Violence Against Women in Tajikistan
Click map to view larger image.
Population of women: 3,603,000/7,079,000
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 71
School life expectancy for women: 11
Women's adult literacy: 100%
Women engaged in economic activity: 57%

Source: U.N. Statistics Division,
Social Indicators, updated December 2012 
last updated August 2013

Under the Constitution of Tajikistan, all individuals are equal before the law and courts, rights and freedoms are guaranteed irrespective of ethnicity, race, sex, language, faith, political beliefs, education, or social or property status and women and men have equal rights.[1]  However, traditional attitudes and customs, combined with a legal system that provides inadequate protection, have resulted in a subordinate status for women in Tajikistan.
According to Women and Men in the Republic of Tajikistan, a Digest prepared by Tajikistan's State Statistics Office in 2008, women are making an increased contribution to the economy and to the family budget.[2]  Yet, the advancement of women as equal participants in Tajikistan’s transition to a market economy has been jeopardized by a regression in participation of girls in education at all levels in Tajikistan is show in a Tajikistan Country Case Study.[3]  The lower percentage of girls in primary and secondary education reflects the view that it is more important to provide education for boys than for girls.[4]  Studies have found that as grade levels rise, girls' participation falls:   
While girls make 47% of students in grade 7, in grade 11 they made only 39%...The situation is undoubtedly more acute in rural areas where dropout rates are much higher for girls as many are forced to marry as teenagers.  And among university students, girls make up only about 25% of the total student population.[5]   
The connection between early marriage and the cessation of a girl’s education is well founded.  The legal age of marriage in Tajikistan was 17 until last year when the age was increased to 18.[6]  However, a court can permit a woman to marry at the age of 17 by a court order.[7]  The number of nikoh, or unregistered religious marriages, has increased, as have the number of babies delivered by girls aged 15-17.[8]  Many families also do not permit young women to attend classes for religious reasons.  The Ministry of Education created a dress code that does not permit women to go to school while wearing the hijab.  The women are allowed to wear scarves covering their hair, but not the neck.  Parents often keep women home from school and university rather than permit them to attend without the hijab.[9]  To remedy this situation the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women suggested to the Tajik government that it consider placing into effect a policy permitting girls who have dropped out of school to return.[10] Women with disabilities face even greater challenges in Tajikistan.  According to The Second Shadow Report on the Realization of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women In 2007 over 64% of women with a disability had no education.[11]
Young women have been disproportionately affected by the drop in Tajikistan's allocations to the healthcare sector.  The Digest noted that “Inadequate nutrition, anemia and early pregnancies threaten the lives of young and adolescent girls…The introduction of paid medical services has reduced rural women's access to antenatal services since obstetrics and gynecology are among the most expensive medical services.”[12]In addition according to a Human Rights Report, 76% of women had skilled personnel present when they gave birth.[13]  The maternal mortality rate in 2012 was approximately 37 per 100,000 births.  In November of 2011 Tajikistan's Ministry of Health reported that 80.6% of women received postpartum care.[14]  Between 2005 and 2010 many more women reported being HIV-infected.[15]
While women and men are legally to receive equal pay for similar work, the reality is that cultural barriers prevent women from pursuing certain profitable careers.[16]  In addition, women own significantly less property than men in Tajikistan.[17]  Many men migrate, but fail to send back money, and so their wives are left to earn enough to care for the family.[18]  This problem is distressing in light of the high rate of unemployment that women face.[19]  Even when women do find work it is often in areas of the economy that pay very little: health care, education and agriculture.[20]  The government is providing relief for young women in the criminal justice system.  In September of 2011 the government provided an amnesty for all female juvenile prisoners, and no more were jailed during 2012.[21]  However, this is not a result of a large amount of women in decision-making positions in the political structure of Tajikistan.  In the Tajik government less than 30% of the representatives are women, and none of the ministers or ambassadors are female.[22]  

According to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, between 62% and 76% of Tajik homes experienced some form of domestic violence.[23]  According to an earlier study, 47% reported experiencing sexual violence by their husbands.[24] Because of traditional attitudes on gender and male dominance, many men in Tajikistan do not feel that beating their wife is physical violence. And, according to Women and Men in the Republic of Tajikistan, most women aged 15-49 years believe that a husband has the right to beat a wife.[25]   
In January 2013, Tajikistan passed its first law to combat domestic violence. According to news sources, the law draws on the experience of Indonesia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova, as well as suggestions from Tajik civil society. The law provides free medical and legal assistance to domestic violence victims. Those convicted of domestic abuse will be fined and sentenced to 5-15 days in jail. Victims are encouraged to obtain assistance from centers, where they can also find temporary shelter. Although the majority of victims that have sought protection in the past are women, the law also looks to protect men and children. With a focus on prevention, family counseling and psychological counseling are a few of the preemptive measures provided through the new law.
More than 80% of Tajik women have been victims of domestic violence at some point, but very few of them have reported their abuse to the police. “Victims are reluctant to file complaints, fearing the husband or his family's revenge or the shame they may be exposed to,” noted Human Rights Center analyst Larisa Aleksandrova. Although the new law is a good starting point for Tajikistan, more needs to be done to help change mind-sets throughout the community. According to Zebo Sharipova, leader of the League of Women’s Lawyers, the law is “fairly good,” but one would like to see it “set higher standards for accountability for government agencies and the judiciary.” Despite criticism that more needs to be done in the fight to stop domestic violence in Tajikistan, the new law is an example of the progress that is being made in the country to put an end to abuse.[26]  
There are 12 crisis centers in Tajikistan. In the past 5 years, these crisis centers have received 17,676 applications for assistance or information, and over 77% of these applications have been from women.  The type of violence most frequently reported is psychological (56.5% in 2005) and the next most frequent is physical (22.3% in 2005.)[27]  
NGOs and police offer differing accounts of the willingness of law enforcement to protect victims of domestic violence, with some activists stating that district police still ignore such cases:
… Frequently, a victim of violence in order to achieve application of criminal punishment has to overcome reluctance of militia workers to admit her complaint, incorrect treatment of her, intimidation, numerous wearisome and frequently aimless interrogations, being not timely sent to forensic medical examination, inappropriate and tactless carrying out of examination, intrusion into her private life, traumatic confrontations, lack of adequate protection and defending of victims, etc.[28]  
Yet, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the police have set up a special department to deal with domestic violence and other cases of assault, with the result that all cases of domestic violence are now formally recorded and examined.[29]  Tajikistan’s customary law or tradition tends to blame the woman if she takes a family conflict to law enforcement officials.  Thus, both tradition and the legal authorities may restrain women from obtaining their legal rights and their rights to live a life free of violence[30]   
In May of 2008, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Yakin Erturk, visited Tajikistan and offered these observations on the situation involving domestic violence in Tajikistan:
While gender equality is ensured and promoted in law, there are concerns that, in practice, the situation of women has regressed in the past 15 years, and that many significant achievements in the areas of women's employment, participation in public life and education, to name but a few, have taken a step back.  Today, women in Tajikistan are caught within a web of poverty, patriarchy, and a weak protective infrastructure, resulting in increased vulnerability to violence and discrimination inside and outside their homes[31] 
Gender-based NGOs have been quite successful in advocating for change in the government response to domestic violence.  A coalition of NGOs, created in 2005, organized a demand for the implementation of the Tajikistan government’s commitment to focus on violence against women through changes in public policy.  The coalition obtained an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior to improve the collection of statistics on domestic violence and to create a working group to draft a Law on Social and Legal Protection on Domestic Violence, which had not yet been enacted.  In the Concluding Observations on the Second Periodic Report of Tajikistan, Tajikistan was urged to pass legislation protecting women from domestic violence.[32]  This Committee further points out concerns that medical personnel and police officers are not sufficiently trained to investigate claims of rape and domestic violence.[33]  On July 28, 2011, the United Nations Women Office in Tajikistan hosted hearings to discuss the draft law.[34]   The coalition also worked to raise public awareness of domestic violence.[35]  These efforts culminated in December, 2012, when Tajikistan passed its first law to combat domestic violence. According to news sources, the law draws on the experience of Indonesia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova, as well as suggestions from Tajik civil society.[36] The law provides for free medical and legal assistance to domestic violence victims. Those convicted of domestic abuse will be fined and sentenced to 5-15 days in jail. Victims are encouraged to obtain assistance from centers, where they can also find temporary shelter. Although the majority of victims that have sought protection in the past are women, the law also looks to protect men and children. With a focus on prevention, family counseling and psychological counseling are a few of the preemptive measures provided through the new law.[37]
Nongovernmental organizations in Tajikistan also recommended that the Government of Tajikistan simultaneously adopt the necessary amendments to the criminal law, criminal procedure law and administrative law to facilitate implementation of the new domestic violence law.[38]  A recent report by The Network of East-West Women also recommended that law enforcement officers be trained to work with victims of violence and that government bodies support NGOs.[39]  
In Tajikistan, women who are experiencing violence may apply to mahallahs, jamoats, or women’s committees instead of the police. These civic leaders should receive training on women’s rights and legal assistance.  In particular, if these bodies were to promote the registration of marriage, women’s rights would be greatly enhanced. Women in unregistered marriages have no property rights should a divorce occur.[40]  A lack of sustainability is a crucial issue for NGOs and the services they provide.  The government has not, to date, allocated sufficient funding for NGOs in their work against domestic violence, or for shelters for victims of domestic violence.  NGOs currently rely on foreign donors.[41]  The government has set up The Committee for Women's Affairs.[42]  This committee has limited resources, and so it is difficult for it to directly provide support for women who have suffered domestic violence.  However, it does refer women to local shelters.[43]   
Polygamy exists in Tajikistan, although it is against the Criminal Code.  Some sources say it is due to the shortage of men caused by emigration and the civil war but others say it is the result of the resurgence in conservative religious practices.[44]  Still others point to the economic difficulties experienced by single women, especially those with children.[45]  The effects of polygamy can be harsh for women.  Second and third marriages cannot be legally recognized, leaving the wives without property or inheritance rights.[46]  If a husband decides to take a second wife, he may choose to not disclose this to his first wife.  Unmarried girls may be given to men as second or even third wives by parents, for economic or social reasons.   And, second and third wives may be even more vulnerable to domestic violence and spousal rape.[47]  According to the Shadow Report by Non-Governmental Organizations of Tajikistan, “…the problem of polygamy is becoming aggravated; rights of both the first and second wives are routinely violated. The growth of the number of second wives from among young girls is a cause for concern.”[48]  The process for these marriages is highly informal and this results in divorce by text or in presence of only two witnesses.[49]  Those women who are divorced are not able to claim support through the government because their marriages were never recognized by the state.[50]  In 2006, the number of those penalized for polygamous practices had “considerably increased” according to a member of the January 2007 delegation to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.[51]  Among men, at most 10% have participated in the practice of polygamy.[52]

Rape is often unreported because of the victim's fear and shame.  Further, the government was unable to provide the U.S. State Department with statistics showing the number of rapists tried and convicted.[53]  The police have no special training in the investigations of rape.  Only one police station in Tajikistan was fully prepared to assist domestic violence victims in 2012.[54]  Five of Tajikistan's stations have police officers trained to help victims of domestic violence.[55]  The Criminal Code does not directly address domestic violence, but does contain provisions regarding rape, abuse, beating, torture and damage to health.[56] Rape is prohibited under Article 138 of the Criminal Code and punishes rapists with up to 20 years' imprisonment.[57] However, depending on the severity of the crime and the age of the victim, the offender may be sentenced to death. There is no special provision in the Criminal Code addressing marital rape, and there have been no complaints in the last 20 years.[58]   
No statute in Tajikistan criminalizes sexual harassment in the context of the workplace.[59]  Many times women's claims were trivialized and those who complained faced potential retaliation by employers.[60]  In 2006 one study showed that 20% of employed women left their workplace as a result of sexual harassment.[61]  While pregnant women and juveniles are protected from being unreasonably dismissed from work, but no legal method is capable of enforcing this rule because of how difficult this type of discrimination is to prove.[62]  Unfortunately, no aggregate data is available on violence against women in the sphere of employment.[63]  Anecdotal data from 2005 shows that women who are harassed while working are discouraged from reporting the violence.[64]  This leaves women with little recourse from these problems.[65]  Out of 191 women interviewed in a study only 3 appealed discriminatory actions by their employers.[66]

Tajikistan is both a country of origin and a transit country for trafficked women.  According to the U.S. State Department's Human Trafficking Report on Tajikistan. In 2012 seven Tajik trafficking victims were found in Kyrgyztan.[67]  Women are trafficked in the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and within Tajikistan itself.[68]  Girls are forced into trafficking at times through forced marriage to Afghan men.[69]  Some families sell their daughter to wealthy men for thousands of dollars.[70]  The United States Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Tajikistan as a Tier 2 country.[71]  The ranking system ranges from Tier 1, where countries are fully compliant with the Trafficking Victim's Protection Act's minimum standards, to Tier 3 where countries are not compliant and are not seeking to meet those standards. [72]  Tier 2 countries are not fully compliant, but they are making efforts to comply.[73]  Many of the prominent traffickers in Tajikistan are women and "warlords" who rose to power during the Tajik Civil War. Article 132 of the Criminal Code, “Recruitment of people for exploitation” has been used to combat trafficking, and in 2004, “On combating trafficking in humans” (Article 130/1) was adopted by Majlisi Oli, the Tajik Parliament.[74]  However, Tajikistan did not report any convictions under this law in 2012.[75]  Several other provisions of the Criminal Code of RT stipulate criminal liability for such acts as illegal restriction of movement (Article 149) and trade in minors (Article 67).  The Government of Tajikistan established an Interdepartmental Commission on combating trafficking in humans in 2005 and a Programme on Counter-Operations with Regard to Trafficking in Humans in RT for 2006-2010 was developed by the Government and the IOM of RT in 2006.[76]  The Tajik government did take action to levy fines against farms using forced labor in 2012.[77]  According to the Shadow Report, corruption in governmental bodies and organized crime play a strong role in the preparation of false documents and the border crossings of victims. Although quantitative data is not available, the trafficking of minors is a special concern due to abandonment of such children to the care of friends or relatives when the parents migrate for employment purposes.   The Shadow Report noted that the Criminal Code of RT does not stipulate the status of a victim of trafficking, and as a result, victims are deported as criminals or put in jail.  The Shadow Report stated that there is an “obvious necessity for the development and adoption of a bill…which would create shelters and rehabilitation centers for victims of trafficking…”[78]
As noted in Human Rights Violations in Tajikistan:  Alternative Report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, 37th Session, in partnership with Tajik NGOs, Geneva-Dushanbe, unedited version, there are other problems with the Tajikistan legal system that weaken its effect upon human trafficking:  the lack of judicial training on the subject; the lack of legislation providing for confiscation of the revenues of human traffickers; and the lack of accountability of government and judicial officials for the proliferation of falsified documents.[79]  From 2010 to 2012 the Tajik government authorized NGO's to monitor the cotton harvest for the use of forced labor.[80]
Sex trafficking is illegal, but women who are caught are often fined and released. Running a sex trafficking operation is illegal under Article 239 of the Criminal Code and is punishable by fine or up to five years' imprisonment. Article 239 punishes anyone who involves another in sex trafficking by a fine or up to two years' imprisonment. The average age of victims, which has dropped alarmingly in past years, is approximately eleven or twelve years; Article 141 criminalizes sexual intercourse with persons under 16 years of age by up to five years in prison.  The Alternative Report states that a recent trend in sex trafficking has emerged, in which the victims are tricked into traveling to Russia by means of fraud or a promised marriage, but are in fact trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.[81] 
Currently, there are two shelters which are specifically for victims of trafficking- one in Dushanbe which is for adults and one in Khujand, for minors.  Also, the Crisis Center at NGO “Modar” operates a hot line which provides legal, medical and psychological aid and information to victims of trafficking.[84]  In 2012 civil society groups were able to provide services to 74 Tajik trafficking victims.[85]  In 2011 there were 85 victims who were provided services.[86]  While it did provide utilities for the two shelters in Dushanbe and Khujand, it did not provide any funding to any other organizations that provide services to victims of trafficking.[87]

[3] Briller, Vladimir, Tajikistan Country Case Study, Country Profile prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2008