Kyrgyzstan is situated in a mountainous region and is divided into seven provinces. Bishek (the capital) and Osh are the two largest cities in the country. Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.1 Kyrgyzstan is a democratic republic which gained independence in 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its population of 5.5 million is composed of a majority of Kyrgyz (70%), Russians and Uzbeks (15%), who comprise the main ethnic and linguistic minorities.2 Other minorities residing in Kyrgyzstan include Dungans (Chinese Muslims) and Ukrainians.The largest part of the population is Muslim (75%), followed by the Russian Orthodox community and Christians.3 Recent social fragmentation within the country has caused communal violence and inter-ethnic clashes in the south of the country.
Children and adolescents form a large section of the country’s population. Children below 14 years of age comprise nearly 30 percent of the inhabitants.4 Like other countries that gained independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan went through a difficult economic transition and children have been amongst those who suffered the adverse consequences.5 Today more than half a million children are in need of special protection.6 Kyrgyzstan is a poor country, with an average income per capita of less than 3,000 dollars per year. Furthermore, the Human Development Index ranks the country at 108 out of the 169 states listed.7 These difficulties reflect on the status of children with 43.3 percent of children living in poverty and 7.7 percent of these children residing in extreme poverty. Severe poverty particularly affects families living in rural areas and in the mountainous regions.8 One of the negative effects of the widespread poverty is that children and adolescents suffer from violence, abuse and desperation.9 Even though accurate figures are unavailable, the number of children living and working in the streets is increasing, as well as the number of children living in institutions, despite the fact that many of these children have living parents or relatives.10
The literacy rate of the Kyrgyzstan population is high (99%).11 Enrollment in primary and secondary school extends to nearly the entire child population.12 However, UNICEF’s sources indicate that at least 50,000 children, who represent 4 percent of school-age children, do not attend school.13 Additionally, the right of the Uzbek minority to have access to education in their mother tongue is not fulfilled, the school curricula does not reflect the cultural diversity of the country and part of the population remains excluded from accessing quality education.14
Women represent a vulnerable group in Kyrgyz society.The prevalence of domestic violence against women is high and underreported.The society tends to downplay physical aggression against women; consequently, children’s development is also affected.15 According to recent statistics, 38 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 view domestic violence as a justifiable measure to punish women.16 The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GIEACPC) noted that corporal punishment of children at home and in public institutions such as schools and foster care institutions has not been outlawed.17 According to nongovernmental organizations working in the country, in the majority of institutions supporting children deprived of family care, various forms of cruel treatment and punishment are widespread.18
The number of street children in Kyrgyzstan is high, particularly in the southern regions.19 According to UNICEF, the number of children living and working in the streets is increasing, but there is limited data available due to the absence of an official structure responsible for collecting data in this domain.20 Some statistics suggest there are an estimated 2,000 children living and/or working in the streets in Bishkek and 1,000 in Osh.21 Street children are particularly vulnerable to prostitution, physical abuse, as well as extreme poverty.22 Their vulnerability is a result of socio-economic difficulties including poverty, labor migration and parental alcoholism or drug addiction. At times, children are the only income earners of the family and feel responsible to provide for the needs of the entire family, not only for food and money but also alcohol.23
There is limited specific information available on the extent of commercial sexual exploitation in Kyrgyzstan. However, there is evidence of sexual violence of children in its different forms. Some traditional practices facilitate the exposure of children to sexual abuse. A concern is the practice of child marriage in the country. According to the State of the World’s Children latest report, 14% of girls in rural areas marry before they reach the age of 18.24
Every year there is an average of 11 officially recorded marriages where the bride is under 16 years and approximately 300 cases where brides are under 17 years of age.25 Labrys, a Kyrgyz organization for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), together with the Sexual Rights Initiative reported that 0.3 percent of Kyrgyz girls between the age of 15 to 19 reported getting married before the age of 15.26 However, this data probably does not reflect the scale of the problem because the number of traditional Muslim marriages (unregistered) is increasing and the number of brides and their respective ages stays unreported. Furthermore, the fact that since 2005 there has been a steady rise in births among underage girls (15-17 years) may reflect the prevalence of child marriages.27 In 2008, the average birthrate was 4.5 children per 1,000 women in this age group, totalling 1,600 new babies born annually from underage mothers.The highest rates of underage mothers are found in the Chui region (9.4 children per 1,000 women in this age group). Additionally, in recent years, the number of abortions performed on youth has been very high.In 2008, 1,815 abortions (8.6 % of the total number of abortions) were performed on girls aged 12 to 19 and more that 200 abortions are performed annually on girls younger than 14.28 The government does not have a program to tackle the problem of child marriage.29 Additionally the practices of bride kidnapping, bride payment, polygamy and arranged marriages are supposedly increasing30 and a recently conducted survey highlighted the fact that many youth do not necessarily condemn these practices. While 66.7% of the youth interviewed condemned the practice of bride kidnapping, the remaining youth did not, claiming not to have a clear opinion about the subject.31
During the last UPR session held in 2010, the government of Jordan suggested to Kyrgyzstan that they increase of the minimum age for marriage for girls.32 Currently, the Kyrgyz Family Code has established the legal age of marriage at 18 years for both men and women. However, the law envisages exceptions and the minimum age of marriage can be legally reduced by 2 years.33
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