About the Author: Anna Whittington serves at U.S. Embassy Astana in Kazakhstan.
It's not on the map. Even our local driver got lost among the identical blocks of Soviet-era apartments. No, this shelter for victims of human trafficking is hidden -- much like the crime itself -- to the outside world and provides a safe-haven for the women who have been held in sexual slavery.
Yet when we arrived, we were greeted warmly by Nina, the director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) that operates the shelter, which is currently funded by a foreign embassy and the local government. The shelter provides key rehabilitative services, such as legal aid, psychological therapy, and vocational training.
Throughout our discussion, Nina shared her concerns on the challenges facing Kazakhstan in its anti-trafficking efforts, based on the “3P” paradigm of protection, prevention, and prosecution as outlined in the UN's international standards to combat modern slavery. Nina highlighted that the use of ineffective methods of victim identification and the insufficient enforcement of existing laws as two primary challenges. In addition, she described a cooperative program through which the NGO works with local police to run occasional training programs that teach law enforcement officers to identify human trafficking victims more effectively.
However, she noted that there is high turnover in the police ranks, which limits the continuity and effectiveness of these training programs. While the NGO has successfully helped rehabilitate victims, the NGO remains dependent on law enforcement's ability to effectively identify victims. In order to continue combating trafficking in Kazakhstan, Nina suggested more regular training programs partnered with greater public awareness campaigns to address current police limitations as two possible ways to confront the challenges in Kazakhstan. Nina added that, even with such limitations, a shelter in every region of Kazakhstan is much-needed. Besides these capacity hindrances, she noted that systemic problems with corruption and inadequate social consciousness of the issue created obstacles to eliminating trafficking.
While human trafficking continues to be a scourge against men, women, and children in Kazakhstan and throughout the world, there has clearly been global progress with more human trafficking victims transforming into human trafficking survivors. This progress was clearly on display as Nina proudly took us to the window to show off the small, colorful garden that shelter residents had cultivated. She also proudly passed around a photo album of shelter activities: young women preparing food in the kitchen, hiking in the mountains, and styling each other's hair. Shelter residents also participated in “photo-therapy.” The album she showed us was full of photographs of nature. Following the formal part of our interview, Nina took us into another small room to meet three young women from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They smiled amusedly (but appreciatively) when I ventured a few words in Uzbek.
Nina led us to the kitchen, and we continued our conversation with shelter staff over tea and baked goods -- chocolate-filled pastries -- prepared by shelter residents. As we chatted, one young woman, a native of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, quietly slipped in from the other room. Shy at first, she opened up considerably when our interpreter translated a few of our questions from Russian into Kazakh, mutually understandable with Kyrgyz, and she eagerly told us a bit more about herself and her family as we shared tea and treats.
Our visit to the shelter confirmed Kazakhstan's human trafficking challenges, while also showcasing the progress it is making with key partnerships between government and civil society. Today, these partnerships are leading more men, women, and children from a life of hidden victimization to one of survival, promise, and freedom.
Kazakhstan was placed on Tier 2 Watch List in the Department of State's 2010 TIP Report, because the government did not demonstrate significant efforts to identify and assist foreign victims or victims of forced labor and did not vigorously prosecute, convict, or criminally punish any officials for government complicity, including local officials complicit in the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest.Learn more about the TIP Report, Tier Placements, and U.S. efforts to combat trafficking around the world.