Posts tagged Vox Populi

Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

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.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: korgau_astana@mail.ru. State short number: 1409

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Slavery in the 21st Century in Kazakhstan

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)

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“Bad Writer is a Bad English Teacher”…oh really?!

The attached photo is a wonderfully warm, Kazakh teacher who got hurt by her own educational system while teaching at a westernized university in Almaty. I knew her to be a good, motherly type mentor to her university students.  She is neither a bad writer or bad teacher but her superiors dismissed her without any explanation.  I’ll withhold her name but let it be known that I witnessed several painful injustices (my own included) within this so-called institute of higher learning while teaching three and a half years in Kazakhstan.

I want to highlight the writings from two Kazakh women in this blog. One I know only from reading a website titled “Vox Populi” and the other is a former student of mine.  I think the two go together because they are suffering the same angst of living in a country of Kazakhstan that is going through phenomenal growth spurts.  There’s baggage from what used to exist from the Soviet Union, yet hopeful anticipation in what could be their future in Kazakshtan.  The first one is named Madina and a summary of what she said in Russian in an interview to Vox Populi after I used Google translation.

“A typical dream for us 30 year olds in Kazakhstan is to go where we feel our rights are not violated, where there is law and order and where the government works for its citizens.  I am part of an astonishing generation, we were born in the Soviet era where we grew up during the breakup of a single state (USSR) but have taken off running during the construction of a new nation (Kazakhstan). Therefore, many of our own parents will never understand that we have a sense of choice.

When I was 27 years old, I began to choke on what surrounded me, the country, the people, our laws.  My friends and I found the easiest way out, we just ran away and left for a half a year to the United States.  America seemed at that moment a bulwark of democracy.  I left Kazakhstan with the underlying idea of staying in the U.S.  This is so typical of us to dream to go somewhere else…but experience showed us all the same problems in the U.S.  Eden, NO!  I went back to Kazakhstan but I came back more relaxed.  I learned to accept the imperfections of the world.

Even with blatant injustice in Kazakhstan, my contribution is to keep working on this project to uncover everything that happens in our country to show a different life, to expose social problems and talk about difficult situations.  Unfortunately, I am not a revolutionary in spirit, to ride with a sword.  Also, I do not like publicity, but I admire people who are active citizens righting wrongs.  If we had a “Swamp,” I would have walked out.  No, instead I have gotten up on a stage, not to be encouraged but to be listened to and supported.  Civic engagement in Kazakhstan doesn’t happen because the majority believes that stability is better than change.”

Here’s the second one from Aigerim, a former student of mine who nails it about where the problem of slavery works into the mindset of the Kazakh citizen. She was a teacher who got in trouble with her superiors for pointing out some errors in her contract.  They are to teach critical thinking to their classes but at the same time they are to obey and not object to injustices.  She is NOT a bad person, teacher or writer…read on:

“Bad writer is a bad English teacher. I want to be a good teacher, or at least not another person reciting same old song or grammar rule. I stand firm on the point that any skills or knowledge taught should be relevant.

When I conducted IELTS classes at my former work place, which is an elite focused and fully funded from President`s fund, I committed to turn this extra-curricular free of charge classes into a writing experiment. We watched and reflected on films, then wrote on blogs. Some of students created and posted their own poetry. Indeed, learners came up to a stage where they reflected on their lives. They wrote great essays about teenage suicides and problems of education in our country.

While my students were making their best in critical thinking, my own free speaking brought me into trouble with a department manager as I enquired too many questions on controversial points in a contract. Well, I don`t regret appealing against bosses, I am quite happy with my new job. When my writers learned about my resignation due to my being a wrong format, one student replied with a phrase that still warms my heart, “If you’re A4 format and they’re A5 (smaller), that doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, you’re just different.”

Young people can think critically until they are framed into stupid rules. Nowadays it is common to think that you have to say what your teacher wants to hear and you get a point, do what your boss wants and keep your place of employment. The problem of slavery exists not only on construction sites and massage parlors, but in thoughts and enslaved wills of ordinary people.

My colleagues were obedient and got another year of their teaching contract. However, I wonder whether these teachers are able to teach young people to think critically and act globally.”

I love my former student’s writing about being different and indeed she is NOT a bad teacher or a bad writer.  On days like this, I feel the same where it is difficult to write and English is my native language.  Some days I feel defeated in trying to explain from my “A4 framework” that I don’t fit in with the A5 environment whether it is in the U.S. OR in Kazakhstan.

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