Kazakhstan is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. There is also a large domestic trafficking problem. Kazakhstani women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Turkey. Women and girls from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and rural areas in Kazakhstan, as well as Russia and Ukraine, are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan. Sex trafficking occurs in small hotels in big cities and resort areas, and in rented apartments and multi-business establishments (such as a single facility that operates as a restaurant, hotel, and gas station). Kazakhstani men, women, and children as well as men and children from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Mongolia, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic service, cattle breeding, and pasturing and in the harvest of some agricultural products in Kazakhstan. There is some forced labor on cotton farms and in brick kilns in southern Kazakhstan, as well as in multi-business establishments. In 2012, a civil society group reported two transit cases of trafficking from Uzbekistan, through Kazakhstan, to Turkey. Some children are forced to beg and others may be coerced into criminal behavior or pornography.
Traffickers commonly confiscated victims’ identity documents, prohibited victims’ freedom of movement, withheld their wages, and used blackmail, threats, inflated debts, physical violence, and isolation to compel the victims’ service. Single, unemployed mothers, adolescents in orphanages or those who had parents with substance abuse problems, foreign migrant workers and their children, and homeless Kazakhstani citizens are vulnerable to human trafficking.
The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government maintained its prior level of law enforcement efforts against human trafficking and continued to protect identified victims and fund awareness campaigns. Government officials’ complicity and involvement in trafficking, however, remained a serious but unaddressed problem. Furthermore, the government failed to proactively identify potential victims of trafficking, despite substantial law enforcement training. Although Kazakhstan is a destination country for foreign victims of forced labor, officials only identified one foreign victim of labor trafficking. The government did not use a victim-centered approach when investigating and prosecuting potential crimes.
Recommendations for Kazakhstan: Improve efforts to identify trafficking victims—particularly foreign forced labor victims—among vulnerable populations and refer these victims for assistance; increase efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking cases, respecting due process; investigate and prosecute police officers suspected of complicity in trafficking-related offenses; increase the number of dedicated anti-trafficking police; include victim identification and referral in the job description of the migration and other police units and, at the ministerial level, provide clear instructions to all police on victim identification and referral of victims to protective services; train police officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary on professional ethics in order to ensure effective assistance is provided to trafficking victims; improve training for the Labor Inspectorate to better identify victims of forced labor and report potential trafficking cases to the police; continue to increase the number of victims who receive government-funded assistance by funding additional trafficking shelters; promptly provide foreign trafficking victims and homeless Kazakhstani trafficking victims with their identity documents; maintain robust trafficking investigations with foreign law enforcement agencies once a victim has been repatriated from Kazakhstan; and strengthen the capacity of police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate trafficking cases.
The Government of Kazakhstan maintained progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period, but did not address the large problem of official complicity in trafficking and did not take a victim-centered approach. Kazakhstan prohibits trafficking in persons for both labor and sexual exploitation through Articles 128, 133, 125(3b), 126(3b), 270, and 132-1 of its penal code, which prescribe penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment—penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In December 2012, the Kazakhstan Supreme Court issued a decree to clarify and unify judicial interpretation of trafficking in persons under the law. Police investigated 89 trafficking cases in 2012, compared with 111 investigations in 2011. Authorities prosecuted 70 cases in 2012, a decrease from 82 cases prosecuted in 2011. A total of 37 trafficking offenders were convicted in 2012, compared with 30 offenders convicted the previous year. The government convicted 33 offenders for sex trafficking offenses and four individuals for forced labor offenses in 2012. The 33 convicted sex traffickers received sentences that ranged from 3.6 months’ to 14 years’ imprisonment; seven of them received suspended sentences. The four convicted labor trafficking offenders received sentences ranging from three to 13 years’ imprisonment. The government extradited two alleged trafficking offenders to Uzbekistan.
The government continued to provide specialized training courses in the recognition, investigation, and prosecution of trafficking crimes for police, prosecutors, and judges and funded police participation in anti-trafficking events in three countries. In the reporting period, the government expanded the types of police officers who received anti-trafficking training, although these other police units are not obligated to identify trafficking crimes. Police jointly investigated 10 trafficking cases with officials from four countries. Civil society groups emphasized that law enforcement officials do not take a victim-centered approach in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes and that, despite repeated training, officers do not structure investigations well or conduct investigations in a professional manner. Some trafficking victims have complained police officers did not take their assertions of being trafficked seriously.
Government officials’ complicity in human trafficking remained a serious but unaddressed problem. Trafficking victims complained that some police officers protected traffickers, raped trafficking victims, and facilitated trafficking by transporting girls to brothels. Victims reported they regularly saw government officials visiting brothels in which they were being subjected to forced prostitution. Some local police are in close contact with employers who use forced labor, particularly when the employer is a family member of a local government leader. However, the government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking—related offenses during the reporting period.
The Government of Kazakhstan maintained modest efforts in protecting trafficking victims, but did not proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including undocumented migrant workers, which led to the deportation and penalization of those unidentified victims. A recent report by an international organization highlighted the failure to systematically identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, noting the reluctance of victims to contact law enforcement due, in part, to distrust of police. Specialized anti-trafficking police screened for sex trafficking victims in brothel raids, conducting four such raids that resulted in the identification of approximately half the number of victims identified in 2012. However, these raids may have taken a narrow view of sex trafficking, excluding those who are registered as prostitutes with the government and those who are engaged in street prostitution, as potential sex trafficking victims. At borders or in work sites, enforcement operations of migration police focused on the irregular status of migrants rather than their potential for being victims of trafficking. The division of responsibilities among the Labor Inspectorate, anti-trafficking police, and migration police hampered victim identification. Civil society groups noted police do not understand more nuanced signs of trafficking—such as psychological coercion—and only identify forced labor cases where there are overt signs of force.
The December 2012 Supreme Court decree established that trafficking victims are to be exonerated when they have committed crimes as a direct result of being trafficked. Victims not identified by authorities were deported or prosecuted for immigration or other violations, and some child sex trafficking victims were placed in detention centers. When police had additional funds, they occasionally kept foreign trafficking victims in rented apartments during the course of an investigation instead of sending them to protective services; in these apartments, victims were not provided with services and reported feeling unable to leave due to the lack of formal immigration status. In 2012, the government reported that it had identified 84 victims of trafficking, including 17 victims of forced labor; in 2011, the government had identified 84 victims of trafficking, including 13 labor trafficking victims. Of those victims identified in 2012, 11 were foreign nationals—including one victim of forced labor. While the victim referral process was informal, the government provided at least the equivalent of approximately $53,000 in funding for the provision of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other services for all identified victims in 2012, an increase compared with 2011. In 2012, civil society groups and government-funded programs assisted a total of 153 trafficking victims, 79 of whom were victims of forced labor. The government continued to fund fully one NGO-run shelter for trafficking victims in Astana, which assisted 22 victims in 2012. The government did not, despite its stated intentions, establish additional trafficking shelters, due in large part to the lack of a policy on shelter standards, the promulgation of which has been under development since 2009. Shelters are open to all trafficking victims and provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance. However, some foreign victims of trafficking were unable to get access to medical assistance because they do not have identification documents, health insurance, or temporary residency permits. Adult trafficking victims were permitted to enter and leave the shelters freely. In 2012, the government allocated the equivalent of approximately $14,000 to an NGO to operate and advertise the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ anti-trafficking hotline; 11 of the 1,125 phone calls were directly related to human trafficking, and two of these resulted in criminal cases. The government encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings and access to pre-trial shelter services. Foreign victims who agreed to cooperate with law enforcement were requested to remain in Kazakhstan for the duration of the criminal investigation but were not permitted to work. The government did not provide any foreign victims temporary residence permits in 2012. The government did not offer legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship; all victims were forcibly repatriated, either after a short recuperation period or after their service as a prosecution witness was completed.
The government continued its prevention efforts during the reporting period. The Interagency Trafficking in Persons Working Group, chaired by the Minister of Justice, met quarterly; each responsible agency reported on its anti-trafficking activities assigned under the 2012-2013 Trafficking in Persons National Plan. The national government continued to support some anti-trafficking efforts, including information and educational campaigns, such as funding radio and television programs on trafficking. In particular, the government gave funding in the equivalent of approximately $17,000 to at least three NGOs for their implementation of prevention activities. The government also provided in-kind contributions to awareness-raising activities organized by NGOs. In August 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science issued Order Number 398 which allows the children of migrant workers, including seasonal workers, to attend educational institutions with the same rights as citizens of Kazakhstan; this will help prevent migrant laborers’ children from being subjected to forced labor.