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Announcing our free family law training series!

Bakai Adbykul uulu gives an overview of child support law at For Families' Aug. 24 workshop, "How to Get Alimony for your Children"

Saturday, August 24, 2019 – For Families legal specialist, Bakai Abdykul uulu, provided a free training for parents seeking alimony support for their children. This event was the first in a series of trainings to empower parents with legal knowledge, skills, individualized advising so that they can bring their own family law cases to court with confidence.

Family law – the area of law that governs marriage, divorce, child custody, and child support – impacts the most meaningful parts of our lives: who our children grow up with, the support we can provide them, the way we unite with our partners and, if we so choose, the terms on which we leave them. It is the field of law that reaches deepest into our daily lives and that saturates all realms of society. 

This combination of factors – the omnipresence of family law and its deep importance to our daily lives – makes it one of the most likely areas for people with no legal background to become involved in court litigation. An alimony proceeding is inescapable even for those who are least able to afford it, to understand the laws involved in it, and to assess the quality of the lawyer/advocate representing them. Meanwhile, the outcome will have ramifications for their employment, their children’s education and well-being, and their household prosperity for years to come.

At For Families, we empower citizens who have no legal background to understand their family law rights and responsibilities – with the detailed information and long-term support to bring their cases to court. As a first step in this journey, on August 24 our legal specialist Bakai Abdykul uulu provided the first in a series of free public workshops on how to secure child support payments. The workshop included case-by-case advising plus an overview of:

  • What to expect from the court process
  • Different ways of calculating alimony and how they impact the amount you’ll receive
  • The factors that impact which alimony calculation method you can pick in your case.

 

We’ll be posting more materials from the event over the next week, including a series of recordings from the event, filmed with the generous support of UNDP and the Art Tengri Company. In the meantime, you can access guidebooks from our series, “The Law is Easy to Understand” on our Russian- and Kyrgyz- language site at the following links:

 

For Families' "The Law is Easy to Understand" family law guidebooks include basic legal information, step-by-step instructions for bringing your case, sample court forms, and the contact information of courts and government registries across the Kyrgyz Republic.

Investing in the long-term success of Kyrgyzstan’s children: An urgent priority for today.

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking at UNICEF’s conference, “Human Capital: Has the Time Come to Invest in Children?” The answer is, in brief, YES.

Some 800,000 children live in poverty in the Kyrgyz Republic – most often, these are the children of single-parents, of families with 4 or more children, and of families from certain regions of the country (Batken, in particular, has a high child poverty rate). Though the Kyrgyz Republic’s social welfare system is supposed to eliminate child poverty, 25% – 37.5% of children in poverty receive no support from the government (no one knows the exact rate of coverage; the above statistics come fro the Minister of Labor and Social Development).

Poverty is only a small part of the problem. Upwards of 80% of parents regularly engage in behaviors that, under international standards, constitute child abuse and neglect. Some 28% of children report being hit or kicked by their parents – actions that parents often see as a discipline strategy. More broadly, adults regularly yell at and reprimand children for minor mistakes or simple actions: no running, no jumping, no touching. As one colleague explained when reflecting on her childhood, “The way we’re raised, it makes you careful as an adult. If you’ve never seen a buffet before, you’re afraid to try it. Because your first thought is, ‘What if I get yelled at? What if I embarrass myself? If you don’t have express permission to do something, you don’t do it.'” From a human capital perspective, such norms do not seem conducive to a creative, dynamic economy. A core question for Kyrgyzstan’s leaders and citizenry alike is thus exactly what type of society they are trying to build for the future – and whether these child-rearing practices will allow that future to unfold.

Below are included my full remarks from the conference, discussing why investing in Kyrgyzstan’s families is an urgent priority in the here and now. Thank you to Gulsana Turusbekova, UNICEF Kyrgyz Republic’s Social Policy Specialist, for organizing this event and launching the conversation.

Investing in the Human Capital of Children Most in Need

24 – May – 2019

It is easy, sitting here today, to think of children’s “human capital” as an abstract issue – to boil it all down to some kind of policy, which will be written in a document, which may or may not be implemented in some way. And then what? If we succeed in investing in Kyrgyzstan’s children, the national economic effects will be felt 20 years from now. And if we fail to invest in Kyrgyzstan’s children, the national economic effects be felt 20 years from now. That’s a long time away.

But I am here to say that this in not about 2040. Or at least, this is not only about 2040. This is about children and parents who are struggling now, in 2019. Children and parents who desperately need help but are not getting that help – not from one another, not from their communities, not from businesses, not from the government. This is about creating the conditions for those families to thrive now, in the present, so that their members have the intellectual, emotional, moral, and physical health to build a prosperous nation starting from today – and extending well past 2040.

We have already heard that 32% of Kyrgyzstan’s children live in poverty. I’d like to make this statistic more personal. I’m going to do this by telling you about three children in my life. The first two are the sons of one of my relatives. They are both younger than 10 and live with their mother. She is divorced, cares for the boys alone, and works more than 12 hours a day as a seamstress. Often her clients don’t pay. Once, she tried to go to court to get a client to pay for his order, but that client was much wealthier than she is and she lost the case.

Her two boys go back and forth from her household to her ex-husband’s – no one has the money to keep them beyond a few months. And given their constant moving from village to city and back, the boys have never been to preschool or school. The older son, Nurlan, cannot count past 10. He does not recognize written numbers. How could he? His mom has no time to teach him, he has no access to school. When this child does eventually enter school, how well will he be able to learn? And when this child turns 20, what will he be able to contribute to Kyrgyzstan?

Improving this boy’s human capital is an urgent priority, not just for the future but for the immediate present. It is only by addressing the present that the future can become better. At a minimum, these solutions require improving the school system. But notice that in Nurlan’s case, that would make no difference – his family is struggling too much to even put him in school.

Investing in Nurlan’s human capital – and the human capital of thousands of other children like him – requires putting in place social support system that could help his mother, who lives in poverty despite her full-time work. It is about fixing the justice system, a system where the wealth of the litigants is more important than the existence of a legitimate contract. It is about creating fair institutions oriented toward lifting the population up rather than blocking them with bureaucratic barriers.

I want to repeat that: to create a thriving population, government institutions should lift the citizenry up rather than put it down. As Harvard economist Claudia Golden has noted, “the ability of nations to foster human capital accumulation depends on the existence of enabling institutions.” As we consider how the Kyrgyz Republic can build the human capital of its children, we must think of this challenge as one that faces the full governmental system – not as one that is the isolated responsibility of a ministry or two – and we must fundamentally rethink the role of the government. If we want to build human capital, it is not about controlling the population. It is about enabling the population.

The next child I would like to tell you about is one I met only this past weekend. My NGO was hosting an iftar meal for around 300 people, along with games for children. One child stood out – he was frightened. He wasn’t playing. The other boys started to strangle him and left him, crying and gulping for breath, on a bench as they went of to join the tug-of-war (arkan tartysh). What happened? “My family is poor,” he explained to our volunteers, “the older boys beat me up just because they can. My parents can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Being poor subjects children to cascades of discrimination, violence, and disadvantage. You may be tempted to laugh it off, to say that incidents like this toughen a boy up. But if you want to produce a generation of capable, motivated, and skilled workers, then making them accustomed to violence is not a good method. Worldwide, children who are bullied significantly underperform non-bullied children on math and reading tests. Indeed, the negative impact of bullying on academic performance is greater even than a that of the educational backgrounds of a student’s teachers and parents (!). Children who are poor are more likely to be bullied, and bullied children tend to grow up to be less productive employees, repeating a vicious cycle of linked poverty and violence – not only in their own lives, but for their nations as a whole.

I raise this second example to say that government institutions and policies are not enough. At the end of the day, we each have a personal responsibility to lift one another up. Think about what that child said – that because his parents are poor, other children can beat him. What kind of a society do we live in if 10-year-olds are taught that it is acceptable to hurt others because they are poor? And how could a society that teaches such values become prosperous, given that violence is well recognized to impede academic performance and job success?

I’d like to end by reiterating the three main messages from this talk:

  1. First, it is imperative to recognize that this is not a challenge for the future, but an urgent priority for the present. Children and families living in poverty are in desperate need of support, and it is only by giving them that support now that the a better future can be achieved;
  2. Second, the task of alleviating child poverty and improving youth’s human capital requires a coordinated effort across government agencies, as well as across all levels of government – local, district, regional, and national. The socio-economic problems underlying these challenges cut across departments and titles, and must be addressed by cross-cutting solutions;
  3. Third and finally, we all have the capacity to improve children’s human capital in our everyday actions. When you catch yourself yelling at someone weaker than you – stop yourself. When you see a child being bullied or beaten – intervene. You will not only be improving the life of someone who needs your help, you will also be contributing to the development of your nation.

Thank you.

 

Homemade #GoBlue Play dough for World Children’s Day!

Today, Tuesday November 20, 2018,  is World Children’s Day and there’s no better way to celebrate than by spending one-on-one time with the children in your life.

But at For Families we know that it isn’t easy to find fun, simple, and cheap activities – especially on a Tuesday night after work! – so we’re Challenging you to #GoBlue for World Children’s Day by making super simple blue play dough with your kids. It will take less than 5 minutes to set up and 6 KGS ($0.08).

Below we’ve given you two super simple play dough recipes, play ideas and tips, and how-to pictures for every step of the way. Check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts – @ForFamiliesKG – to see our family’s play dough playtime, get more ideas, and share pictures and videos from your family!

Recipe #1: Super simple blue play dough

This recipe is super simple, with only 4 ingredients that almost everyone either already has at home or is able to buy from the local corner store and pharmacy.

Cost per batch: 6 KGS                          Sabina hand and star               

Time to prepare: 3 to 5 minutes

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
½ cup salt
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons zelyonka (зелёнка) or blue food coloring

Step 1: In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
Step 2: Separately, mix together the water and zelyonka (or blue food coloring).
Step 3: Pour the water/zelyonka mix into the flour/salt mix and start to mix together with a spoon. Tip: your kids can get involved by pouring in the liquid and mixing the ingredients together.

Semetei making playdough
Step 4: Knead the dough until the flour is fully absorbed. If the dough is sticky, keep on adding flour until it is soft and smooth. Your kids may want to help you with the kneading process too.
Step 5: Play! This play dough recipe doesn’t keep well for beyond a day. But you can cook your kids’ play dough creations so they can keep them as toys. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for up to 15 minutes. Let your creations cool for at least 10 minutes before playing with them. Your kids may enjoy painting, drawing on, or making sculptures from their cooked toys.

Recipe #2: Stove-top blue play dough

This recipe involves a little bit more time, a few more ingredients, and a stove top. But the play dough will have a smoother texture and last longer than Recipe #1 (if you keep it stored in plastic bags or containers).

Cost per batch: 7 KGSSabina Rolling Pin

Time to prepare: 15 to 20 minutes

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
¾ cup salt
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons zelyonka (зелёнка) or blue food coloring

Step 1: In a medium pot, stir together the flour and salt.
Step 2: Mix the water, vegetable oil, and zelyonka (or blue food coloring) into the pot.
Step 3: Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Step 4: Once the dough has thickened and begins to form into a ball, remove it from the heat. Let it cool.
Step 5: Once the dough is cool, knead it for 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 6: Play!
Step 7: Store your playdough in airtight plastic bags or small plastic containers – it will keep for up to 3 months.
Alternatively, you can cook your kids’ playdough creations so they can keep them as toys. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for up to 15 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes. Your kids may enjoy painting, drawing on, or making sculptures from their cooked toys.

Play dough playtime: activity ideas and tips

Playtime isn’t just fun, it’s also hugely important to your children’s growth and development. Here are some activities you can do to help your children have fun and learn at the same time:

Activity 1: Sensory Play (Gross motor skills)

Especially for 1, 2, and 3 year olds, simple sensory play – seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing the world around them – can help them better understand the world and develop their gross motor (physical) skills.

Feel: Have them squish their hands into the playdough ball or step on it (feel). If they’re able to speak, ask them to describe how it feels (Squishy? Slimy? Wet? Cold? Warm?)

See: Ask your children what the playdough looks like – what color is it? What texture is it? If your children are counting, ask them to count how many fingers and toes they see in the playdough after they’ve put their hands and feet in it. If they’re not counting yet, you can point out the fingers and toes to them.

Hear: Hold the playdough up to your children’s ears while you squish it with your hands or pop air bubbles inside of the playdough (hear). This should make soft squishing sounds or “pops!” that your kids can hear and recreate themselves.

Smell and taste: Have the kids smell the playdough and ask them what it reminds them of (it will smell somewhat like bread) – but if you used zelyonka for the dye, don’t let them eat it! For little ones who like to put everything in their mouths, you may want to avoid the smelling altogether if you used zelyonka, as they may see this as an invitation to eat the playdough. If you used food coloring in your playdough – go ahead and let them smell and eat it, the playdough is fully edible!

Sabina Star

Activity 2: How much? How many? (Numeracy)

You can help your children develop numeracy – concepts of quantity and counting – with the playdough. For example, you can break off a small piece of playdough and ask your child which piece is bigger and which piece is smaller. If your child is too young to know the difference, you can show him or her which is bigger and smaller. You can also divide the playdough into piece of various sizes and ask your child to put them in order from smallest to largest (generally, this activity is appropriate for children starting around 3 or 4 years).

For children who can count, divide the play dough into 5, 10, or 20 pieces and ask your child to count how many there are (or count along with your child if he or she isn’t yet counting on her own). For younger children, you may want to only count up to 5 or so. For older children, you can break apart as many pieces as they can count to.

Activity 3: Let’s make letters! (Literacy)

You can help your children learn the alphabet – or spell, if they’re able to – by making letters out of the playdough, supporting their literacy learning. If you have letter-shaped cookie cutters, this is the easiest way to make playdough letters. If not, you can roll the playdough into noodles and shape them into letters. Playdough letters may be hard to maneuver while the playdough is wet, so you may want to bake a playdough alphabet and play with them and spell words after they’ve cooked and cooled (see cooking instructions in recipes 1 and 2, above).

For those who don’t yet know the alphabet, you can use these to teach them letter (you could also paste magnets to the letters and put them on your refrigerator). For those who are already spelling, make letters to spell words they’re learning like their names, colors, or animals.

Activity 4: Unstructured fun

The best part of playdough is just squishing, mashing, rolling, and getting creative with it. Give your kids a few tools – a rolling pin, cookie cutters, forks, spoons – and let them have fun with it however they want. Give them the chance to direct their own play; this helps them use their imaginations and creativity. As an added benefit, this is a time for you to get dinner ready or, even better, relax with a cup of tea while they’re having fun.

If your children are 2 or 3 years old, keep an eye on them while they play to make sure they don’t eat the playdough or put it in their mouths. You could set them up near you on the kitchen floor while you cook dinner.

Activity 5: Decorate! (Fine motor skills)

Eventually, your kids will get bored with the playdough. But the fun isn’t over yet! Take their creations, put them on a baking sheet, and bake them in the oven for 15 minutes. You’ll get hardened mini-sculptures to decorate. Once they’ve cooled, you can give them back to your kids along with markers, paint, glitter and glue, or any other craft materials your kids like and show them how to decorate their sculptures.

Our children – 2 and 3.5 years old – are learning about emotions now, so we poked holes in the playdough circles our son made, baked them, and then drew happy faces, sad faces, surprised faces, etc. on them – and then made an “emotions necklace” for them to use to express themselves. We also made stars for our daughter to hang from the ceiling and a herd of elephants for them to count.

What creative ideas did you and your kids come up with? Share pictures, ideas, and comments with us on Facebook or Instagram (@ForFamiliesKG) – be sure to include the hashtags #GoBlue and #ChoguuOinoibuz on your posts!

Semetei and Sabina

The Results Are In! Gender Equality Data for Social Norm Change

Before starting our behavior change and community mobilization work, we at For Families wanted to better understand how our community members think about gender equality, child-rearing, and violence. So we conducted a baseline survey asking community residents how they feel about these issues. Today’s, we’re exploring a sub-set of our survey results as they relate to gender equality. What do community residents believe gender equality is, and do they think it’s important? Do they have gender equality in their lives? If so, in what ways? And finally: how can we use this data to inform our behavior change and community mobilization campaign?

For those interested in learning a more about the methodology of this research, you’ll find a brief overview at the end of this article. For everyone else, here are some of the findings and themes that we’ll be using to shape our work in the coming year:

Women have less of a voice in choosing their spouse than men

Approximately 1 in 5 respondents said that they and their marriage partners did not mutually agree to marry (17% of female and 22% of male respondents). For women, the most common alternative to mutual agreement was that her husband’s family had chosen her (9% of female respondents). For men, the most common alternative was that the man had chosen his wife without her having chosen him (12.5% of male respondents). Thus when two partners had not mutually agreed to marry, it was the woman’s consent that was lacking while either the man or his family had chosen without her input. In-line with these results, 23% of marriages in this community were completed by bride-kidnapping, 11% higher than the national average.

But they tend to share decision-making once married

The majority of both men and women said that they and their spouse shared decision-making authority when it came to women’s health choices, issues related to their children, and spending on children’s clothes and food. Some 60% of women and 80% of men said that these choices were made jointly by themselves and their partners. An additional 20% of women, the majority of whom were single mothers, said they made such choices themselves. Where other family members were involved in making such decisions, it was usually the husband’s mother.

Neither men nor women seem to think women should have equal authority or voice

Overall, both female and male respondents believe that women and men should be treated equally, with 97% of women and 93% of men agreeing. At the same time – and in stark contrast – the vast majority of female and male respondents also believe that women should obey their husbands, that men should have the final say in family matters, and that women’s primary role is to take care of their home and families.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 12.52.39 PM

What it means for women and men to be “treated equally” thus does not mean that they have equal roles, responsibilities, or authority. Further discussion with community members on these points was revealing, with one woman describing:

“Yes, we should treat women and men equally in public and private. But if a woman is smart, she knows to put her husband first. Always tell him he’s great. Even if he comes home drunk, you lay out a cushion for him and say, ‘Come, my love, lie down and rest.’ That way the family stays strong and happy.”  – Woman, July 2018

This and other similar comments gave the impression that while many respondents say that women and men “should” be equal, this is more of an aspirational comment than a prescription for current family relations.

But both women and men think men should choose their parents over their wives and children

In a result that came as a surprise even to our local research team, 75% of female respondents and 56% of male respondents thought that men should choose their parents over their wives and children. That’s not a typo: 3 out of 4 women supported the idea that men (including their own husbands) should choose their parents over their own wives and children. Fewer men than women agreed with this proposition, though still 56% of male respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. Notably, significantly more men disagreed and on stronger terms than women: 40% of men “disagreed” and 5% “strongly disagreed” while only 25% of women “disagreed” and no women “strongly disagreed” that a man should choose his parents over his wife and children.

One theory to explain these results is that female respondents think of their sons rather than their husbands when answering this question, expecting loyalty from their sons when they grow and marry. Indeed, we added this question to our survey in light of widespread socio-cultural narratives that emphasize filial duty and sons’ obligations to their mothers. Was is true, we wondered, that men believed they should choose their parents over their wives? Even more extreme – would men choose their parents over their own children? We asked using the following question: “Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: ‘If a man has to choose between his obligations to his wife and children and his obligations to his mother and father, he should choose his mother and father.'”

The result that women even more so than men think that men should put their parents first came as a surprise, particularly given the demographics of our survey population: the average age of our female respondents was 33, with a range of 19 to 48 years old. Most of these women were in their mid to late 20’s or early 30’s and had young children. Meanwhile, in-line with local customs of patrilocality (i.e. the norm than women move in with their husbands’ families after marriage), some 40% of female respondents were living with their husband’s relatives at the time of our survey (compared to less than 5% of male respondents living with their wives’ relatives). Our female respondents thus tended to be young mothers who lived with their husbands’ families. Given the extent to which they were embedded within their husbands’ families and responsible for supporting their husbands’ children, their willingness to be chosen last remains difficult to understand. Further research and observation is planned to try to understand these results, verify whether they are indeed representative of women’s and men’s beliefs, and – if so – to strengthen women’s expectations of their husbands’ loyalty to themselves and especially to their mutual children.

There are positive trends to build from for social norm change

While the results above suggest that meaningful progress needs to be made in terms of raising people’s awareness of and belief in gender equality, other results suggest a strong foundation from which to build positive social norm change messages. For example, men and women alike do not think that women should endure violence for the sake of their families – 83% of women respondents and 79% of male respondents, respectively. Similarly high numbers of women and men also believe that men should not endure violence for the sake of their families – 82% of women and 83% of men. Meanwhile, the vast majority of men and women oppose cheating and men’s having multiple marriage partners or lovers (100% of women and 93% of men), and believe that men should provide extra support and help to their wives when they are pregnant (97% of women and 98% of men). For Families will be producing norm change materials emphasizing these positive and widely held beliefs in the community, working to align people’s actions and perceptions of others’ beliefs with the positive outlooks that they already hold.

We’ll have more details on these anti-violence beliefs plus the materials we’re developing around them in the coming weeks.

A quick note on methodology: For those interested in research methodology, the above results come from a survey we conducted with men and women from 80 households in our target community. We visited these households during the last two weeks of July, 2018, with two male researchers conducting interviews with male respondents and two female researchers conducting interviews with female respondents. For ethical reasons, a single respondent was chosen per household – 44 men and 36 women took part in the survey in all. A statistically relevant random sample of our community’s 400 households had been chosen at the outset of the survey. However, during fieldwork numerous residences were found to be abandoned or empty, while many residences lacked either a female or male respondent eligible to participate. As such, our final sample is too small to reach statistical relevance though we believe the results are still informative and meaningful to shape our work.

All respondents gave their informed consent to participate in the research, including being provided with both oral and written descriptions of the research, our goals, and the opportunity to refuse to participate, choose to skip specific questions, or withdraw their consent at any time.

The two quantitative surveys that were used for this survey – one for male respondents and one for female respondents – were originally modeled on the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence and the WHO Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence: Understanding Why Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How We Can Prevent It. Further original research questions and topics were developed by the research team to explore gender beliefs specific to the Kyrgyzstani context (e.g. bride kidnapping and certain pregnancy and SRH beliefs), as well as child-rearing practices and beliefs about them. All research materials were translated from English into both Russian and Kyrgyz and piloted in both languages prior to use in this assessment.

We’ll be posting a more extensive discussion of our research process – including more details on how we devised our quantitative survey, copies of both the Russian and Kyrgyz research materials, and an exploration of the lessons we’ve learned through this research process – in the 2018 fall.

Technology and Intimate Partner Abuse in the Kyrgyz Republic

The role of technology in intimate partner abuse is gaining recognition around the world, with studies revealing that 17% and 20% of domestic violence victims in Australia and the United States, respectively, also suffered from online stalking, harassment-by-text, and other forms of technology-facilitated violence by their abusive partner. As of 2018, researchers had identified over 200 apps that were marketed in the U.S. on the basis of their capacity to secretly monitor an intimate partner’s location, track her texts, log her keystrokes, and perform other stalking functions on her mobile phone.

Technology’s role in intimate partner abuse has only started to garner attention from academic, policy, and advocacy groups in the U.S., Australia, and Europe over the past 2 or 3 years. In the Kyrgyz Republic, it is almost wholly unrecognized and undiscussed. At For Families, we’re joining sufferers, technology companies, and lawyers to raise awareness of the urgent need to address technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic and take steps to prevent it.

What is “technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?”

Intimate partner violence [IPV] is “any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to those in the relationship.” It can include not only physical violence such as slapping or hitting and sexual violence such as rape, but also emotional abuse (insulting, belittling, or humiliating a partner) and controlling behaviors such as monitoring a person’s movements, isolating her from family and friends, or restricting her access to employment, education, and finances.

Technology-facilitated IPV is any of the above forms of violence committed via or made easier by information communication technology, such as mobile phones, SMS texts, the internet, and social media outlets such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and others. It can take the form of online or Spyware-facilitated stalking, threatening or abusive emails and texts, and blackmail or stalking committed on social media sites, among other forms.

What is the impact of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic?

Technology-facilitated IPV can have a devastating effect on its victim’s freedom, psychological well-being, and emotional health. This is most evident in the descriptions of those who have suffered such violence directly [note that all names have been changed to protect the speakers’ anonymity]:

My husband put an app on my phone so my camera turns on whenever he calls. It turns on even if I don’t pick up. He calls constantly to make sure I’m not meeting my friends. He won’t let me go out unless I tell him where I’m going, and then he’ll call to make sure I didn’t lie about where I am. If I’m meeting someone he doesn’t like or am somewhere I didn’t say, then there are big problems when I get home. But at least this way I’m allowed to go out. I don’t know if I’d have permission to go out if he couldn’t check on me like this.

– Rezada, Bishkek, 2017

As Rezada’s story illustrates, mobile phones provide an unparalleled opportunity for stalking and the emotional abuse that it entails. Because we carry our mobile phones wherever we go, they give stalkers minute-to-minute data on where we are, who we’re with, and what we’re doing. And while Rezada is aware of her husband’s stalking (indeed, this awareness appears to be part of his strategy to control her), other victims may not know until it’s too late.

Our tendency to carry mobile phones everywhere we go can also intensify the emotional pain caused by technology-facilitated abuse and intimidation, as described by Anara:

I left our home to visit my mother in Bishkek. Once I got there, he started texting saying never to come back, that he was taking the children. He started threatening me and swearing at me and saying if I came back he would kill me. He texts all the time – I can’t get away from it. He won’t let me speak to the kids on the phone, all he does is text these threats every day.

– Anara, talking about her husband, Bishkek, 2018

Anara’s comments point to how technology makes harassment and intimidation easier, as well as the type of stalking that Rezada suffers. Like Anara, many victims of technology-facilitated IPV note that aggressive, threatening, and harassing texts can rob them of any sense of security or freedom. And because the texts can reach them wherever they are and whatever they are doing, there feel that there are no safe spaces where they can escape from the emotional abuse. Anara described further that not only did her husband’s texts make her frightened for herself; they were also a constant reminder that she was not able to speak with her children, couldn’t ask them if they were ok, and couldn’t comfort them even though she was far away.

Despite the harm it causes, technology-facilitated intimate partner violence is often played-down by victims, authorities, and bystanders. A common refrain is that ‘because the perpetrator is physically distant from the victim, the threat is not serious’. In the Kyrgyz Republic, where young women face pressure to marry starting from the age of 20, women’s relatives, friends, and acquaintances may push them to stay in relationships even where there is technology-facilitated IPV. Indeed, these well-meaning bystanders (and the victims themselves) may believe that the harassment is ‘romantic’ – reflecting a real attachment, concern, and love – and will decrease once a couple gets married. As Baktygul describes,

He’s very controlling. He texts 8 or 9 times a day asking where I am, what I’m doing, why I don’t respond to him. [My employer] has a schedule of meetings that’s available online – he found the schedule, so he knows when I’m in meetings and when I’m not and when I should respond right away and when I can’t. I can tell this relationship isn’t good for me. But no one understands why I don’t marry him, my family thinks I’m crazy for not marrying.

– Baktygul, Bishkek, 2018

Lawyers in the Kyrgyz Republic have noted that they have seen an increase not only in the number of  divorce cases where technology-facilitated stalking, harassment, and threats are involved – similar to the cases of Rezada, Anara, and Baktygul – but also in alimony cases where women’s ex-partners threaten to post intimate pictures of and private information about their ex-wives on social media unless those women agree not to seek financial support after divorce. This technology-facilitated blackmail is but one more example of the insidious ways that communications technologies can be used to control victims and impede their access to justice.

What is the scale of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic?

Unfortunately, no studies have been conducted on technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic. Extrapolating from research conducted in the US and Australia, where roughly 20% of domestic violence victims have also suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence, anywhere from 1,400 to 140,000 women in the Kyrgyz Republic could be expected to have suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence (a wide margin indeed!).

The reason that this range of potential victims of technology-facilitated IPV is so wide is that data on domestic violence in the Kyrgyz Republic is itself inconclusive and variable. In 2016, some 7,053 cases of family violence were officially registered in the Kyrgyz Republic (Women and Men Survey [hereinafter: WMS], 113), 20% of which is 1,400 potential victims of technology-facilitated IPV. However, one in four women who were ever married in the Kyrgyz Republic have reported suffering physical violence,  commonly at the hands of their spouses (in 67% of cases) or ex-spouses (26% of cases) (2012 Demographic and Health Survey [hereinafter: DHS], 245, 249). Given that 98.5% of Kyrgyzstani women have been married at least once by the time they reach 50 and the female population is roughly 3 million, some 740,000 women (or 25% of ever-married women) will have suffered physical intimate partner violence by the time they are 50. Extrapolating, some 20% of these women – or roughly 140,000 to 150,000 – will have suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, the vast majority of married women in the Kyrgyz Republic experience an array of controlling or abusive behaviors: 71% undergo jealousy or anger from their husbands if they talk to other men, 69% have husbands who insist on knowing where they are are all times, and 14% are not permitted by their husbands to meet with female friends (DHS, 253), all of which lend themselves to technology-facilitated intimate partner violence.

The lack of reliable information on sufferers of technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic points to an urgent need to study the prevalence, forms, causes, and consequences of such violence. Such information is key to devising effective policy interventions and direct services to victims.

What can I do if I think a family member or friend is suffering from technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?

If you are worried that a loved one or friend is experiencing technology-facilitated IPV, you should strive to support and help them while respecting their agency and right to make decisions for themselves. Some concrete ways you can support them include:

  1. Ask your friend or loved one what support she or he needs, and help her or him receive that support if you can;
  2. Check in frequently and ask how she or he is doing. But be aware that her or his devices may be monitored and thus your attempts to stay in touch could elicit violence from the abusive partner. Ask how she or he prefers to be contacted when you are meeting face to face (and preferably with any potentially Spyware infected devices out of hearing range);
  3. If you are connected with this friend or loved one on social media, refrain from posting images of or information about them online or tagging them in any events or photos. This could give their abusive partner information that they do not want made public;
  4. Check the privacy settings on your own accounts and try to limit the amount of your content that the abusive partner can see.

These tips are borrowed from SmartSafe. Additional ideas and information can be accessed at their website by clicking here.

What is For Families doing about technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?

For Families is working to prevent technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic. Our current work includes:

  • Gathering case studies on technology-facilitated intimate partner violence to better understand its forms, causes, and consequences;
    • These are to be the basis of a broader study we plan to better assess the prevalence of technology-facilitated IPV across the country;
  • Raising awareness among lawyers of the risks of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence, what they can do to help clients who suffer from such abuse, and sharing best practices in electronic communications to minimize the risk that they expose their clients to further abuse;
    • We are developing a toolkit for lawyers to integrate into their work with domestic violence victims, including best practices when it comes to technology-facilitated IPV. This toolkit and related online resources will be the backbone of workshop sessions for lawyers on these topics;
  • Sharing information about international best-practices in protecting mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices from Spyware and what to do if you think your device has been infected;
  • Recommending and lobbying for concrete changes to the legal-normative framework of the Kyrgyz Republic including, for example, the passage of a criminal sanction for stalking – which is not recognized as a criminal or administrative offense in the current laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Do you have more ideas for how we can stop technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic? Get in touch with us at info@forfamilieskg.org or share your ideas in the comments section below – we would love to hear from you!

Protect Yourself Online

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If someone is committing violence against you or a loved one, he or she may not want you to learn about how to protect yourself and your rights. If this is the case for you, here are five ways to protect yourself while online.

1. Use a safer computer

If possible, try to use a computer that your abuser does not know about or have access to. This could be a private laptop or device that your abuser does not know about. Or it could be a public computer available at your university, an Internet cafe, or community center. You should know that there are programs that allow other people to see every letter that you type or site that you visit without you knowing it. These programs are called “Spyware” and are not easily detected. If your abuser has access to your computer, phone, or other device, he or she may have installed such programs on them. This is why it is so important to try to use a safe device that he or she has not accessed.

2. Use the “hidden” or “secret” setting on your browser

Many web browsers – like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and others – allow you to use a special private setting while online. Choosing this setting means that none of the websites you visit appear in your browsing history and no one can see where you have been online. You can see a detailed description of how to access hidden settings on various browsers here. Note, however, that if your abuser has put Spyware on your computer, he or she may still be able to see what you type and what appears on your screen. It is safest to use a computer that he or she does not have access to and does not know about.

3. Delete specific sites from your browser history

Web browsers keep track of all of the sites that you visit and save them in what is called a “browser history”. After you leave the computer, your abuser can open up the browser history and see all of the sites you visited. To keep this from happening, you can delete your browser history – see instructions for various browsers here. But be careful! Your abuser may be suspicious if you delete the history of every site you visited – he or she will know that you were online but will see that no history comes up in the list. It is better to only delete certain sites – like this one – from your browser history after you are done with your session online.

Note, however, that if your abuser has put Spyware on your computer, he or she may still be able to see what you type and what appears on your screen. It is safest to use a computer that he or she does not have access to and does not know about.

4. Create new email, Facebook, Instagram, and other accounts

Your abuser may know how to access your online accounts such as your email, Facebook, Instagram, and others. He or she may monitor these accounts to know more about you, where you are, and what you’re doing, or he or she may log into these accounts to impersonate you and harm your other relationships. If this is the case, create new accounts that your abuser does not know about. Do this on a safe computer that he or she does not know about. Do not access or log into these new accounts on any device – phone, laptop, tablet, or other – that your abuser knows about or can access. Use an anonymous name when you set up these accounts. Use passwords that your abuser will not be able to know or guess easily and change your passwords frequently, being sure only to use a safe computer when you do so.

Be careful about closing down or no longer using old emails and other accounts that your abuser accesses. If you suddenly stop using your email or Facebook profile or close it down completely, your abuser may be suspicious and wonder why. If you cannot get away from your abuser and know that he or she will be suspicious of a decrease in your online activity, continue to use these nonsecure accounts but only for things that it is not dangerous for your abuser to know about.

5. Purchase your own mobile phone and other devices

If at all possible, purchase your own mobile phone, computer, and other electronic devices. Hardware purchased by your abuser may be infected with Spyware and other programs and settings to help him or her track your online activity. If you cannot afford your own device or worry that switching your current device will make your abuser angry, consider minimizing how much time you spend using your devices and try to leave them behind (especially your mobile phone) when out of the house. Try using a safer computer instead – such as one at an Internet cafe – especially when researching how to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your rights.

These steps can help you protect yourself from cyber-stalking and harassment by an abusive family member. If you or a loved one are being abused by a family member, you have the right to be protected by the police and the courts and to leave a dangerous environment immediately. To discuss developing a safety plan and other legal questions you may have, contact us. If you are in an emergency situation, call the police immediately at 102.

 

Marriage Registration – Why and How

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If you are like thousands of other Kyrgyzstani citizens, you may have married through a religious ceremony such as nikah without registering your marriage with the government (ZAGS). If so, you could be missing out on some important benefits for you and your children. This post goes over why and how to register your marriage.

Why register my marriage?

Registering your marriage with the government has many benefits for you and your children. While it may take some time and paperwork, it will make your life and your children’s lives easier in the future.

Benefits for you from registering your marriage include:

  • You and your spouse will have equal right to common property from the marriage. This means you will have equal rights to use and dispose of all salaries, pensions, property, cars, cattle, land, and other items acquired by you or your spouse during your registered marriage (Family Code Art. 35(2));
    • Even if you do not earn a salary – perhaps because you care for your children – by registering your marriage you make sure that you have the same right to your husband’s or wife’s salary, property, car, and other assets as he or she does (Family Code Art. 35(3));
  • If your spouse sells land, a house, an apartment, or makes another major transaction, he or she must attain your consent. If you do not agree to the sale or purchase, you can go to court to have it voided … meaning that it is as if the sale or purchase never happened (Family Code Art. 36)
  • If you and your spouse divorce, you will be entitled to spousal support (alimony) only if you have a registered marriage. You are not entitled to spousal support from an unregistered marriage, i.e. nikah or another religious ceremony.
  • If you are pregnant or have given birth within the past year, your husband cannot divorce you without your consent (Family Code Art. 18).

Benefits for your children from registering your marriage include:

    • If your marriage is registered, your husband (or wife) is automatically considered to be the father (or mother) of your newborn child (Family Code Art. 51(1)). This means that your child is automatically entitled to protection, financial and emotional support, and an upbringing from both you and your spouse (Family Code Art. 59, 68, 69).
    • If you and your partner divorce, it will be easier for your children to get child support (alimony).
      • Note: Even if you do not register your marriage – i.e. you only have nikah – your mutual children are still entitled to child support from your ex-spouse. However, you will need to prove parentage (usually paternity) in court before your ex-spouse is required to pay child support. This can be a lengthy and difficult process, and can make life difficult for you and your child.

Registering your marriage will give you and your children more financial security and will make it easier for you and your spouse to support one another during your marriage and in the event of divorce.

How do I register my marriage?

 

Fortunately, registering your marriage is easy. To register your marriage with the government, you and your spouse go to your local civil registry (ZAGS) together – click here for a directory of civil registries in the Kyrgyz Republic – and submit an application that includes:

  1. Your full name (Last, First, Patronymic);
  2. Your date and place of birth;
  3. Your age on the date of marriage registration with ZAGS;
  4. Your citizenship and your nationality;
  5. Your place of residence (address);
  6. Your spouse’s full name (Last, First, Patronymic);
  7. Your spouse’s date and place of birth;
  8. Your spouse’s age on the date of marriage registration with ZAGS;
  9. Your spouse’s citizenship and your nationality;
  10. Your spouse’s place of residence (address);
  11. The names that you and your spouse choose after entering into marriage (including, for example, any change to your last names);
  12. Your signature;
  13. Your spouse’s signature.

The ZAGS officials will provide you and your spouse with a form that asks for all of the above information. When you go to ZAGS, be sure to bring:

  1. A valid passport or ID card for yourself;
  2. A valid passport or ID card for your spouse;
  3. If either you or your spouse was previously married, an official document that proves the end of the previous marriage.

If any of the above documents are written in a foreign language (i.e. a language other than Kyrgyz or Russian), you will also need to submit a notarized translation of the document(s) to ZAGS. Additional documents are required for those younger than 18 years of age.

By law, your civil registry is required to register your marriage within 1 month of your application (or give a reason for declining your application within one month). Your official marriage date will be the day that the ZAGS official registers your marriage, and will be shown on your marriage certificate.

By law, it is free to register your marriage with ZAGS. A certificate proving your marriage costs 100 KGS.

For more information, please see: Civil Registry Service of the Kyrgyz Republic: Registering Your Marriage.

Note that you must meet certain requirements before you can register your marriage:

  • Both you and your spouse must be 18 or older (if you or your spouse is younger than 18, you will need to meet additional requirements);
  • Both you and your spouse must fully and freely consent to the marriage;
  • You and your spouse will have to pass a medical exam;
  • Neither you nor your spouse can be married to another person.

We wish you and your family happiness in your marriage!

Have questions? Need legal advice? Are you or your spouse in a situation not covered above? CONTACT US.

What is a protection order … and how do I get one?

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If you or a loved one is suffering from violence, harassment, or threats from another family member, you may want to get a protection order.

A protection order is a document that bans another family member from hurting you or communicating with you in any way, whether by phone, email, face to face, or through another person. You can get it from your local police. Once you have a protection order, the police must make sure that your family member does not continue to hurt you (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 29).

You get a protection order from your local police officer. When you go to the police, they will ask you to write a complaint about the family violence you have suffered (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 26). After they have confirmed the information in your complaint, they will give you a document – the protective order – that requires your family member to follow certain conditions, such as not communicating with you and not committing violence against you.

The police are required to issue your protection order within 24 hours and must enforce it for a minimum of 3 days (Art. 27(1)). The police will also inform the person who has hurt you or your loved one about the protection order, its conditions, and may require them to go through counseling or corrective training.

Once you have received a protection order, the police are required by law to:

  1. Make sure that all of the conditions of the protection order are fulfilled;
  2. Inform local social service agencies that you or a loved one has suffered family violence;
  3. Transport you or your loved one to a medical facility (hospital) or a safe place if you request;
  4. If you ask, extend the length of time that you or your loved is protected by the protection order from a minimum of 3 days to up to 30 days;
  5. If you or your loved one is younger than 18, inform your local child services agencies about the violence. (Art. 25).

If you have a protective order against someone but he or she continues to threaten you or break the conditions of the order, you have the right to go to court. (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 30(1), 32(1), Code of Misdemeanors of the Kyrgyz Republic, Art. 76). The court may require that person to conduct 40 to 60 hours of community service, to pay a fine, to leave your shared home for 1 to 6 months, and limit his or her parental rights, among other possible sentences (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 32(1)).

In summary:

  • A protection order can protect you or a loved one from a violent family member;
  • To get one, go to your local police and request a protection order;
  • The police are required by law to take your complaint seriously, to issue a protection order if family violence is occurring, and to enforce the protection order;
  • If your relative continues to be violent, you can appeal to your local prosecutor, advocate, or court for more help.

Need help or more legal advice? CONTACT US.

Are you worried about going to the police or not sure how to talk with them about the problems you’re facing? We’ll have information available soon on tips to interacting with the police. In the meantime, you can contact us for guidance and advice.

Links to laws referenced in the text: