A mother takes her case to Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court to get her children back
UNICEF supported legal aid services help families access justice
Aiperi welcomes us on the fourth floor of a grey building on the edge of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her apartment is warmed both by electric heaters and also by the giggles and laughter of her three-year-old daughter, Mavliuda. Seated with a cup of tea at a table fully set for her guests, in the Kyrgyz tradition of hospitality, Aiperi tells her story while Mavliuda trots around the room, searching for anything that could be used as a toy.
Aiperi says she has made many “mistakes” in her life. In her early twenties, she married a man whom she really believed she loved. But very soon after the wedding, her life turned into a nightmarish cycle of violence and abuse committed by her husband and his family. The births of their two children did nothing to ease the situation. In fact, it only made things worse.
Already a hard worker, Aiperi was determined to work even harder to put things right and to provide financial support for the family. She worked to the point of complete exhaustion.
“As a child, I was told to be respectful and work hard. So I believed it was my duty to be a provider for them and put my interests and wellbeing aside,” she recalls. “As I was working very long hours, my husband decided to send our children to my mother-in-law who lives in another town far from here. It was an immense sacrifice, but I decided to give my whole self to the future of my children and put my own life to one side.”
A turning point for Aiperi came when the family restricted the time she could spend with her own children, as if it was the mother-in-law with the final say in their wellbeing. On those rare occasions when she was able to see them, it was just for a few minutes and not in the house – but at a gas station. Over time, she noticed that her children were becoming more and more distant, calling her “Aiperi” and calling their grandmother “Mum.”
Tired of the abuse, violence and injustice she had to endure, Aiperi decided to get her children back and looked for support through the judicial system. “At first I tried to hire two private lawyers, but they were of no help. They tried to discourage me from fighting against a wealthy and powerful family. They would ask me, ‘Where will you find the money to win in court?’ And ‘Where will you find the money to pay the judges?’
Her morale was low, but she did not give up. Then a friend advised her to contact Aizada, a legal-aid lawyer supported by UNICEF who would offer her services for free. It was the ray of sunshine that she had been waiting for so long.
Aizada immediately became Aiperi’s confidante. The lawyer became more than her legal representative, but also a therapist, a shoulder to cry on, a friend who offered comfort in moments of despair. After many papers, hearings and disputes, the Supreme Court finally ruled that Aiperi’s children should be returned to her.
Despite the ruling, though, only Mavliuda, her three-year-old daughter has been returned. Her six-year-old brother, Nurlan, is still being kept by the mother-in-law who maintains that a boy is seen as being more “valuable” than a girl.
“Now we are waiting for the full execution of the judgement,” says Aizada. “But we are so afraid of the trauma that Nurlan might suffer. We will make sure that he is not taken from the mother-in-law by brute force and that the return of the child is carried out in a proper, gentle manner.”
We ask Aiperi what kind of advice she would give to women in a similar situation to hers. Without hesitation she replies that education of a child is what matters the most, that nothing can take the place of a loving family and that no material wealth can compare to the warmth of life in such a family.
As she talks, Mavliuda climbs on to her lap in search of a cuddle. They smile, but their happiness will be complete only when Nurlan will join them. Only in that moment will justice will be done. Saying goodbye, we promise to visit the family again on the day they are all together – hopefully very soon.
*All names have been changed to ensure privacy.