E.Vatlina "Kazakhstan needs Children's Ombudsman"
A delegation of representatives from the Kazakhstan NGOs Coalition "On Protection of Children's Rights" recently returned from Geneva, where it presented the fourth alternative report “On protection of children's rights in Kazakhstan" to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. A total of 30 NGOs working in the field of protection and promotion of children's rights took part in the preparation of this report. Coordinator of the "Human Rights" Program Aizhan Oshakbayeva met with Elvira Vatlina, Chairman of the Board of "Children's Fund of Kazakhstan" and talked about the outcome of the meeting in Geneva, on the situation of human rights, and interests of children in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Aizhan Oshakbayeva: Elvira, could you give us a more precise definition of "children's rights" and what it comprises, because we are used to thinking that decisions for children are made by their parents, certain institutions, and, of course, the state?
Elvira Vatlina: First of all, a child is a human being and, of course, as such, he or she has rights and responsibilities. Therefore, the group of rights that we, as children's rights activists, usually raise is the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, the right for access to quality education, healthcare, and simply the right to be heard.
While monitoring protection of children's rights, and preparing an alternative report, the human rights activists evaluate whether or not there is a violation of the rights and interests of children. If so, we, as adults, should react and take action to ensure that child rights are protected.
AO: Please, describe the situation of children’s rights in Kazakhstan. Where the children's rights are violated most frequently?
EV: Of course, the government does a lot to protect the rights of children. However, there are issues where the protection of interests and rights of children are not only ignored, but also violated. For example, in the state system for protection of children's rights, the enforcement practices against discrimination are virtually nonexistent. In regard to access to education and healthcare, there is still discriminatory attitude towards children with special needs, children from rural areas, children living in areas of ecological disaster, and children from low-income families. We still face huge problems of housing provision for children from low-income households, orphans and children left without parental care. According to the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, of 34 thousand orphans in Kazakhstan, more than 27 thousand are in need of housing.
In 2011, with the support of the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan, we conducted a study on access to education for [labor] migrant’s children. Experts have seen that the situation is definitely changing; nevertheless, the problem of [labor] migrant’s children has yet to be entirely resolved. In 2013, many [labor] migrant’s children were able to attend schools in Kazakhstan, but they were deprived of the right to free textbooks and free food due to lack of PIN (personal identification number).
Our colleagues from the "Women League of Creative Initiative" have, for the first time in our country, raised the issue of early forced marriages and conducted a study on the subject, which revealed that every year in Kazakhstan more than 3,000 child marriages are conducted. Neither the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, nor the Code of Administrative Offences of RK imposing liability for forced marriage, which reflects a "hands off" position of the State in this situation.
Unfortunately, the number of suicide cases among children in Kazakhstan continues to grow. In the Republic there is no comprehensive and systematic approach to the problem, the quality and effectiveness of the taken measures are not monitored, and there is no coordination between the responsible ministries.
AO: All these problems are quite significant. What solutions would you propose to these problems?
EV: I would like to start with the fact that we do not have an institution of Children’s Rights Ombudsman. We raised this issue in 2003, then in 2007, and again recently. There is an institution of Commissioner for Human Rights, but in terms of resources and procedures it does not comply with the Paris Principles . To date, in order to conduct an independent public monitoring of children's rights, a Children’s Rights Commissioner institution or Children's Ombudsman is required. Given that in our country there is no mechanism for issuing complaints and appeals, and the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child  is not ratified, which would allow for issuance of statements, individual complaints and appeals directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in our report, we repeated the recommendation for establishment of the Children’s Rights Ombudsman institution in order to effectively promote and protect children's rights.
AO: Our country signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, and according to the procedures of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, our country reports on the situation of children's rights in Kazakhstan for the fourth time. In your opinion, to what extent are our reports changing and recommendations being implemented?
AW: The working group of Kazakhstan NGOs "On Protection of the Rights of Children" became active in 2002. The first alternative/corresponding report on human rights of children in RK mentioned the occurrence of children's rights violations in our country. Of course, the issue was raised within the state, so we used a variety of setups for meetings, held roundtables and conferences, and collaborated with other national and international organizations. But, unfortunately, we were not always heard. When we saw the reaction of the members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child during the submission of our report in 2003, we were convinced that our work was not in vain. Based on the Final Recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a plan was prepared for the implementation of these recommendations. Consequently, the state recognized and appreciated the work done by non-governmental organizations. The situation is undoubtedly changing from one report to another. Specific recommendations are implemented, especially in the field of law. But new challenges require new approaches, consolidation of state and civil society efforts in the interests of promoting the rights of children.
After the presentation of the report at the 70th session, the members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asked the NGO delegation more than 40 questions. Based on the nature of the questions in was clear that there is a keen interest of Committee members as well as their solid awareness about the state of children's rights in Kazakhstan, especially from the Special Rapporteurs on Kazakhstan. We hope that our recommendations will be heard and that they will be included in the final recommendations of the UN Committee.
 Paris Principles - a set of international standards that shape and define the work of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) formulated at the international seminar by NHRIs in Paris in 1991, and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. NHRIs must conform to the principles that define their objectives in the field of human rights and provide for their independence, wide mandate of human rights, adequate funding and inclusive and transparent process of selection and appointment. The principles are widely recognized as the criteria of legality and soundness of institutions.
 In December 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted the third optional protocol, which was opened for signature in 2012 and entered into force in 2014 when it acquired ten participating countries. The protocol sets out an international complaints procedure for child rights violations in participating countries by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.