Many sad photos from Kazakhstan accompany this article. Since I’m not able to pull them off to put in this blog, please go to the Vox Populi website yourself to see real life that goes with each tragic story. http://www.voxpopuli.kz/en/post/view/id/607
“Slavery in the 21st Century” (32) From Vox Populi March 2, 2012
Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry and a global problem in the 21st century, still existing in practically every country around the world. Sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Kazakhstan have grown to appalling levels in recent years. Cases of slavery don’t happen just in the far off corners of our country, but also close to home, even in trouble-free Astana. For three years, the Komek Rehabilitation Center has been helping victims of labor and commercial slavery, protecting their rights and providing medical and psychological care.
1. Five years ago, the center’s director Anna Ryl didn’t have thoughts of social work on her mind.
“Somehow I was asked to take this one teacher to a lawyer, whose drug-addicted daughter was accused of theft. The day we were supposed to meet with the lawyer, it rained. Waiting for me, the woman stood along side the road, hurriedly eating a Samosa. She was crying and on top of that she didn’t have an umbrella which explained why the client looked even more depressed. Seeing that touched me deep in my soul. Her situation forced me to reconsider what was important in life and I started getting pulled more in social work. Now, six years later, I run a shelter for victims of labor and commercial slavery.”
2. The Komek Center was created with funds from Korgay Astana under an initiative by the Ministry of Justice in 2009. The center is a non-profit organization which offers specialized services to victims of human trafficking. From April to December of 2011, 58 people have passed through the center’s doors.
“There are 7 people working in our organization,” says Anna. “All of them are highly-qualified specialists in various fields: psychology, jurisprudence, etc. Our employee salaries are small, just 35,000 tenge (~ $235/month). The place where we work is in my apartment, which I remodeled into an office.”
3. “Before entering the shelter, the girls must sign an agreement that they are voluntarily coming to the rehab center, fill out a questionnaire, undergo testing and a full medical examination including screening for mental illnesses.”
4. According to the annual quota, the shelter is designed to take in 24 people a year. Rehabilitation takes 6 months and can be extended to 9 months as required and at the request of the victims.
5. According to UNICEF research done in Kazakhstan, sexual exploitation is most prevalent in teenagers between the ages of 15-17. When interviews by journalists, most girls request that their faces not be shown as most often relatives are not aware of what has happened to them and they themselves try not to talk about it much.
6. “We try to create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere in the home,” says Anna. “This helps the girls to gradually return to normal life and overcome their frights of closed and dark spaces and to trust people.”
7. “The Ministry of Justice finances all costs of the center: rental of the shelter, meals, clothing, transportation fare home after rehabilitation, professional courses for the girls, and staff salaries.”
8. “Every girl receives a new standard kit when they arrive: a towel, sheets, hygienic items, a t-shirt and pants. Many of them don’t have winter coats and in winter, there is no way to go outside without one. That’s why we collect whatever is possible, clean them and distribute them among those who need them.”
9. Within the center, girls can get help from doctors, lawyers and psychologists. There are various additional courses as part of the 6-month rehab program. Girls can take classes on hair and nail styling or cooking.
“The biggest problem is replacing documents lost long ago or they just don’t have,” says Anna. “Without these documents, people cannot get benefits, be placed on the wait-list for social housing, get a job, or get benefits for children born while they were in slavery.”
10. “Many girls come from disadvantaged families and can’t read, write, or know what hygiene is. We teach them the basics, like how to brush your teeth.”
11. Creative development is also a part of rehabilitation. The author of this piece already finished the course and now has a full-time job.
12. The shelter has certain rules that the girls has to follow: clean up around the living area, help with chores, no swearing, no raising your voice, provoke arguments, leave the territory without written permission and accompaniment of a center staff worker, or use cell phones.
“Cell phones are forbidden in the center for obvious reasons,” says Anna. “Girls can call their friends are tell them where the center is, making it unsafe for others. They can always call their relatives from the center’s telephone.”
13. “Pregnant women are not uncommon at the shelter and more often than not the babies’ father are the clients. After having argued with her parents, one girl left Astana together with her fiancé, who then sold her to a brothel. She came to us already quick with child. After a few months the girl gave birth to a healthy baby. Somehow the pimps reached the parents and told them what she had done and that she had given birth. At first, the parents refused to accept her, but we managed to convince them to come to us and hear the girl out. Along with the parents, all of her family came too. On that day when they came to pick her up, everyone here cried.”
14. “It’s rare when victims of the slave trade are educated and from good families,” says Anna. “But we had one such case. Ainagul from Karaganda was studying finance, fell in love with a boy and moved to Astana with him. The rest is the typical story: the guy soon sold her into slavery, where she spent a year.”
15. “Most victims of commercial slavery are girls from disadvantaged families or girls with mental illnesses from orphanages. Mentally handicapped girls are especially in demand and are more expensive. These girls are gullible and aren’t aware of what is happening to them and don’t really resist. One of the highest-profile criminal cases, and the only time to date when exploitation in this category of victims, was successfully proven not long ago. Over two years, four traffickers removed 15 girls from Temirtau and other villages in the Karaganda Region. The traffickers went around the villages, looking for mentally retarded girls. They drugged the girls with Diphenhydramine [a hypnotic sedative], moved them to Astana and sold them. The traffickers were caught, convicted, and sentenced to 4-12 years in prison. All 15 of these girls underwent rehab with us. According to the girls, they were taken to an apartment, beaten, raped and forced to serve up to 10 clients a day.
16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”
(to be continued)