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, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Turkey. Women and girls from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and rural areas in Kazakhstan, as well as Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine, are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan. The relative economic prosperity in the government capital Astana, the financial capital Almaty, and the western oil cities Aktau and Atyrau, has attracted large numbers of Kazakhstanis from rural villages, some of whom become victims of labor trafficking as construction workers and domestic servants, or victims of sexual exploitation in brothels. 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). In most cases of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, traffickers targeted young girls and women aged 15 to 35, primarily from rural areas, luring them with comparatively lucrative employment as waitresses, models, or nannies in large cities. Kazakhstani men, women, and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Russia and South Korea. Kazakhstani men, women, and children as well as men and children from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and the Philippines are subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic service, construction, agriculture, private households, and small businesses in Kazakhstan, reportedly being subjected to physical violence, resulting in injuries such as broken limbs. Investigations revealed children of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan work up to 75 hours per week in cotton fields in the Almaty province. Some children are forced to beg and others may be coerced into criminal behavior or pornography. Small organized criminal groups, in some cases led by former convicts, facilitated trafficking in Kazakhstan. Traffickers included women formerly in prostitution, career criminals, independent business people, taxi drivers, sauna owners or administrators, and farm owners. Many victims indicated that they were lured through fraud and deceit, sometimes by friends or acquaintances.
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 demonstrated its commitment to combating trafficking in persons by improving its anti-trafficking legislation and increasing training for law enforcement officials. The government increased its law enforcement efforts against human trafficking and funding of awareness campaigns and continued to protect identified victims. Government officials’ complicity in trafficking remained a serious but unaddressed problem. The government identified an increased number of victims, but struggled to identify victims proactively, despite substantial law enforcement training. The government did not use a victim-centered approach when investigating and prosecuting potential crimes, and longer-term shelter and assistance to victims remained insufficient.
Recommendations for Kazakhstan:
Continue to improve efforts to identify trafficking victims—particularly foreign forced labor victims—among vulnerable populations and refer these victims for assistance; develop a unified trafficking law; increase efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking cases, respecting due process; provide clear instructions to all police on victim identification and referral of victims to protective services; treat persons subjected to trafficking as victims before questioning them as witnesses; refrain from deporting victims; offer temporary legal status to foreign victims and provide legal alternatives to forced repatriation; train the Labor Inspectorate to better identify victims of forced labor and report potential trafficking cases to the police; investigate and prosecute police officers suspected of corruption, particularly those complicit in trafficking-related offenses; develop the mechanism to provide longer-term shelter and rehabilitation to victims of trafficking outside of the government-funded shelter in Astana as established by the “Special Social Services” law; assign the chair role of the Trafficking in Persons Work Group to an upper-level agency; continue to increase the number of victims who receive government-funded assistance by funding additional trafficking shelters; 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 anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but did not address the large problem of official complicity in trafficking, particularly among low-ranking police officials, and did not employ a victim-centered approach. Kazakhstan prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking 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. In July 2013, the anti-trafficking legislation was extensively amended, including to clarify the definition of significant terms used in the penal code, including “exploitation of a person,” which is defined to include forced labor and forced begging, and to explicitly state that a victim’s consent “shall not be taken into account” if means of coercion or force are used in a trafficking case and “other transactions.” The labor code was similarly amended and now prohibits previously convicted traffickers from working with minors.
Police investigated 138 trafficking cases in 2013, compared with 89 trafficking cases in 2012. Authorities prosecuted 56 cases in 2013, compared to 70 cases in 2012. Kazakhstani authorities convicted 43 trafficking offenders in 2013, an increase from 37 offenders convicted the previous year. The government convicted 34 offenders for sex trafficking offenses who received sentences that ranged from one year of probation to 13 years’ imprisonment. The nine individuals convicted of forced labor offenses in 2013 received sentences ranging from one to 14 years’ imprisonment. The government continued to provide a variety of specialized training courses in the recognition, investigation, and prosecution of trafficking crimes for police, prosecutors, and judges and funded police participation in international anti-trafficking events. For example, in 2013, the judicial institute conducted nine training sessions for 450 judges on the protection of trafficking victims during the criminal process. The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted seven in-service training courses on victim identification and investigative techniques for 118 police officers from specialized anti-trafficking units, the migration police, community police, and investigation units. During the reporting period, Kazakhstan jointly investigated 10 cases related to human trafficking with other countries, including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Belarus. In 2013, the Ministry of Internal Affairs investigated some police officers who were allegedly complicit in human trafficking. In one case, a police officer from an anti-trafficking unit was investigated for protecting traffickers, but the case was dropped after investigation. In another case, two police officers were accused of abusing professional functions and protecting an organized criminal group that ran brothels in Almaty and Almaty Oblast. 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. Experts noted a steep decrease in the number of trafficking cases initiated related to pimping and brothel maintenance after July 2013, when the maximum penalty for this crime increased to 10 years’ imprisonment; experts believe pimps are bribing low-ranking police officials to avoid such charges.
The Government of Kazakhstan made efforts to protect Kazakhstani trafficking victims, but continued to lack sufficient standard operating procedures for foreign trafficking victims who needed assistance. In 2013, the government identified 122 victims of trafficking, an increase from 84 victims identified in the previous year. Of those 122 victims, 86 were victims of sex trafficking and 36 were victims of labor trafficking. All 11 of the foreign victims were from Uzbekistan, 15 Kazakhstanis were victims of labor trafficking in Russia, and 96 victims from rural areas were subjected to internal trafficking. NGOs noted an improvement in the victim referral process in 2013, with an anti-trafficking unit assigned to each region. Kazakhstan has four NGO-operated trafficking-specific shelters; the government continued to fully fund one NGO-run shelter for trafficking victims in Astana, which assisted 24 victims in 2013. However, the government has not yet developed a mechanism to provide long-term assistance beyond the one government-funded trafficking-specific shelter in Astana. All four of Kazakhstan’s shelters are equally accessible to female and male trafficking victims, including children, regardless of citizenship. They provide a range of legal, psychological, and medical assistance. However, NGOs report that foreign victims sometimes experience difficulties in accessing local medical facilities because they lack health insurance or residency permits. Adult trafficking victims were permitted to enter and leave the shelters freely. The government encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings and access to pre-trial shelter services, and victims were permitted to receive mandatory rehabilitation and compensation under the new amendments. 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 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 witness was completed.
The government reportedly allocated at least the equivalent of approximately $25,500 for direct victim assistance in 2013, including the equivalent of approximately $17,500 for shelter assistance and the equivalent of approximately $8,000 for victim assistance during investigations. In 2013, civil society groups and government-funded programs assisted a total of 100 victims of trafficking, a decrease from 153 the previous year. Of the total number of victims of trafficking assisted, 64 were Kazakhstani citizens and 36 were foreigners; 40 were victims of sexual exploitation and 60 of forced labor; 54 were female and 46 male.
In 2013, the Ministry of Internal Affairs allocated the equivalent of approximately $8,000 to 22 victims of trafficking, including five foreign victims, for temporary lodging, food, clothing, and miscellaneous expenses during the course of investigations. The government does not yet have a mechanism to provide longer-term shelter and rehabilitation assistance to victims of trafficking outside of the government-funded shelter in Astana, even though the “Special Social Services” law establishes this. NGOs continued to provide rehabilitation and reintegration services to victims of trafficking. In 2013, the Association of Trafficking in Persons in Central Asia, through its NGO network, provided longer-term rehabilitation assistance, including vocational training, to 20 victims of trafficking. In almost all of these cases, victims of trafficking were referred for assistance to local NGOs by anti-trafficking units who were investigating trafficking cases. The new legal amendments also introduced rules exempting trafficking victims from any administrative liability; there was no report of victims being criminally punished in 2013.
The government continued prevention efforts, including efforts to educate migrants on potential dangers of human trafficking. The interagency Trafficking in Persons Working Group held only one of its four planned meetings in 2013 and did not fulfill any of the recommendations outlined at that meeting. The government continued to fund anti-trafficking information and education campaigns that targeted potential victims of trafficking, including children. The Ministry of Culture and Information funded radio and television programs in 2013, as well as the publication of newspaper articles, designed to prevent trafficking by raising public awareness. The Ministry of Internal Affairs advertised, but did not allocate funding for, the operation of a trafficking hotline. The government allocated the equivalent of approximately $84,400 to NGOs for prevention projects. In 2013, the government continued providing in-kind contributions to an IOM program on demand reduction for commercial sexual acts.