Women’s Rights in Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan is often viewed as a country with vast gender inequality. Reports of “bride kidnapping,” such as in the famous 2011 Vice documentary, have painted a dispiriting picture of the place women have in Kyrgyz society. The state of women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan has seen a vast improvement over the last 15 years, however, and despite the continued prevalence of these and other instances of gender-based violations, the general picture is one of progress.

Legal Equality

As an independent nation, the Kyrgyz Republic holds a good record for promoting gender equality. The Central Asian country remains a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it has committed to since 1996, and like most post-Soviet countries, it has enshrined gender equality in the constitution.

Gaps in legislation and inconsistent legal interpretation have precluded greater progress in the area of sex discrimination, however. For example, until recently, many divorced women could not access child support. In 2018, the country reported 40,000 cases of alimony evasion. But in 2020, partly due to the work of activists, the government helped improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan by passing an amendment that made alimony evaders more accountable under family law. Whereas previously fathers who failed to pay child support could get away with just a fine, since 2020, fathers must pay alimony in full.

Child Marriages

The marrying of persons under the age of 18 is illegal in Kyrgyzstan yet 13% of Kyrgyz girls are married before their 18th birthday. Failures in law enforcement in conjunction with unemployment and rural poverty have meant the persistence of traditional non-consensual child marriages. Particularly in larger families that lack the income to support numerous children, parents seek to marry their daughters off to wealthier families to alleviate economic hardship. The problem is worse in rural areas, where the poverty rate is higher than the national poverty rate.

Child marriages in Kyrgyzstan are usually the result of “bride kidnapping” or “ala kachuu,” which literally translates to “pick up and run away.” Every year, 7,000 to 9,000 Kyrgyz girls fall prey to this practice, according to government figures. The bride’s parents are often responsible, along with the other family providing the “bride money.” Both parties arrange the marriage for the daughter typically without her consent in an unofficial religious ceremony. These illegal child marriages put young brides at risk of rape and domestic violence.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked to reduce child marriages in Kyrgyzstan since 2016. A key example of its work is the 2018-19 Project Addressing Early Marriages, which the British Embassy funded. This project was successful at encouraging the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labour and Social Development to implement the law prohibiting underage religious marriages in a “systematic way.” It also assisted the training of religious leaders in their understanding of marital law and improved the hotline services available to affected women and girls.

Domestic Violence

As part of the global Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year program that the Kyrgyz government and the European Union supported, U.N. has been implementing sex equality training to improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan. Two of the main aims of this program are to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and provide services to survivors.

Violence against women is a serious problem in Kyrgyzstan and cases have risen since the forced closures of crisis centers during the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The last decade has seen improvements though, both in legislation and the provision of survivor support services, such as Spotlight Initiative-funded safe spaces.

Yet despite these improvements, the majority of domestic violence survivors in Kyrgyzstan do not seek help. Family pressure, social stigma and a lack of economic opportunities compel up to 90% of women who have suffered violent treatment from their husbands to return to them, according to U.N. figures. Alternatively, many women escape to pursue unsafe employment opportunities, making them susceptible to trafficking.


The state education system in Kyrgyzstan nominally treats all pupils equally regardless of sex. Girls and boys enjoy near educational parity in Kyrgyzstan at the primary level in terms of enrollment and attendance rates. At the secondary level, however, the net attendance of girls is 3% lower than boys (59% for boys compared with 56% for girls). A U.N. Working Group has found that the principal reasons for girls dropping out of school early are “forced marriage and adolescent pregnancy.” Nevertheless, the 100% adult female literacy rate in Kyrgyzstan as of 2019 should provide a solid basis for women’s future economic participation.

The government is also advancing women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan through efforts to remove negative stereotypes surrounding women in schools. In April 2022, the Kyrgyz government launched a review of all textbooks and teaching materials with the aim of removing any discriminatory content and pictures. Additionally, initiatives such as “Girls in Science,” which has already helped 3,000 girls, aim to increase the proportion of women in underrepresented sectors.

The Future

The Kyrgyz Republic has made impressive strides toward gender equality since earning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It ranks 82nd out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index in 2021. Today, the main impediments to women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan are intolerant patriarchal attitudes that perpetuate violence against women, notably the ancient practice of “bride kidnapping”, failures in law enforcement and a lack of economic opportunities for women. “Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads with an immense opportunity to harness the potential of women,” wrote a group of U.N. human rights experts in April 2022.

– Samuel Chambers
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality in Kyrgyzstan
Air quality in Kyrgyzstan is very poor. In fact, in 2022, reports ranked Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital as having the second worst air quality in the world. Poor Kyrgyz air quality links directly to 4,000 premature deaths in 2016.

As Novastan.org reports, “As winter arrives in Bishkek, the sun does not shine on Kyrgyzstan’s capital city and the inhabitants have to live in a constant cloud. This is no fog created by winter precipitations, but a grey haze, slowly intoxicating the residents. That smog has become one of Bishkek’s pressing problems over the past few years.”

Causes of the Poor Air Quality

The dangerous air quality in Bishkek is a multi-dimensional problem that has several distinct roots. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted a report studying the main reasons for the massive amounts of pollutants released into the air. The UNDP has stated that the three main reasons for the dangerous air quality in Bishkek are Bishkek’s large landfill, brown coal usage and vehicle emissions.

Current Landfill Problems

The intention of the landfill haunting the city of Bishkek was to contain trash for far fewer people than it does now. The Soviet Union-era government created the landfill to accommodate the trash of 400,000 people, but with the expansion of the city, Bishkek’s landfill is now responsible for keeping 1.2 million people’s trash.

Frequently the landfill catches fire and releases harmful pollutants into the air. Landfill organic material decomposition produces a highly flammable gas which leads to fires. According to the UNDP, landfill fires have “a significant effect on the air quality near the landfill and should be treated as a priority.”

Stalled Plans for a New Landfill

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and an international donor provided 22 million euros for the construction of a new and improved landfill. The plans received approval in 2013, but 10 years later, the Kyrgyz government has not yet completed the project. Chief reasons for inaction include political instability culminating with the government upheaval in 2020, government fraud and corruption and most recently, COVID-19. COVID-19 hindered progress because prices for construction materials have sky-rocketed as a result of the pandemic.

Brown Coal: Less Expensive but More Ash and Less Efficient

The massive amount of coal used in Kyrgystan greatly impairs air quality. Locally-mined “brown coal” is much cheaper than natural gas and is even cheaper than imported coal so Kyrgyzstan uses it the most. Unfortunately, brown coal has a higher ash content and pollutes more than other coal. It is also less efficient and users need to use more of it.

The Kyrgyz government attempts to help the citizens to afford to heat their homes by discounting brown coal. Due to the high demand for coal, thousands of people wait in line for multiple days in hopes of purchasing some of the coal. Also, to take advantage of this high demand, some opportunists sell government-provided coal at higher prices.

Vehicle Emissions

Vehicle emissions from cars, vans and buses are another high-polluting category. Vehicles are the highest producer of nitrogen oxide which is harmful to the human respiratory system. These emissions are also released at ground level and that produces a particularly large negative effect on the air quality. In addition, Bishkek has the capacity for about 40,000 cars but currently, people are driving about 500,000 cars on the city’s roads. Further, 60% of these vehicles date back to 1995 to 2000. As a result, they lack air purifiers and do even more damage to the air quality in Kyrgyzstan than newer cars. To make matters worse, Kyrgyzstan’s market for catalytic converters encourages many people to remove the catalytic converters from their cars and sell them. Catalytic converters are responsible for removing 90% of the potentially harmful gasses released from cars.

Health Effects From Poor Air Quality

The health effects of poor air quality range from annoying symptoms to fatal conditions. Annoying symptoms include itchy eyes and shortness of breath. More serious conditions include cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. People who are at the highest risk include those with pre-existing health conditions, senior citizens and newborns.

Efforts to Improve Kyrgyz Air Quality

One way the country is trying to make improvements is by introducing electric cars. A South Korean company announced its plan to build an electric car plant in Kyrgyzstan that initially will manufacture 65,000 electric cars annually. Once the company fully establishes the plant, it is planning on producing 300,000 electric cars annually.

The Kyrgyz government is also currently in a 2021-2023 plan for reducing air pollution in the country. Strategies listed in the plan include improving urban planning, developing and preserving green areas, taking action on the new landfill project and improving methods for supplying heating.

While the air quality in Kyrgyzstan is among some of the worst in the world, there is hope for the future. With Kyrgyzstan in the middle of its current plan, hopefully, positive change in the air quality will result in positive change.

– David Keenan
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture in KyrgyzstanOn the western edge of Kyrgyzstan near the small town of Arslanbob, the largest naturally growing walnut forest on Earth has provided a steady source of income for local farmers for hundreds of years. In a typical year, farmers harvest as many as 1,500 tons of walnuts from this grove alone.  All members of the family participate in the harvesting of the walnuts by climbing up large trees to reach the valuable nuts that grow in the branches above. Upon reaching the nuts, they shake the branches, causing the nuts to tumble to the ground below, where other members of the family collect them. These farmers do not only sell walnuts but also keep some for their families when necessary. Still, the risk of a bad harvest showcases the importance of technological advancements to boost agriculture in Kyrgyzstan.

Causes of a Bad Harvest

Bad harvests can occur due to a wide variety of completely random influences, which can be exacerbated by a lack of infrastructural technologies that could assist farmers in preventing bad harvests from occurring when they are preventable. Notably, extreme weather patterns have hurt harvests in recent years including the harvest of 2020 when snow in the walnut’s budding season led to a dramatic decrease in yield that year.

In 2022, in addition to changing weather patterns, overgrazing by nearby livestock has caused devastating effects on the walnut harvest. Many Kyrgyz herd cattle and sheep as their primary source of income. This livestock requires a lot of food and when nearby pastures are overgrazed, the shepherds need to lead their herd elsewhere. The massive walnut grove provides shelter from the intense heat, as well as plenty of food for the herds, so it becomes an obvious choice for livestock herders.

Effects of a Bad Harvest on Agriculture in Kyrgyzstan

Some families depend entirely on the land as both a source of income and food. Because of this dependence, when a particularly bad harvest occurs the farming families must either settle for significantly lower selling prices or sell fewer walnuts in favor of keeping more for consumption.

New “Pasture Monitoring” App to Boost Agriculture in Kyrgyzstan

In 2022, in an effort to aid both walnut farmers and livestock herders in protecting their main sources of income, a Kyrgyz environmental protection organization, CAMP Alatoo, created and began the testing of a new app called “Pasture Monitoring.” This app, which functions in English, Kyrgyz and Russian, allows livestock herders to input information and photographs about their pastures.

The app then compiles the data and sends it to a team of experts made up of members of the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Agriculture, the Water Resources and Regional Development of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Design Institute of Land Management. The Pasture Monitoring app also allows environmental experts to send recommendations directly to the herders on how they can individually improve the quality of their pasture. Additionally, government officials can access this information at any point in the future when making decisions regarding the development of these lands on a larger scale.

As livestock herders begin to implement the recommendations of the environmental officials, they will be able to more sustainably allow their herds to graze on their own pastures without needing to utilize the massive walnut grove near Arslanbob. Consequently, walnut farmers will no longer need to worry about livestock encroaching on and damaging their livelihoods. As of October 2022, the new farming app has commenced testing in the Aksy and Bazar-Korgon districts with the goal of boosting agriculture in Kyrgyzstan.

– Chris Dickinson
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting Kyrgyzstan
The central Asian country Kyrgyzstan is home to more than 6.7 million people while many citizens fall victim to pressing issues such as violence terrorism and diseases. The following list assembles the diseases impacting Kyrgyzstan.

10 Diseases Impacting Kyrgyzstan

  1. Ischemic Heart Disease: Ischemic or cardiovascular heart disease is the cause of 25% of deaths in Kyrgyzstan per year. Ischemic heart disease or coronary heart disease happens when there is a reduction of blood flow to the heart muscle.  This is due to the complete or partial blockage of the arteries responsible for circulating the blood.
  2. Stroke: Stroke is responsible for 15% of deaths in Kyrgyzstan per year. Strokes occur due to an artery blockage/leakage, or when a blood vessel bursts. Some lifestyle factors that can put one at risk of stroke include being overweight and inactive. They also stem from alcohol and substance abuse.
  3. Cancer: Stomach, lung, breast, cervix and liver are the most common cancers in Kyrgyzstan. Also,  approximately 600 women per year are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer are due to human papillomavirus (HPV).
  4. Lower Respiratory Infections: Lower respiratory infections are a leading cause of death in children less than 5 years.   This is said to be due to an overuse of antibiotics and the under-diagnosing of asthma. In many of these cases, family stress and financial burdens are also contributing factors.
  5. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the seventh top cause of morbidity in Kyrgyzstan. COPD is an inflammatory disease in the lungs that causes obstructive airflow. Many people with COPD are current or ex-smokers.  Also, people with high exposure to biomass suffer from the disease.
  6. Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is the fourth leading cause of morbidity. It is a chronic liver disease that can lead to scarring and liver failure. One of the most common causes of cirrhosis is alcohol abuse. One cannot generally undo the damage to the liver due to cirrhosis.
  7. Diabetes Mellitus: Diabetes mellitus is the cause of 428 deaths per year and The International Diabetes Federation estimates that the rate will further increase by the year 2025. Diabetes mellitus is an illness where the body is not able to produce enough insulin, causing blood sugar levels to reach abnormally high levels.
  8. Preterm Birth Complications: Preterm birth complications are a significant concern for newborn mortality. About 2,938 children less than the age of one died in 2015 due to birth complications. Folic acid deficiency is the number one factor that causes these complications. Hydrocephalus is another newborn complication that also occurs often when the mother is deficient in folic acid. To combat this problem, UNICEF took action to fortify flour in Kyrgyzstan by using the large mills that are in the country in order to get more of this nutrient into women’s diets.
  9. Cystic and Alveolar Echinococcosis: Cystic and alveolar echinococcosis are infectious tropical diseases that stem from tapeworm larva. The Kyrgyz climate and environment support the survival and durability of the parasitic eggs. In most cases, this disease tends to be under or misdiagnosed.
  10. Typhoid Fever and Brucellosis: Typhoid fever and brucellosis are infectious diseases that can spread to others through contaminated food and water. Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest numbers of cases worldwide. Many people who caught these diseases live in the Valley of the Mayluusuu River and in the uranium zone. In response, The World Bank created The Disaster Hazard Mitigation Project and has allocated more than $12.7 million to minimize radionuclides in the Mayluusuu area, improve emergency management and reduce the loss of property in those areas.

Looking Ahead

Poverty is a contributor to the diseases impacting Kyrgyzstan because many people suffer from malnutrition, whether underweight or overweight. Poor diets are one of the top contributors to malnutrition. Many Kyrgyz people do not have the finances to eat diets rich in nutrients the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended. Most households share a diet high in trans fats, saturated fats, sugar and salt. This diet has led to various health issues such as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which cause 80% of morbidity in the country.

Many of the diseases impacting Kyrgyzstan pose an immediate threat to its citizens; solutions to these issues can seem nearly impossible. However, improvements in the medical and sanitation industries can alleviate some of these burdens. Additionally, the work of The Disaster Hazard Mitigation Project and UNICEF should help reduce the prevalence of preterm birth complications, typhoid fever and brucellosis.

Christina Papas
Photo: Flickr

Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, with more than 60% of the population living in rural areas. A practice of the Kyrgyz people, most prevalent in the country’s poor rural areas, is bride kidnapping, which occurs when men abduct women and force them into marriage with or without the consent of the woman’s family. Kyrgyzstan’s government and USAID are working to tackle this issue. However, one of the most effective ways to combat the practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is addressing poverty in rural Kyrgyzstan.

The Connection Between Poverty and Bride Kidnapping

Because some of Kyrgyzstan’s population regard bride kidnapping as a traditional and romantic practice, men may “kidnap” brides with consent from the bride and her family. This is known as consensual bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnappings that occur without the bride’s knowledge or agreement are non-consensual bride kidnapping. The U.N. has condemned this practice of forced marriage as a violation of human rights.

Poverty and unemployment in recent years provide a source of frustration for young men in rural Kyrgyzstan seeking to marry. One characteristic of traditional Kyrgyz marriage is kalym, or the “bride price,” by which a man seeking to marry must pay the bride’s family in cash and livestock.

Poor men in rural Kyrgyzstan often do not have the money or resources to pay this price. Additionally, these men face pressure from their communities to marry before they reach a certain age. Thus, the quickest and cheapest way to do so is to kidnap a bride.

Other Factors in Bride Kidnapping

Aside from poverty, many other factors can also help explain why bride kidnappings occur. One reason why a man may kidnap a bride is simply that he cannot otherwise obtain her consent or because he is worried she may marry someone else.

Another factor that explains bride kidnapping is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Kyrgyzstan gained its independence, the young country sought to assert its nationalist dignity and separate its identity from the Soviet Union by reviving traditional practices, such as bride kidnapping.

The U.N. estimates that one in five marriages in Kyrgyzstan is the result of bride kidnapping. Poverty is one factor that incentivizes bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnapping can also cause further poverty, particularly for the few women who manage to escape their marriages. Often uprooted in the middle of their pursuit of education or professional opportunity, these women return to a society where they lack the skills they need to support themselves and their children.

Additionally, the state does not register marriages that are a product of bride kidnapping, as Girls Not Brides reported. Therefore, these women are not entitled to any assets or support they might have otherwise received in the case of legal divorce. Along with driving women further into poverty, negative effects of bride kidnapping on women also include domestic abuse, denial of educational or economic opportunities, high rates of depression and suicide.

What is the Government Doing About It?

In 2013, Kyrgyzstan’s government increased the prison sentence for bride kidnapping from a maximum of three years to a maximum of 10 years. The state also set forth a Criminal Code that prohibits bride kidnapping and forced kidnapping.

The government’s efforts to criminalize bride kidnapping are worth noting and encouraging further. Still, it needs to more consistently and effectively enforce laws that address bride kidnapping. Women who manage to file a complaint against their kidnappers often find that the crime remains unprosecuted. Additionally, the government does not yet sufficiently fund services for survivors of bride kidnappings and the domestic abuse that can result from such a practice.

The Five-Year Enterprise Competitiveness Project

However, the state is not alone in its efforts. Several USAID projects focus on helping the poorest regions of Kyrgyzstan by supporting job creation and economic growth. Since poverty is one factor that can potentially motivate bride kidnapping, efforts to relieve poverty may translate into deterrence from bride kidnapping.

For example, in 2018 USAID started the five-year Enterprise Competitiveness Project. It focuses on growing sectors that can quickly create more jobs such as the agricultural, manufacturing and apparel sectors. The project provides businesses in regions with high levels of poverty and unemployment with grants and technical advice, funds research and creates partnerships with financial institutions. USAID expects the project to create 19,000 new jobs.

The USAID Business Growth Initiative

USAID also works to support and empower the women of Kyrgyzstan in a variety of ways. The USAID Business Growth Initiative supports women-owned businesses in sectors such as tourism and apparel. Thus far, the project has provided 2,000 women with new technical skills.

USAID also provides professional training for female Members of Parliament. The agency sponsors conferences between these women and political activists. It is fostering connections that strengthen support for legislation that combats bride kidnapping and prioritizes women’s rights. Furthermore, USAID partners with civil society organizations to raise awareness about criminal liability for bride kidnapping. It also advocates for laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Thus, providing greater economic opportunity for men in rural Kyrgyzstan is one way to decrease the risk of bride kidnapping. Men who are more secure in their finances and assured of their employment will have less incentive to kidnap brides.

Additionally, providing greater state protections and services for victims of bride kidnapping as well as a greater guarantee for prosecution can also serve to deter this practice and rehabilitate the victims of this human rights violation. Finally, raising awareness for women’s rights could help dismantle traditional, misogynistic practices such as bride kidnapping.

– Savannah Algu
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a shining example for other nations in Central Asia. Despite a poverty rate of 38%, Kyrgyzstan has made tremendous progress over the years in reducing its poverty, and it continues to do so. On top of the progress, the country is trying to make economically, the nation is actively trying to make social improvements to its society. Specifically, Kyrgyzstan wants to make its society better for women. One example of Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to do this is the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Other forces actively pushing for equality in Kyrgyzstan include the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan (FWNGO). The work of FWNGO has been persistent, and it has helped many causes that promote women’s equality in Kyrgyzstan.

Goals of FWNGO

One of the goals of FWNGO is to engage women’s organizations on a local level in order to complete certain goals. For example, FWNGO wants local women’s organizations to help increase the number of women in governing bodies, and for these women to hold important decision-making roles. Decreasing violence against women is another important goal of FWNGO. To do this, FWNGO helps local women’s organizations monitor violence against women. The work of FWNGO also focuses on education. This includes educating women’s rights organizations about the field of gender equality and also teaching them important skills to further their goals.

FWNGO’s Programs

FWNGO runs numerous programs to promote women’s equality in Kyrgyzstan. One such program is its Participation of Women in Political Processes. This program started back in 2006, and since then, its purpose is to engage women to participate in all political levels within Kyrgyzstan. FWNGO believes that in order for women to have equality, they must fight for it by using the political processes that Kyrgyzstan affords them. FWNGO does not just want women themselves to participate in political processes in Kyrgyzstan; it wants other women’s rights organizations to help promote women as well. By having more women participate in elections, FWNGO can better guarantee that the interests of women will end up in government programs and decisions.

Another program that FWNGO runs is Combatting Discrimination and Violence against Women. The goal of this program is to reduce all forms of violence and discrimination that Kyrgyzstani women face. FWNGO actively works with other women’s rights organizations to prevent violence against women. To achieve these goals, FWNGO actively pursues aggressors against women and brings them to justice.

How it Helps

The work of FWNGO is important because it helps women living in poverty in Kyrgyzstan. Rural women in Kyrgyzstan are poorer than urban women, and their quality of life is much worse. Rural women are also less likely to actively participate in political processes in Kyrgyzstan. FWNGO seeks to help women living in these circumstances by encouraging them to participate in Kyrgyzstan’s political processes. While the focus of the FWNGO is on all women, rural women are in a tougher situation.

Kyrgyzstan has made great progress over the years. The work of FWNGO and organizations like it will ensure that progress will continue to occur.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

HIV and AIDS in Kyrgyzstan
Human rights groups and legal organizations are working to protect the rights of Kyrgyz living with HIV and AIDs. As it currently stands, in a country already plagued with poverty and inequality, those with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan experience discrimination and violence, and have inadequate access to state services. Organizations aim to change this.

Kyrgyzstan’s HIV and AIDs Epidemic

Beginning in 1996, but growing immensely in 2001, HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan rapidly spread throughout the nation. The virus was especially prevalent among the impoverished, which at the time, around 2003, affected 68% of the population. Fueled by poverty and unemployment, prostitution and injected drug use promoted the spread of HIV and AIDs.

Despite all the aid Kyrgyzstan received during the HIV/AIDs epidemic, such as when the World Health Organization (WHO) provided affordable antiretroviral drugs to the country, the government did not handle the overall HIV/AIDs crisis well. For instance, the government failed to adhere to a 2005 law passed per “international norms of eligibility” guaranteeing “social protection for people living with HIV/AIDs and social security assurance” for citizens living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, these people live in constant fear of losing their homes and jobs, face deportation and illegal detention as well as violence and stigma simply because of their HIV/AIDs affliction. These people need help in the form of improved access to treatment and equality.

Besides the discrimination that Kyrgyz with HIV and AIDs endure, the government did not take advantage of the WHO’s support with care protocols and control and prevention measures. The government also mismanaged the millions of U.S. dollars received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States Agency for International Development, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the World Bank. This is evident in the rising number of children and adults living with HIV, with less than 500 people in Kyrgyzstan living with HIV in 2003 in comparison to 9,200 as of 2020.

Taking Action

Adilet, “the largest human rights and legal services organization in Kyrgyzstan,” and an NGO called The Public Foundation “Positive Dialogue,” are doing a lot to help people living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. The organizations protect their rights and provide them with legal services for free.

For example, Adilet lawyers and activists convinced the country’s Constitutional Court to allow people with HIV to adopt children and become parents. Additionally, in July 2021, they won a case for a child infected with HIV in a Kyrgystan medical institution in the mid to late 2000s, getting the child more than $20,000 in compensation.

The 10-10-10 Targets

To make further progress in the HIV/AIDs arena and to create a more “enabling environment for ending AIDs,” global organizations have presented the 10-10-10 targets:

  • “less than 10% of countries have punitive legal and policy conditions that prohibit or restrict access to services.”
  • “less than 10% of key populations and people living with HIV face discrimination and stigma.”
  • “less than 10% of women, girls, people living with HIV and key populations face violence and gender inequality.”

Organizations are hoping to reach these targets by 2025. Hopefully, with the help of groups like Adilet, Kyrgyz affected by HIV/AIDs can look to a brighter future.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 and Poverty in Kyrgyzstan
Nestled in the mountains of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has long suffered from high poverty rates and underdevelopment, but the past decade saw Kyrgyzstan’s per capita GDP rise by nearly 50%. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted progress, however, with 700,000 people in Kyrgyzstan sliding into poverty from 2019 to 2020. COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan are interlinked in several ways.

An Economy Based on Remittances

The World Bank classifies Kyrgyzstan as a lower middle-income country with a per capita GDP of about $1,200. Much of Kyrgyzstan’s national wealth comes from remittances, especially in rural areas, from which migrants move to work in Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. In 2019, citizens abroad sent back nearly $2.5 billion, or 30% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP. Official statistics show that without remittances, Kyrgyzstan’s 2019 poverty rate would have increased by more than half.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many migrant workers returned home, cutting off remittance flows that kept rural families alive. Others stayed abroad but sent family home, increasing the burden on Kyrgyzstan’s rural residents. Due to the informality of their work, many migrants lost their jobs during the pandemic and did not qualify for the government aid that other more protected workers qualified for.

Rising Food Prices

In 2019, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 46% of the Kyrgyz population did not meet their daily calorie needs. From June 2019 to June 2020, food prices rose by 17%, pushing even more vulnerable households into food insecurity and highlighting the correlation between COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan. During the same period, the price of flour increased by around 30%.

Kyrgyzstan’s poverty levels have close ties to food prices. According to the World Bank, when food prices rise, Kyrgyzstan’s poverty rate follows closely behind. Rising food prices use up savings of low and middle-class people, pushing them into vulnerability.

While faltering remittances largely affected rural populations, the rising food prices have mainly increased urban poverty in Kyrgyzstan. While those in rural areas have access to farms, urban residents in poverty require assistance to meet their basic food needs. Food imports that fed urban populations fell due to Kyrgyzstan’s weakening currency, hurting low- and middle-income people in cities.

In March 2020, to combat food insecurity, the government instituted price caps, took legal action against companies raising prices and handed out food to vulnerable citizens in urban areas. In April 2020, nearly 95% of households in Bishkek received aid from the government, while in rural areas, 26% received aid. The government’s efforts mitigated the worst of Kyrgyzstan’s increased food insecurity.

Informal Labor

Before the pandemic, informal employment accounted for 71% of all employment in Kyrgyzstan, a large cause of poverty. Informal workers, usually in the construction, trade or industry sectors, usually have no contracts with their employer, increasing their risk of exploitation. During the pandemic, as unemployment rose, informal employees found themselves without the same social protection systems and labor rights as formal employees.

The construction industry, one of the largest sectors of the Kyrgyz economy, employs an especially large amount of informal labor. Due to falling investment and government restrictions, the construction sector has suffered particularly badly, with business owners reporting major drops in employment.

The Government and World Bank Assists

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Bank has created three assistance programs totaling $88 million to combat the effects of COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan. The programs target both urban and rural poverty, focusing on food insecurity, the environment and low wages.

One of the programs, the Emergency Support for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, is providing $25 million in microloans to small and medium-sized businesses suffering from the effects of the pandemic. With a focus on entrepreneurs, this World Bank program aims to help modernize Kyrgyzstan’s economy and workforce.

The World Bank also implemented the Social Protection Emergency Response and Delivery Systems to protect those most at risk of sliding into poverty. This response includes grants for vulnerable families with children and enhanced unemployment insurance for workers across all economic sectors. In the long run, this program will focus on developing income-generating skills in order to make the benefits of relief sustainable after the pandemic has passed.

The World Bank’s third program, the CASA-1000 Community Support Project, will fund small infrastructure projects across Kyrgyzstan. Community members will define and carry out the projects so that each locality has its needs met. The program will support projects in every sub-district, ensuring widespread impact.

The World Bank also supplied emergency funding for Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare system, with $12 million delivered as of March 2021. The funding helped the country acquire 266 hospital beds, 26 ambulances and 342 sets of breathing support equipment, along with funding for medicine, PPE and other supplies necessary for combating the pandemic.

Progress and the Road Ahead

As of July 2021, more than 2,000 Kyrgyz had died of COVID-19 and more than half a million have entered into poverty. The government, in partnership with the World Bank, has taken action to fight both the health and economic effects of the pandemic. New legislation and World Bank programs aim to bring Kyrgyzstan through the pandemic with a stronger economy and a less vulnerable population.

Justin Morgan
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in Central Asia
Central Asia comprises Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The combined population of these countries is about 72 million. Promising foreign aid efforts in Central Asia are working to combat a variety of issues in these countries.

Food Distribution

One critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia has been food security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been leading a program to provide food to impoverished children in Tajikistan. This program has given vegetable oil and flour to more than 22,000 households in Tajikistan.

This has been part of a more significant effort by the WFP School Feeding Programme to ensure student food security in Tajikistan. The School Feeding Programme has helped more than 600,000 students across the country.

Russia is a critical contributor to these aid programs. Since 2012, Russia has given more than $28 million to the School Feeding Programme to facilitate food distribution and the modernization of food infrastructure for schools.

The World Food Programme and Russia are not the only sources of food aid in Central Asia. The United Arab Emirate’s 100 Million Meals campaign has distributed more than 600,000 meals to Central Asia as of June 2021.

The organization gave out food baskets with enough food to feed an entire family for a month. It assists families in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The campaign coordinated with other charity organizations within these three countries, and the campaign target has already increased from 100 million meals to more than 200 million meals.

Electrical and Water Supply

Another critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia is the development of electrical infrastructure and water management. The U.S. recently started an effort via USAID to develop a sustainable and reliable electricity market in the region. An October 2020 agreement between USAID, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan planned to create an electrical market with “expected economic benefits from regional trade and… reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

USAID also recently started the Water and Vulnerable Environment project, which will help all five Central Asian countries. The project aims to “promote regional cooperation to improve natural resources (water) management that sustains both growths, promote[s] healthy ecosystems, and prevent[s] conflict.” This is the second water management project USAID has supported in the region in recent years, as it recently completed the Smart Waters project.

The Smart Waters project successfully ensured that dozens of citizens received degrees in water management or received additional training in the field. The project also trained almost 3,000 people in “water resources management, water diplomacy, water-saving technologies, and international water law through 100 capacity building events.”

Medical Assistance

USAID partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 to help Uzbekistan address the management of drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project’s goal is to better manage the disease by providing assistance to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Health. The program conducted 35 training sessions throughout Uzbekistan, which resulted in more than 600 specialists receiving certification to prevent, identify and treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In recent years, foreign aid in Central Asia has resulted in food distribution, medical assistance, efforts to develop an electrical grid and assistance in water management. The U.S., Russia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed to these efforts alongside various international and local organizations.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a small nation in Central Asia. It is west of China and south of Kazakhstan. In 2019, this former Soviet country ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). Kyrgyzstan is now part of it along with 180 other countries. The approval of the CRPD showcases the progress that various organizations have made in recent years toward creating a more inclusive Kyrgyzstan. This is of vital importance to more than 31,000 registered children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan who often lack basic civil rights.

Barriers to Inclusion

Since Soviet rule, the prevailing mindset in Kyrgyzstan is that people with disabilities require fixing. This has led to the development of stigmas against people with disabilities, and in turn, their exclusion from daily life. This can take the form of the children not receiving an education, and having limited access to health and rehabilitation services and institutional placement. According to UNICEF, in 2012, more than 3,200 children and teenagers with disabilities were living in institutions. Here, they often face inhumane treatment. For example, Human Rights Watch documented that staff use “psychotropic drugs or forced psychiatric hospitalization to control children’s behavior and punish them.” This kind of treatment is harmful and can result in an overdose.

Learning Better Together

In 2018, the Kyrgyzstan government launched several initiatives with the intention of fostering inclusion. One of these initiatives is the Learning Better Together Initiative. This is a partnership between USAID, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan and UNICEF. UNICEF is responsible for placing children with disabilities or special needs in local schools. Teachers received training on how to work with children with disabilities and how to identify areas in which students need extra help.

There were 20 schools that participated in the pilot program. Each one received grants to use as they best saw fit. For example, the school in Kok-Sai used the grant to build a dance room and purchase exercise equipment to help children with disabilities improve their physical health.

While the main focus of the Learning Better Together Initiative is children with disabilities, it also implemented multilingual education. At least 20 school settings practiced this concept during the pilot program. These programs are important for a multiethnic nation like Kyrgyzstan.

Open the Door to the Child!

“Open the door to the child!” is a UNICEF public campaign. It is in partnership with the Osh and Bishkek Mayor’s office that informed the public about children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. Billboards displayed advertisements that talked about accepting those with disabilities. Similar posters and banners hung on bus stops and city lights. The stories of children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, including their trials and victories, aired on local television throughout the Osh Oblast (region).

Additionally, kindergartens handed out bilingual pamphlets to parents, outlining how to connect with children with disabilities. Psychology and sociology students came to kindergartens to teach how to make friends with others, including those who have disabilities.

UNICEF’s Early Identification and Early Intervention Programme for Children with Disabilities is a program that sends health care workers to homes with newborns and children to screen for health issues and disabilities. Currently, UNICEF is striving for early detection in children 8-years-old and under to ensure they get adequate health services. UNICEF is also aiming to prevent a child’s health from worsening.


Buchur is a daycare center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which specializes in working with children with disabilities. Founded by UNICEF, the city now runs and finances the daycare center itself. Here, children with disabilities between the ages of 2 and 16 can learn skills and interact with one another instead of facing isolation at home. Furthermore, it facilitates a smooth integration into kindergarten or school. Buchur also tutors children from mainstream schools who need help with homework. Similar facilities are uncommon in Kyrgyzstan.

Basketball for All

Inspired by a similar Ukrainian program, Basketball for All teaches kids with down syndrome or autism the skills and teamwork needed to play basketball. Administered by World Link and FLEX alumni, this is the first project of its kind in Kyrgyzstan. Organizers integrate parent and student feedback into the program to ensure it has the desired effect on students. Though the COVID-19 pandemic cut the initial run of the program short, the organizers have expressed interest in continuing the program after the pandemic.

Kelechek Plus

Kelechek Plus is an organization that focuses on issues surrounding children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. One of its programs focuses on building inclusive playgrounds for children. These playgrounds help expose non-disabled children to children with disabilities and vice versa. This is important to the mental and emotional needs of the children. Kelechek Plus has built playgrounds in various cities around Kyrgyzstan, such as Osh and Karakol. A wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round is an example of the type of structures that parents could find at one of Kelechek Plus’ playgrounds.

The progress that Kyrgyzstan has made over the last few years has been valuable in regard to the inclusion of children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. However, most NPO and government initiatives affect mainly the cities, leaving the rural areas in need of social and academic services. Government assistance in rural areas needs to occur. However, the success of current inclusive programs could serve as a roadmap throughout Kyrgyzstan.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr