against minors. The penalties for kidnapping have been escalated to 10-15 years, and illegal confinement now carries a term of 5-10 years. Additionally, the new laws establish criminal liability for sexual harassment of individuals under 16, with consequences that can include corrective labour, community service, or arrest, alongside possible employment restrictions, reflecting a zero-tolerance stance towards severe crimes against minors.

The measures also address broader issues impacting child safety, such as suicide prevention and bullying. They extend criminal liability to include inciting and assisting in the suicide of minors, with penalties ranging from 5-9 years in prison. To combat bullying, especially cyberbullying in schools, the laws introduce administrative liability with fines or warnings and heightened fines for repeated offences, holding parents accountable for the actions of minors aged 12 to 16. Moreover, Psychological Support Centres for children will be opened in every region of the country.

Education remains a cornerstone of our endeavours to uphold children’s rights, with initiatives underway to enhance access to inclusive education for children with special needs. The national Comfortable Schools project and the establishment of rehabilitation centres and inclusive classrooms underscore our commitment to creating a more inclusive society that caters to the diverse needs of all children.

Ultimately, Kazakhstan’s legislative measures to combat domestic violence reflect a strong commitment to protecting fundamental rights. This alignment of state policy with public demand has garnered widespread approval and contributes to the vision of a Just Kazakhstan.

Looking ahead, our primary objectives include the effective implementation of the new legislation, public awareness campaigns, and addressing issues pertaining to guardianship, housing for orphaned children, and enhancing conditions in boarding institutions. By uniting our efforts and remaining resolute in our commitment to safeguarding our future, we can forge a brighter tomorrow for all women and children in Kazakhstan.

As we progress on this path towards a safer and more inclusive society, I am heartened by the dedication and zeal of all those involved in this vital work. Together, we can shape a future where every child is secure, every woman is shielded, and every individual has the opportunity to flourish. Let us stand united in our mission to protect the rights women and the well-being of children, for they are the cornerstone of our nation’s future.

Content provided by the Embassy of Kazakhstan to Austria