Kazakhstan Takes Bold Step Toward Zero Tolerance for Violence Against Women 

ASTANA – A new legislation on women’s rights and children’s safety marks a significant step towards fostering a culture of zero tolerance for any form of violence, said Khalida Azhigulova, a human rights lawyer and Doctor of Law (PhD), in an interview with The Astana Times.

Photo credit: freepik

On April 15, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed laws amending penalties for violence against women and children. The law aims to enhance the legal, economic, social, institutional, and organizational foundations for state policy on women’s and children’s safety.

Khalida Azhigulova, a human rights lawyer and Doctor of Law (PhD). Photo credit: Azhigulova’s personal archieve

Azhigulova has welcomed the new law, especially its provisions introducing criminal liability for minor assaults and intentional infliction of minor harm in both public and domestic contexts.

“My colleagues and I, including legal and public experts, have been advocating for these amendments since 2019. In 2017, the articles on Assault and Intentional Infliction of Minor Harm were decriminalized, meaning they were moved from the Criminal Code to the Code of Administrative Offenses. Unfortunately, this led to the normalization and increase of violence in society,” she said.

Discussing the most significant provisions of the law for the protection of domestic violence victims, Azhigulova highlighted that, alongside criminalizing all forms of violence, it is crucial to ensure mandatory psychological correction for aggressors. 

“Aggressors need to understand the illegality and negative consequences of their behavior for their family members and society. Only then there is a chance they will better control their emotions and anger and stop using psychological and physical violence to resolve conflicts. The new law allows the court to mandate psychological correction for aggressors,” she said.

The law also includes a provision allowing the court to temporarily restrict the aggressor from living with the victim in exceptional cases. Azhigulova believes it is important to extend this right to police officers as well, so they can immediately restrict the aggressor from living with the victim when violence is detected. This practice exists internationally and is successfully applied.

“Police can issue a protective order on the spot, prohibiting the aggressor from approaching or living with the victim for up to ten days. This time is important for the aggressor to realize the illegality of their behavior and for the victim to avoid fleeing with children to seek shelter from the aggressor,” said Azhigulova.

She emphasized that criminal punishment, even for minor forms of violence, sends an important message to all citizens to learn to resolve conflicts only through dialogue and respect for the honor and dignity of every person.

“Citizens who do not engage in violence will not be affected by the adoption of this law. However, aggressors will face immediate consequences if they do not change their illegal behavior,” she said.

Human rights advocates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were instrumental in the passage of this law. Since 2019, Azhigulova and her colleagues have been raising awareness about domestic violence in the country and advocating for the criminalization of all forms of violence.

“I have written numerous articles, petitions, and appeals to the President and members of Parliament, urging them to support the criminalization of violence. The movement gained momentum in November 2023, following the tragic murder of Saltanat Nukenova, a domestic violence victim, by her partner. Her death sparked widespread calls for the criminalization of domestic violence. I am glad that the President supported the public’s demand to criminalize domestic violence,” she said.

According to Azhigulova, after the law is passed, it is crucial to educate the public on its implementation, including where victims and witnesses can seek help, what actions law enforcement should take, and what support victims are entitled to. 

“Educating the public on the fact that violence is not a societal norm but rather a criminal offense must also be a priority,” she said.

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