Families in Kyrgyzstan hit hard by global recession
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain.
By Peter George
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 6 August 2009 – Every day, Turganaly Kenjebaev stands on a bridge beside a busy main road, hoping that someone will stop by and offer him a job for the day. If he’s lucky, he’ll earn $4.
On most days, there are roughly 70 men and women waiting with him on this bridge, but in the rain there is not much demand for the sort of outdoor day labour Mr. Kenjebaev can offer: farm, construction or loading work. After a couple of hours, he and a few other men equally desperate for work will be thoroughly damp – and still unemployed for the day.
A chance to break out of poverty
Mr. Kenjebaev lives in a bustling town about 40 km outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Like the majority of people who live there, he is constantly preoccupied with finding, especially as he is raising four children on his own.
As a dedicated father, Mr. Kenjebaev wants to feed, clothe and educate his offspring so that they have a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. But the odds are increasingly stacked against him. Kyrgyzstan is suffering the effects of the global recession, and the backbone of its economy – remittances sent from Kyrgyz workers in other countries, particularly Russia – has taken a blow.
Recession hits home
Of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.3 million people, an estimated that half-million are working outside the country. The money that such workers send home has been a mainstay of the country’s economy since the days of the Soviet Union.
“The amounts are beginning to decrease, and we expect an even greater decline next year," said UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan Timothy Schaffter. "This will have a very significant effect on families, many of whom live in the poorer areas.
“One very serious impact we see is an astronomical 50 per cent increase in the price of food from 2007. This is creating food insecurity among large sections of the population and is a very serious concern,” he added.
Overwhelmed by basic needs
Mr. Kenjebaev is too busy trying to find work and feed his children to keep up with what is happening in the rest of the world.
“I come home late in the evening and I have no time to read newspapers. I only think about feeding the children,” he said. “Of course, it’s becoming harder and harder because there’s no work. If there was work, I’d be working.”
But Mr. Kenjebaev plans says to keep sending his children to school no matter what. His main concern is that they aren’t getting enough to eat or the right nutrients from what they do consume.
“Most families find it difficult to afford food, and there are families worse off than mine. At least I can borrow food, like a sack of flour, and work to repay the debt. But some families can’t even do this,” he said.
Keeping children healthy
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that all children have the right to nutritious food.
In the spirit of the CRC, UNICEF is working with the Kyrgyz Government to enact legislation that will help to address the nutritional concerns of parents like Mr. Kenjebaev. Later this year, new laws will mandate that all bread flour sold in Kyrgyzstan must be fortified with iron, vitamins and other essential micro-nutrients, which will contribute to the healthy development of children’s minds and bodies.
As UNICEF’s Mr. Schaffter noted: “Due to the rising costs of food, people are eating more bread, and fortunately now this bread will be fortified with these important micro-nutrients.”