Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Girl Travel Ban Passed in Kyrgyzstan

Published in Field Reports
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by Aigul Kasymova (the 08/21/13 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On June 12, 2013, the Kyrgyz Parliament passed legislation restricting girls under the age of 22 from travelling abroad. In total, 59 MPs voted in favor of the legislation and 2 against it. Social Democratic Party MP Yrgal Kadyralieva was the initiator of the legislation. According to Kadyralieva, the legislation is designed to protect young Kyrgyz girls from becoming prostitutes and working in brothels abroad, a problem that has increased in recent years. The regulation restricting free movement of girls under the age of 22 resulted in a widespread public disapproval in the capital of Bishkek despite Kadyralieva’s intensions, as stated in various public appearances, to protect the so-called moral welfare of the Kyrgyz nation.

According to the decree, Kyrgyz girls under the age of 22 will require parental permission to travel abroad. The restriction, however, does not apply to girls who go abroad to study, get medical treatment, or employment as long as they have the necessary supporting documents. In an interview to kloop.kg, Kadyralieva defended her initiative by stating that she wants to fight human trafficking and sexual slavery. The MP noted that the legislation does not violate the Constitution but is designed to keep young Kyrgyz girls from travelling to foreign countries and becoming prostitutes, since according to Kadyralieva, being a prostitute is immoral.

While according to Kyrgyz Constitution, everyone has the right to free movement, the MP went on to note the Constitution’s article 20, which states that “to protect the health, safety and morals of citizens their freedom of movement may be restricted.” The MP stressed that the legislation does not prohibit young girls from travelling, but simply asks the parents to take full responsibility for their daughters’ actions or decision to go abroad and for any activities they might engage in. If the parental permission is granted, no prohibition can apply. In case of parental absence, a girl will then need written consent from her relatives.  Kadyralieva concluded by saying that all she wants to have is a piece of legislation that will protect the national, social and moral security of the Kyrgyz nation.

Kadyralieva is calling the resolution Sapargul. Sapargul was the name of a young female migrant who was brutally attacked by the so called “Patriot” movement in Russia. The Patriot movement was comprised of Kyrgyz migrant men who interrogated their female compatriots for allegedly having sexual encounters or relations with foreign men. Although the MP defends her legislation by stating that she has the interest of her people at heart, especially young girls, critics and activists for women’s rights argue that this legislation will not change the problems migrant women face abroad.

The legislation proposed by Kadyralieva, designed to protect the “dignity” of Kyrgyz girls and keep them from becoming sex slaves raised public debate on the issue. Following the proposal of the regulation, activists and youth began voicing their opinions through social media outlets. Certain activists argued that this bill violates not only Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution but is also human rights. Kyrgyzstan’s Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun spoke against the resolution and criticized the MP’s decision to pass it. Others agreed with the proposed legislation by drawing on their own personal experiences (this mainly came from individuals who worked as migrant workers in Russia) and stating that the reality of young Kyrgyz girls engaging in so-called immoral activities abroad is not only awful but also brings shame to the nation. Other supporters of the legislation used social media to voice their support for Kadyralieva and her attempt to preserve the innocence of young girls and protect them from any abuse they might encounter abroad. The dispute over Kadyralieva’s legislation also sparked debate on gender equality in Kyrgyzstan and the right to free movement. Certain activists began raising the question of whether women’s safety should come before women’s right to freedom, including freedom of movement.

The fact that the legislation was passed in Parliament does raise serious questions about the extent of the state’s interference in the private lives of its citizens and reflects the general attitude towards women in Kyrgyz society. 

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