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Punish the Victim, says Kazakhstan Parliamentarian

Legislative Proposal Highlights Need to Criminalize Domestic Violence

Protesters attend a rally in defense of women's rights on International Women’s Day in Almaty, Kazakhstan, March 8, 2021. © 2021 Kushamanov Didar/Majority World/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A deputy from Kazakhstan’s lower chamber of Parliament, the Mazhilis, has made an outrageous proposal to punish women for provoking abuse by their husbands. This, in a country where police receive more than 100,000 domestic violence complaints annually.

In a September 26 meeting, where parliament’s Legislation and Judicial Reform Committee was discussing measures to combat domestic violence, Amantai Zharkynbek, a deputy from the ruling Amanat political party, said that if a woman’s husband is sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for domestic violence, then “it follows that his wife should be detained too,” for “provoking” the abuse. Deputy Zharkynbek also proposed that the women be labelled “provocateurs” in family abuse cases and that they be held equally accountable for the violence.

Domestic violence is a serious problem in Kazakhstan, where laws do not offer adequate protection and often fail to hold perpetrators accountable. While President Kasym-Jomart Tokaev has on multiple occasions called for increased punishments for domestic violence, modest legislative changes adopted in April fell short of criminalizing it as a stand-alone offense.

Zharkynbek’s proposals raise serious concerns about both the lack of knowledge and misrepresentation of domestic violence, as well as a deep-seated culture of victim-blaming and stigma in Kazakhstan –among legislators, law enforcement, the judiciary, and in society at large.

Answering journalists’ questions on October 5, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Igor Lepekhа said he doubted Zharkynbek’s proposals would be supported by other members of Parliament. But the contemptible proposals underscore just how urgent it is for the Kazakh government to take action. A meaningful approach would include amending the domestic violence law and the criminal code to make domestic violence a stand-alone criminal offense. The government should carry out awareness-raising to combat harmful myths and stereotypes about this widespread problem. Authorities should also ensure that state-funded service providers, police officers, medical personnel, and other relevant officials working regularly on domestic violence receive specialized training in prevention and survivor centered response in-line with international standards.

Apparently, it needs repeating: Women are not to blame, nor should they be punished, for the heinous abuse that is too frequently perpetrated against them.

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