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

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

Central Asian Geopolitics
In the heart of Central Asia lies the Kyrgyz Republic. Many consider the country an island of democracy in the region and it sports a comparatively open and competitive economy. It can be surprising then that the average Kyrgyz family earns under $1,000 a year. Its importance in Central Asian geopolitics, combined with economic reforms, has helped make it the top recipient of development assistance in the region. With a presidential election scheduled for January 2021, the new government will have to answer serious questions about which global power it aligns itself to and whether or not that alignment will bring about progress in lifting roughly 23% of the country’s population out of poverty.

Kyrgyzstan emerged from the Soviet Union’s fall with a far different government than its fellow former Soviet states. While dictatorships and tightly-controlled economies rule its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan enjoyed economic and political reforms. This led to an influx of international supporters. Development aid became the crutch upon which Kyrgyzstan’s economy leaned. The diversity of donors has given the country the unique ability to align itself with countries that best suit their interests. The problem has been that the guiding interests have been too often those of the top politicians rather than the population. Much of the blame has gone to former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiyev took over in 2005 and spent five years perfecting a system of crony capitalism that left nearly 34% of the Kyrgyz people under the poverty line, while deeply enriching himself, his family and his friends.

Help in Crisis

Ten years later, the country is still working to shake the lasting economic and political flaws of the Bakiyev Administration. During October 2020, the political landscape was changing on a seemingly daily basis. The leadership future for the country remains uncertain but will require an ability to maintain channels of aid from a wide array of actors. Much of Kyrgyzstan’s help comes from international organizations like the World Bank. Currently, it works to help Kyrgyzstan combat the pandemic with the Emergency COVID-19 Project.

The Kyrgyz Republic received $160.15 million with the bulk of the money focused on helping with recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Specifically, the emergency aid has funded the creation of new hospitals, renovation of 24 existing hospitals, provisions of mechanical ventilators, defibrillators and an assortment of Intensive Care Unit equipment. These aim to not only provide aid during the current pandemic but also laying the groundwork for future health crises. This is, of course, just one example of a meaningful step towards helping the Kyrgyz people. Typically, the majority of that help has come from countries like Russia, China and the United States.

The Great Game

These world powers have been vying for economic and political leverage over Kyrgyzstan since its birth as a nation. Of those powers, Russia has historically been Kyrgyzstan’s preferred suitor. However, in 2001, the U.S. built its most important transit base for the Afghanistan War at Manas airbase, just outside of the capital, Bishkek. This was a landmark move because Kyrgyzstan became the only country in the world to host a Russian and U.S. military base simultaneously. In 2006, foreign aid started pouring in from the U.S. The uneasy relationship between the three nations nearly boiled over in 2009. That year, Bakiyev announced plans to close the U.S. airbase where roughly 98% of coalition forces were passing in transit to Afghanistan. Later that same year, Bakiyev signed a law allowing for the continued use of the Manas airbase after the U.S. agreed to triple the annual rent paid.

Bishkek and Beijing

Relations between the U.S. and the Kyrgyz Republic continued to decline. By 2019, U.S. foreign aid to the Kyrgyz Republic had dropped 37%. Russia’s economic influence also appeared to be waning as China gradually took on the role of the principal donor. While the Kyrgyz population largely dislikes its eastern neighbor, the governments of China and Kyrgyzstan have an increasingly cozy relationship; one built increasingly upon economic dependence. Roughly 32% of the country’s imports come from China including the majority of its oil. That marks a larger percentage than any other country in Central Asia. This statistic is only a window into the economic melding between the two countries.

As of 2017, Kyrgyzstan’s debt to China made up 42.3% of its GDP. Additionally, 26.2% of its Foreign Direct Investment came from China. Kyrgyzstan’s participation in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) largely spurred this. The initiative is a multi-trillion-dollar plan for global infrastructure and trade routes spanning three continents. Kyrgyzstan has become one of the countries most indebted to China since the project’s start in 2013.

The Buckle in the Belt

Dependency on China has only grown. Despite there being serious rifts between the populations of the two nations, for China, this comes down to central Asian geopolitics. Kyrgyzstan controls the Tien Shan mountain range which surrounds the best overland connection between Europe and Asia. As China invests billions of dollars in a global effort to rebuild its land belt of trade, Kyrgyzstan rises as a crucial point of entry between vast mountains. Maintaining a favorable and dependent relationship is therefore essential for Beijing.

The Kyrgyz People

While the world superpowers use the Kyrgyz Republic as a chess piece in the great game of central Asian geopolitics, there is one group that seems left out: the roughly 6 million people living in Kyrgyzstan, 23% of whom still live below the poverty line. Whoever gains control of the government in January 2021 will have to decide how to handle the powerful suitors vying for influence over the country in a way that benefits the Kyrgyz people rather than simply the allies of a particular party or company.

Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in KyrgyzstanPatriarchal culture and deep-rooted traditions within the country have contributed to child marriage in Kyrgyzstan. Despite the legal age for marriage being 18, an estimated 19% of girls in Kyrgyzstan are married before this age. Due to the country’s history and various social factors, child marriage in Kyrgyzstan remains an issue. Organizations such as the National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan, are fighting for girls’ rights in the country.

History of Child Marriage in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan was formerly a member of the Soviet Union. Under Soviet control, many of the traditions and values of the country were repressed. Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, the government of Kyrgyzstan attempted to maintain power by appealing to nationalism and reviving the traditions of the country. One of these traditions was the practice of child marriage, which has seen increases in many Central Asian countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Factors Associated with Child Marriage

Social issues, including poverty, lack of education, cultural emphasis on honor and practices of bride kidnapping, contribute to the practice of child marriage. In Kyrgyzstan’s poorest households, 16% of girls are married as children compared to 9% of girls from families with higher incomes. Girls with primary or no education are more likely to be married by the age of 18 than girls with a more substantial education – 4% compared to 33%, respectively.

Kyrgyzstan culture emphasizes family honor and child marriage is linked to the desire to ensure that girls do not engage in premarital sex. Child marriage is also linked to the practice of bride kidnapping, where the girl is taken by force to the house of a man who wants to marry her and is slowly convinced by him and his family to agree to the marriage. An estimated 12,000 bride kidnappings occur each year and it is believed that many girls agree to child marriages in an attempt to avoid being kidnapped.

Effects of Child Marriage in Kyrgyzstan

Child marriage causes many hardships for women and girls in Kyrgyzstan. Due to the unequal nature of child marriages, domestic violence is common for child brides. Child brides often face difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth due to their young age and immature physical development. These marriages often put an end to girls’ education as they have to drop out of school to raise children and undertake domestic tasks. This limits their future ability to find jobs and become financially independent, putting them at risk of being unable to leave abusive relationships.

In addition, because child marriages are illegal under Kyrgyzstan’s laws, many of these marriages are not officially registered with the state until both parties are over the age of 18, the legal age for marriage. Since women in unregistered marriages do not have access to resources such as property, alimony and child support, they are limited in their independence and ability to leave a marriage.

The National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan

A key organization combatting child marriage in Kyrgyzstan is the National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan (NFFCK). NFFCK is an organization created by teenage girls with the mission of giving girls throughout the country the tools and knowledge necessary to avoid child marriages and other forms of gender discrimination. The organization provides sex education and awareness programs regarding health issues, smoking and drugs, in addition to teaching leadership skills. NFFCK also is an advocacy organization, conducting awareness campaigns on social issues such as child marriage to create policy changes.

A grant provided to NFFCK by the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women allowed the organization to create an educational program, Educating Girls Through Education, Art and Media, in three villages. The program had benefited 600 people as of 2016.

Over the course of just two years, NFFCK worked with 41 girls to avoid child marriage through its education and leadership-building programs. NFFCK provided nearly 500 girls with some form of “practical support” and more than 1,600 girls with “consultations on child marriage and bride kidnapping.” Overall, NFFCK has educated 12,000 girls on their rights.

Governmental Efforts to End Child Marriage

The government is also committing to do more to end child marriages. In 2016, President Almazbek Atambayev passed Article 155, which creates a legal basis for the punishment of adults who perform marriage ceremonies involving minors. The 2015-2017 National Action Plan on Gender Equality also included awareness programs for the public and the military on the harmful effects of child marriage. Still, an estimated 14% of girls under the age of 18 were married in 2019, indicating that child marriage in Kyrgyzstan remains a serious issue. With ongoing efforts and commitments from the government and organizations, child marriage in Kyrgyzstan can be successfully combated.

– Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in KrygyzstanA small, landlocked state in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was formerly part of the Soviet Republic with a volatile past and an uncertain future. While the country has had consistent economic growth since gaining independence in 1991, 22.4% of its population still live below the poverty line. Additionally, Kyrgyzstan struggles with internal ethnic conflict, unstable relations with neighboring countries, demographic trends in emigration and geographic weaknesses. This article will explore the many factors contributing to poverty in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the steps the country—and the world—are taking to solve it.

Geographic Disadvantage

Geography is an undeniable factor in determining the wealth and strength of a country. Unfortunately for Kyrgyzstan, geography has played a significant role in ensuring that the state is politically disconnected and economically restrained. Mountains, valleys and basins dominate Kyrgyzstan’s geography. Together, the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges account for roughly 65% of the country’s land. Urban areas are located in the valleys separating the mountains, with agricultural production mainly in the Fergana Valley to the northeast.

Kyrgyzstan’s political borders are the result of Stalinist intervention that purposefully divided ethnic groups in order to create conflict. This political division, combined with mountains separating populations, created an unstable and disconnected region. Kyrgyzstan contains few navigable rivers and is geographically landlocked, forcing it to depend on other countries to transport goods to global markets. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan’s geographical location is too close to Russia and China to warrant a significant Western investment. Kyrgyzstan can only overcome its geographic weaknesses with favorable trade deals and investment in transportation networks that connect the country to the outside world.

Economic Weakness

With a GDP of $8.5 billion and GDP per capita at $1,323, Kyrgyzstan’s economy lacks the natural resources and industrial diversity to thrive in the global economy. While GDP growth is consistently 4-5% annually, the country’s poverty rate has remained relatively stagnant since 2009. This stagnation is the result of the lack of job creation and wage growth in the country. Corruption and difficult business conditions have kept away investors, while the stronger Russian market exacerbates the trend of emigration.

The economy is dominated by mineral extraction, agriculture and animal domestication—sectors that are unlikely to grow in the coming years. Economic activity is so isolated in Kyrgyzstan that the Kumtor gold mine alone creates approximately 8% of the country’s GDP. However, there is hope for the economy in the tourism and hydroelectric power industries. With proper investment, Kyrgyzstan’s dams and mountain views could be the needed catalyst for economic diversification.

Political Instability and Corruption

Kyrgyzstan’s experience as a former member of the Soviet Republic has created a culture of political instability since the country achieved independence in 1991. Border wars over the Fergana Valley resulted in an atmosphere of suspicion in the region and led to the elections of nationalist strongmen in Kyrgyzstan. This social upheaval continued until 2010 when the nation adopted a parliamentary constitution with significant checks and balances. Even today, Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state where the president is limited to a single term.

Despite progress in balancing branches of government, the new system was unable to calm the ethnic and regional tensions that had been simmering for decades. Additionally, corruption continues to harm Kyrgyzstan’s courts and business reputation due to the lack of accountability institutions. Businesses routinely pay off judicial officials and civil service personnel in order to earn tax abatement and political favors. The government has responded with reforms intended to improve Kyrgyzstan’s business environment but still lacks the ability to vet judicial appointments. With officials more interested in securing their own fortunes than the country’s well-being, it is clear that the political system perpetuates the cyclical poverty in Kyrgyzstan that plagues the country.

Demographic Trends

Understanding the demographics of a country can be essential in gauging future economic performance and societal progress. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, of which a majority are Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tajiks or Russian. While roughly three children are born to every Kyrgyz woman, the population growth rate remains around 1% due to significant emigration. The stronger Russian and Kazak markets, combined with a significant Russian minority ensures that this trend will continue into the next decade, curbing economic growth in the country. The urban and rural divide is also striking.

Only 35.6% of Kyrgyz peoples live in urban areas in comparison to the worldwide average of 55%. This statistic speaks to the weaknesses of a decentralized state lacking infrastructure investment. Additionally, the presence of minority groups from other Central Asian nations is the primary reason for the continuing tension in the region. Kyrgyzstan’s efforts at private industry reform have combatted the emigration trend to some extent. However, addressing Kyrgyzstan’s lack of centralization can only occur through infrastructure investment; a policy that requires significant capital in a mountainous nation.

Solutions

Despite the many dimensions of poverty in Kyrgyzstan, government reforms and international institutions alike have made significant progress in addressing this problem. The country has employed a multi-pronged approach to alleviating poverty in Kyrgyzstan and addressing shortcomings in the economy and government. Some of the policy proposals include reforming legal and regulatory institutions, developing the private sector, improving infrastructure and revamping social services. As many of these proposals are capital-intensive, Kyrgyzstan has turned to international financial institutions for funding. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank support important infrastructure projects in the country, including hydroelectric dams that power much of the region. The Asian Development Bank has been especially beneficial to Kyrgyzstan, with assistance reaching $2.13 billion on 192 projects.

While Kyrgyzstan has made progress in recent years, addressing poverty in Kyrgyzstan depends on whole scale reexaminations of the role of the private sector and courts in civil society. With support from the international community, targeted investment and governmental integrity, it is completely possible for Kyrgyzstan to overcome its many challenges.

Matthew Compan
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Kyrgyzstan
Homelessness has been rising steadily in Kyrgyzstan and has remained a prominent issue within the country in recent years. Kyrgyzstan is a small, mountainous country located in central Asia. With a population of approximately 6 million, the country’s economy is in the lower-middle-income bracket with a GDP of $8 billion as of 2018 and has a heavy reliance on agriculture. It was a member of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991 and subsequently lost much of its financial support. Despite this, poverty has been steadily decreasing from 50% during the mid-1990s but remains high at approximately 22%. In addition, an estimated 70% of Kyrgyz citizens require new housing or are homeless.

Reality at a Glance

Approximately 3,500 Kyrgyz citizens living in the capital, Bishkek, are homeless, and the city only has one year-round homeless shelter that houses a maximum of 70 people. On top of this, Kyrgyzstan’s extremely cold weather during winter months makes the lack of safe housing potentially lethal, leading to dozens dying due to overexposure every year.

Many charity workers attribute the rise of homelessness in Kyrgyzstan to alcohol abuse, as well as the rising population, migration into larger cities, unemployment and inability for people to reintegrate into society after prison time. Additionally, the country has built very few new homes. In fact, 85% of houses emerged during the Soviet era, meaning that even those who have access to housing may not have access to basic necessities or require repairs.

Currently, Kyrgyz law dictates that every citizen should receive a plot of land. However, this policy led to corruption, and many are unable to claim their land due to bureaucratic obstacles. Migrants illegally grab land near Bishkek, and the government does not resettle or evict the migrants, which slows down the wait time for receiving an official plot of land. Additionally, many settlements do not have legal recognition or receive essential government services unless they already have a substantial infrastructure in place and have wealthier citizens wanting to move in. As a result, the government benefits from the labor of settlers working to improve previously inhabitable land into a desirable place to live.

A Look Forward

In spite of these difficulties, Kyrgyzstan’s economy has been steadily improving for the past 20 years, and the government has taken steps to try and remedy the homelessness in Kyrgyzstan. The country operates on the Affordable Housing program through the State Mortgage Company established in 2013. The company works to help the people of Kyrgyzstan gain access to houses, and for building new housing. Additionally, the Street Football Federation of Kyrgyzstan has been working with vulnerable children and marginalized adults living in illegal settlements in Kyrgyzstan by running annual tournaments at orphanages, providing humanitarian aid, and giving opportunities while selecting the national Homeless World Cup team.

Ever since 2010, Kyrgyzstan has been steadily stabilizing over the years. The causes of poverty within the country are not unsolvable, and humanitarian aid has greatly improved conditions. Despite the turmoil and economic unrest, there is still hope for the further reduction of poverty and homelessness in Kyrgyzstan.

Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan
In November of 2019, approximately 500 protestors assembled in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to express their dissatisfaction with the corruption in their country. The protestors demanded that law enforcement further investigate a $700 million money-laundering scheme, first discovered by the media. This incident of corruption is nothing new in the country of Kyrgyzstan.

Corruption is a common occurrence in the everyday life of Kyrgyzstan. The issue is especially common among businesses and in the government. Across the country’s judiciary and police forces, along with other sectors, corruption prevails. While many efforts to reduce fraud in Kyrgyzstan have had little effect, there are still routes the country can take to combat the large amounts of corruption within the country.

Judiciary

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary is extremely troublesome. This means that any anti-corruption legislation is implemented inadequately by the judiciary itself. Because of this, many efforts to reduce corruption in Kyrgyzstan have been largely unsuccessful. Attorneys in Kyrgyzstan’s legal system have often reported that giving bribes to judges is a regular occurrence. Many attorneys make the complaint that no matter how well organized their arguments might be, they know that ultimately it is these bribes that determine the decision of the case. In 2010 there was an attempt to reform the judiciary in order to eliminate corruption within it. However, the attempt failed because the government politicized the reform. Specifically, the president and parliament sought to use it as a way to assign judges that suited their political preferences.

Police

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan also extends to the police force. Unprofessional behavior among police officers is a regular occurrence, and as a result, law enforcement is much less effective in performing its duties. Some evidence has also shown that local law enforcement units answer directly to local government officials rather than serve the citizens. This type of behavior is especially common amongst police forces in Southern Kyrgyzstan. There are also reports that police will arrest people and threaten prosecutions in order to extort money from these “suspects”. Foreigners in Kyrgyzstan are especially at risk. The cars that foreign people drive in Kyrgyzstan have specialized license plates, making it easier for police officers to target them.

Reform

Despite the pervasive amount of corruption in Kyrgyzstan and the ineffective reforms that have passed, various institutions studying the corruption within Kyrgyzstan have made suggestions. One such institution is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. After conducting extensive research on the issue, the OECD concluded that the best way for Kyrgyzstan to proceed is to not rely on the judiciary and prosecution service. The OECD recognizes that the judiciary stands in the way of truly preventing and eliminating corruption in Kyrgyzstan. Another possible solution is that Kyrgyzstan uses specialized law enforcement that deals specifically with corruption cases.

While not the sole cause of poverty, corruption definitely can have an effect on it. This is especially the case when corruption affects businesses, which can negatively impact business owners and thus their employees. The best way for Kyrgyzstan to proceed in preventing corruption is by making some changes in the judiciary as the OECD recommends.

Jacob Lee
Photo: Flickr