Lack of Refuge for Kazakhstan’s Domestic Violence Survivors


A woman rides a bus wearing face protective mask amid concerns over the coronavirus, in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, March 16, 2020. 


© 2020 Vladislav Vodnev / Sputnik via AP

While Kazakhstan authorities fight the spread of coronavirus by putting much of the country under lockdown, they should ensure domestic violence victims can still access refuge and services despite quarantine measures.

On March 15, following confirmation of the country’s first COVID-19 cases, Kazakhstan declared a one-month “state of emergency,” shutting all non-essential organizations. Quarantine measures in dozens of cities across the country prohibit free movement unless authorized.

Such restrictions may force many women and children facing domestic violence into isolation with their abusers, sequestered from the outside world and any assistance.

Most crisis centers and shelters for domestic violence victims – many run by nongovernmental organizations (NGO) – stopped accepting new survivors due to the mandatory quarantine measures and lack of capacity for social distancing or self-isolation. Their activities are now limited to online consultations. However, at least two nongovernmental organization-run centers made exceptions and accepted newcomers, despite health risks, fines, and even arrests. Only one state-run crisis center continues to formally receive survivors in a separate supplementary safe space.

Kazakhstan already has too few shelter spaces for domestic abuse victims. Now they may have nowhere to go.

Activists and the United Nation’s top women rights body have urged Kazakhstan to criminalize domestic violence as a standalone offense. But on April 9, parliament began discussing a new domestic violence law that fails to include such a provision.

Authorities should deem crisis centers and shelters as “essential” services that may operate even during states of emergency. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, they should provide shelters with necessary protective equipment and food supplies. They should also prioritize virus testing for shelter residents and staff due to close quarters within the shelters.

During quarantine, authorities should make alternative temporary accommodation for those fleeing abuse available – such as hotel rooms or apartments – to avoid overcrowding in shelters. These facilities should enable self-isolation and physical distancing, provide access to medical care and mental health services, and address survivors’ security needs. There should also be facilities accessible to people with disabilities.

Authorities should explicitly state that anyone experiencing domestic abuse can seek refuge regardless of restrictions on movement. And police should be informed and trained so that their response is adequate and timely.