Recently I talked with a Kazakh man (name withheld to protect the guilty) who admitted to being 53 years old. He had good English and was very worldly. At first he talked about how on his salary he could not buy a good kind of car. Who brought that subject up? Ken and I certainly don’t own a car here in Astana and get around fine with taxis and busses. He also said that as a director he should be paid more and he told me his salary. (usually Americans don’t share their salary with anyone especially with strangers) I suppose he was used to his former cushy job as an ambassador in a European nation. Throughout our discourse he would push up his glasses frames with his middle finger. I suppose no one had bothered to tell him that that was a rather antagonistic gesture. Just the same he kept talking while I was eating the delicious food on my plate. He liked to talk.
My husband and another Korean man soon moved away from this conversation with Mr. B.F. when I brought up the upcoming O.S.C.E. summit meeting on Dec. 1-2 in Astana. Apparently, he will be attending this all important conference which his position in government entitles him to do. That’s where I started asking what he knew about the human rights issues here in Kazakhstan. You would have thought I had just brought up the price of tobacco going down in Spain. He dismissed it and wanted to go on blathering about other inane things but I earnestly wanted to find out what he REALLY knew about the sex trade and trafficking from other countries coming into Kazakhstan. A problem in his very own home country.
Don’t get me wrong, he was a charming enough man but his response to what I asked was probably the standard line in the Kazakh script. I asked what he knew about poor Kyrgyz people being brought over the border illegally for sex trade or for labor exploitation. With a wave of the hand he said that Kazakhstan was the richest nation among all the Central Asian countries. Of course, other people will come here to Kazakhstan for the jobs. All other countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan are jealous of Kazakhstan’s riches. But when I said some came unwillingly or were told a lie and tricked into giving up their documents, he knew I knew more than the average westerner.
Later in our conversation he admitted knowing how much a woman is paid as a prostitute in Krygyzstan. I seem to recall that he said about 20,000 tenge a day whereas the same prostitute can make that amount in Kazakhstan in an hour. He made it sound like these prostitutes came here on their own volition. I said that many of these victims caught in the sex trade come against their will and want out but they are trapped. He said that not many want to come to Astana. That’s true, not many people want to leave the warmer climes and so I said I knew of internal migration with traffickers of their victims to the big cities of Almaty and Astana. That is true of any job, people formally from Almaty complain loudly about the harsh climate in Astana. So I made my point that many girls are misled by the traffickers even here in Kazakhstan in the small, remote villages that they can come to Astana for a job but then they are tricked into being forced into prostitution.
How can this happen? We were told by our speaker, Marinka Franulovic, two weeks ago that one girl had a drug slipped into her drink at a bar and the next thing she knew she was in a brothel in Astana. She somehow knew to escape and was at a shelter getting re-oriented before her return home. Other cases happen where girls are kidnapped and they think it is a bride kidnapping but in fact, it is for them to sell their bodies with their handlers drugging them to stay at it. Marinka, the author of “Two Kyrgyz Women,” said that some girls have been known to do 50 customers a day and are given hard drugs to keep at it. After about 3 years of this mismanagement, they die or are so stoned they are thrown out as useless. They can’t manage this terrible treatment as sex slaves psychologically or emotionally. These women don’t have the same rights as others who knowingly go into this prostitution profession, they have been duped and are trapped. The police seem to be paid off with the big money the handlers can afford to give them. What a vicious cycle Kazakhstan is caught in especially with the O.S.C.E. summit meeting coming to town in less than a month.
I wonder if the city police are checking everyone’s documents and passports to make sure that all the westerners are who they say they are? Hmmm…are the traffickers being encouraged to hang around with their “wares” or to skip town for this big event for Kazakhstan? In any case, it was very insightful to talk to Mr. Bombastic Fool who sees no problems here in his own country. In fact, I had the feeling that he was a client or how else would he have known the price of prostitutes. He admitted to talking to them? He liked to talk, that was obvious to me, but did he only talk about the weather with these prostitutes?
This problem of sex trafficking is not going away any time soon but I have a feeling that if 55 countries come for the O.S.C.E. summit to fill up all the empty hotels and living quarters of the new part of this city of Astana that there might be a thriving business for the traffickers. Perish the thought but I was not encouraged by this Kazakh man in government who should be concerned about his own women folk and should care about the welfare of his neighboring countries. Seems there is no mercy and being bombastic may be a trait he picked up in his worldly pursuits in Europe.
Mr. B. F. was finishing up his third beer when I left with my husband. I marvel at what this man’s wife must put up with at home. Many a wife in Kazakhstan endures a lot of abuse and the topic of domestic abuse is just another symptom of the same problem of sex traffickers. The Kazakhs may talk openly about their salaries but they are muted about what goes on at home behind closed doors.