What could be more edifying than taking a group of children to visit parliament to see how lawmakers work?
That’s what MPs in Kyrgyzstan must have thought until the stunt blew up in their faces.
On November 20, a group of children from around the country visited the legislature as part of an outing to mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a quarter of a century since Kyrgyzstan ratified the convention.
Schoolchildren from ages eight to 16 took the seats of the lawmakers and took turns lobbing queries at the MPs, who instead occupied the places normally reserved for non-MPs. The issues discussed were serious and ranged widely, from overcrowding in schools to provision of education in remote rural locations and suicide among the underaged.
All appeared to be going well until a fifth-grader from an elementary school in Bishkek made her point.
Her school of more than 2,000 pupils, she said, has only one nurse to go around. And that was not the worst of it.
“Our nurse charges money for vaccinations,” said the girl, Durdana Salykova, appearing unwittingly to have made a grave charge.
As she slightly tripped over her words, the MPs present in the hall burst out laughing and then applauded. The little girl, flustered by this reaction, fell mute and then began to cry. The moderator of the event quickly thanked the girl and proceeded on.
The whole episode generated a swell of indignation among local media and social media users, with many outraged that the young girl had been exposed to this emotionally trying experience.
It is not known how the child is coping with the episode, but the feelings of lawmakers are very hurt indeed. In the wake of the widespread reporting on the incident, parliament issued a statement decrying “attempts by certain media organizations to increase dissatisfaction with parliament by distributing videos of children.”
The parliament press service noted that the MPs had only applauded in solidarity and that deputy speaker Aida Kasymalieva, who was moderating the event, could be heard saying: “Well done, we applaud to support you for the useful information you have given us.”
It is unclear whether the lawmakers actually looked into the child’s allegation, but Kloop news website did.
As Zhanyl Isayeva, the headmistress of the little girl’s school, told the website, her school was given only 100 doses of vaccinations for diphtheria and tetanus.
“There were not enough syringes to cover [the vaccination] of 18 pupils. It was a very bad situation at the school at that time. The nurse spoke with their parents and the 18 students paid five soms ($0.07) apiece and got the vaccine,” Isayeva told Kloop.
As Kloop also learned, from the family clinic responsible for providing the school with healthcare, that the nurse in question is a 60-year-old who is suffering from poor health and has trouble walking.
The shots in question were supposed to be administered in October, but there were not, as headmistress explained, enough syringes to go around. Because the nurse found it difficult to move around, she did not go to the hospital to restock, but instead bought shots out of her own pocket from a drugstore.
Kloop reported that after senior official medical personnel conducted an investigation into situation together with the state anticorruption commission, the decision was taken to issue a warning to the nurse.
Asking rhetorically why the MPs had laughed, the daily leader writer for AKIpress news agency volunteered an enraged answer.
“More than 200,000 children live without their parents, because they have left to find work, 750,000 children live in poverty, 70 percent of children do not have access to social services, 70,000 children do not have documents, child crime in 2018 increased by 50 percent and 333 children were subject of criminal investigations, child racketeering has become commonplace and about 100 children commit suicide every year in the country. What is there to laugh about?”