Under Kyrgyzstan’s present state of emergency, which includes a curfew from 8pm to 7am, it has become a lot more difficult for women to escape domestic violence. Many are too afraid to call the police or help centres, says Tolkun Tulekova, acting director of the Association for Crises Centres, as “their abusers are at home 24 hours a day, controlling their every step.”
Deputy Minister of labour and social development Aliza Soltonbekova confirmed a rise in reports of domestic violence, though without citing specific statistics or cases.
When Gulshat Asylbaeva, MP, suggested during a recent parliamentary session to issue a decree permitting women exposed to domestic violence to leave their homes in case of a “risk to their lives or health,” the initial response was silence. She felt like “talking to the walls,” Asylbaeva said, but pushed on until a deputy minister finally conceded: “We are working on this, and where possible, locally, we address the issue.”
But women stuck at home with their aggressors cannot wait.
Groups providing support services are only allowed to work remotely during the lockdown, through social networks or by phone. Shelters, crisis centers, and other services are closed to newcomers. The only option is to call the police. But the police, says Tulekova, bring the woman and her abuser to the station to report the case, “only to take them both back home afterwards to be locked down again.”
The 2017 Family Violence Law mandates police to issue a protection order after confirming domestic abuse. Such orders may prohibit contact between the victim and her abuser, but are rarely carried out and, in the current crisis, nearly impossible to implement. Travel restrictions prohibit victims of domestic violence from relocating to family homes in other regions. Social distancing requirements and financial burdens during a time of increased unemployment make staying with friends or relatives unrealistic.
The Kyrgyz government should take urgent steps to ensure that anyone experiencing domestic abuse can safely leave their home and seek protection and services during the crisis. They should classify domestic violence services as “essential” and ensure shelters and other support services remain operational, while respecting preventive measures such as social distancing.
The needs of abuse survivors are particularly acute during lockdown, and so is the government’s responsibility to protect them.