Children in Kyrgyzstan: overview of the situation
Kyrgyzstan is a young nation and 2.1 million children make up 36.5 per cent of its population. Child poverty is a serious issue in Kyrgyzstan. Poverty is on rise (32.1 per cent) with children overrepresented in poverty statistics (40.5 per cent in 2015), resulting in poor access to quality services and protection, and higher vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters. Children living in poverty miss out on pre-school and school education and healthcare, and face malnutrition. The poorest children live mainly in rural areas in the southern regions of the country, many belong to families with three and more children and families with unemployed adults.
Nearly 900,000 children in the Kyrgyzstan live in poverty and continue to face deprivation.
Child mortality in Kyrgyzstan has decreased dramatically in the last 25 years (from 65 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 21 per 1000 live births in 2015). More children from mothers living with HIV are born HIV-free: the mother-to-child transmission rate has fallen from 13.3 per cent in 2011 to 2.9 per cent in 2013. In spite of this, the maternal mortality ratio remains high. Stunting, or chronic malnutrition, affects 21 per cent of children under five years in the rural and poorest areas, and 9 per cent in urban areas. Iron deficiency anemia affects 43 per cent of children under five. However, exclusive breastfeeding among children aged 0-6 months increased from 32 per cent in 2006 to 41 per cent in 2014.
Most children in Kyrgyzstan enter school without the required life-skills and basic knowledge for their age, and are therefore unprepared to cope with the structured school environment.
About 24 per cent of all children have access to preschool activities. Many children do not have any books at home.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that parents often lack the knowledge and skills to interact effectively with their children – even simple play can boost a child’s intellectual, cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.
Youth unemployment and underemployment rates are high, and many adolescents feel disenfranchised and experience injustice and inequality. Children and young people live in an environment characterized by local conflicts, poor intercommunal relations and divided ethic communities.
Despite the successful process of peace recovery following the conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010, the situation remains fragile in the Ferghana Valley, home to many ethnic minorities, where vulnerable populations have experienced social injustice.
Over 29,000 of children with disabilities live in Kyrgyzstan. They have poor access to quality healthcare, education and social services that meet their needs, including such essential support services as early identification, development and rehabilitation. This limits the opportunities for children with disabilities to live up to their developmental potential.
UNICEF calls Kyrgyzstan to ratify the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities to protect their rights.
Many children are separated from their families and live in residential care institutions, being deprived of the care of their parents or close relatives. Another threat to the wellbeing of children is caused by the increasing number of dysfunctional families and alcohol and substance abuse, which results in widespread exploitation, abuse and violence. Over 57 per cent of children aged 1-14 have experienced violent disciplining.
Almost 73 per cent of children report experiencing abuse or neglect in the family.
However, there have been some improvements to protect children in contact with the law: the number of prison sentences imposed on juveniles was decreased by 84 per cent.
The country is prone to frequent natural disasters and is considered as highly vulnerable to climate change, which impacts the growing number of natural hazards in Kyrgyzstan. Nearly all of the country is vulnerable to frequent earthquakes, avalanches, floods, mudflows and landslides. More than 10,000 homes are in landslide-prone areas in the south. In addition, 85 per cent of education facilities have a low structural safety level and are exposed to potential disasters. Thus, more than 1 million children are prone to potential disaster risks.
Kyrgyzstan has achieved a significant progress in improving the situation of children. Still, more needs to be done to address the remaining challenges faced by children and families to change their lives for better.