A group of lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan has appealed to the president to hold a referendum on amending the constitution to allow for the death penalty for people found guilty of raping minors.
Around two-thirds of MPs have registered their backing for the proposed amendment, which was subjected to a round of public consultations last year and is now poised to be considered by lawmakers, making its adoption a strong possibility.
The backers of the proposal have said they are acting in response to a worsening problem.
“Violence against young children tends to increase from year to year, and today most of these crimes in Kyrgyzstan remain hidden,” the MP sponsoring the bill wrote in a note accompanying the draft amendment.
Lawmakers cited police data showing that 38 cases of child rape or coercion into sexual activity had been recorded in 2020, and that this number rose to 50 and 60 in the following two years.
Current penalties for rape of a minor can range up to life in prison.
Dastan Bekeshev, an independent MP, said that he is confident the measure will be supported in a referendum if one is held. He expressed concern over the wisdom of reintroducing the death penalty within such a deeply flawed justice system, however.
“Our judicial system is so incomplete, corrupt and unjust. Our investigative organs are not entirely above board. I am in favor of the death penalty, but only where law enforcement bodies are working in an ideal manner,” he said.
This idea may be dashed by Kyrgyzstan’s international commitments, though.
Nazgul Turdubekova, a lawyer and the head of a Bishkek-based children’s rights group, told Eurasianet that Kyrgyzstan did not have the right to introduce the death penalty as it is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Turdubekova echoed Bekeshev’s concerns about the prospects for accused people getting a fair trial.
“In Kyrgyzstan, the probability of a miscarriage of justice is very high,” she said.
The problem of child sexual abuse is complicated and needs to be addressed sensitively, Turdubekova argued. Children in Kyrgyzstan are most often raped by their own relatives and acquaintances, she said. A particularly vulnerable class are the children of parents living abroad for work. Around 1 million Kyrgyz nationals – approximately one out of every seven people in the country – spend months and even years abroad, typically in Russia, to earn money to send to their families back home.
The death penalty proposal does nothing to address any of that, Turdubekova said.
“The incidence of violence is growing, as every fourth family has been left without either one or two of the parents who have left [the country] to find work,” she said.
A more useful approach would be to increase the number of active social workers able to cater to the needs of the children of labor migrants, Turdubekova said.
“We need to focus not on extreme punitive measures, but on prevention,” she said. “Instead of looking at the issue through the eyes of professionals, MPs choose the easiest way, where you don’t even have to think. [They say]: ‘Just kill someone.’”
The most recent clamor occurred after one notorious incident in September, when a group of men raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl in the southern Batken region. The parents of the girl later told the media that they considered only the death penalty a just punishment.
It was in response to that episode that one MP, Yrysbek Atazhanov, put forward the ongoing initiative to change the constitution.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.