CENTRAL ASIA: Disabled Citizens Find Avenues to Advancement Blocked

By Alisher Khamidov

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Oct 24 2012 (EurasiaNet) – As a child, Feruza Alimova dreamed of becoming a lawyer so she could help disabled people.

But the 22-year-old cannot pursue a law degree because a bone deformity keeps her homebound. Her parents, who make a living growing cotton and tobacco in the Kyrgyzstani hamlet of Chekabad, in the Ferghana Valley, spend a large chunk of their income on expensive medications for Feruza and two other children suffering a similar bone condition.

Mukhabat, Feruza’s mother, says neighbours blamed her and her husband for their children’s disabilities. “We were also ashamed at the beginning, but gradually we decided that what mattered is not the opinions of others, but the happiness of our children,” Mukhabat told EurasiaNet.org.

Because public minibuses do not accommodate her wheelchair, Feruza could not attend law school. Instead, last year she completed a knitting course offered by a local vocational school.

Across Central Asia, hundreds of thousands of disabled people are unable to attend school because they live in a world with few handicap-accessible amenities, according to the State Department’s 2011 Human Rights reports for Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

In Tajikistan, the law “requires government buildings, schools, hospitals, and transportation to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions,” the report states.

In Uzbekistan, the State Department maintains that disabled Uzbeks are stigmatised and educational opportunities are limited for those unable to walk on their own. “Many of the high schools constructed in recent years have exterior ramps, but no interior modifications that would allow wheelchair accessibility,” the report stated.

Civil society groups say Central Asian governments are resistant to addressing the issue.

“Authorities (across the region) view a disability as a medical ailment that can be treated, and not as a social condition that needs to be accepted by society,” said Azat Israilov of Kelechek, a Bishkek-based non-governmental organisation that works with disabled children. As a result, state assistance is often limited to monthly payments to help cover medicine, he said.

In a continuation of Soviet-era practices, all of the Central Asian republics divide disabilities into three groups. People with “category one” disabilities are completely dependent on others for care; people in “category two” can take care of themselves with assistance (blindness, some intellectual disabilities, and bone deformities fall into this category); “category three” can include impaired vision and rheumatism. State-run medical commissions assign the categories.

According to official data, in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, individuals in category one receive up to 70 dollars per month; no precise figure is available for Kazakhstan, though the number is sometimes reported as 100 dollars.

The cash is welcome, but nothing like the benefits that disabled people received a generation ago, before the Soviet Union collapsed.

“During the Soviet period, we (disabled people) enjoyed many privileges such as free healthcare, state subsidies, and allowances. Now most of these perks are gone,” said Ilkhom Madumarov, a Tashkent resident in his late fifties who, missing a leg, is in category two.

Mukhabat, Feruza’s mother, says the cash benefits for her children, whose disabilities all fall into category one, is not enough to cover their monthly treatment. But it’s not the size of the payments that makes her angry.

“What my children need is not just small monetary compensation; they want to be treated like everyone else. The government needs to create conditions in which children like mine can function like normal people despite their disabilities,” she said, such as access to schools.

For years, international aid agencies have promoted reform. But in recent years, their support has dwindled. Following the May 2005 massacre in Andijan, a suspicious central government in Tashkent forced many foreign non-governmental organisations out of Uzbekistan. And since the 2010 political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, Israilov of Kelechek complains, much of the donor community’s attention has focused on post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

In some cases, too, aid agencies appear to be suffering from donor fatigue. Despite pressure from international development outfits, endemic corruption and bureaucracy have hampered reform efforts, aid workers say privately.

For example, given the monetary compensations and other perks associated with disability status (people with disabilities pay lower taxes, obtain subsidised medical treatment at state-funded clinics, and receive discounts when using public transportation), government disability commissions throughout Central Asia often try to extort bribes from applicants, some of whom do not have disabilities.

A December 2010 law adopted by Uzbekistan’s parliament abolished financial payments for category three disabilities, a move that impacted 200,000 individuals, who lost monthly benefits of 60,000 sums (37 dollars) a month. Legislators said they were trying to make the system more efficient. Observers in Tashkent believe the law is also intended to crack down on corrupt government employees selling disability permits.

More generally, benefits seem to be on the chopping block in budgeted-squeezed Central Asian states. On Oct. 18, Kyrgyzstan’s government announced budget cuts that will affect social spending.

Some disabled people have taken radical measures to improve their plight. Since the April 2010 uprising in Kyrgyzstan, a group of disabled people have illegally occupied a mansion belonging to the ousted president’s hated son.

In Uzbekistan, meanwhile, a group of people with disabilities petitioned several independent news outlets in March, blowing the whistle on alleged infighting within the Society for Disabled People of Uzbekistan, a quasi-government agency that administers some of the state’s assistance programmes. The petition claimed the Society is rife with corruption and nepotism.

Such outspoken criticism of the government is rare in Uzbekistan and often punished severely. “These protest letters indicate the extent of despair,” said a local teacher familiar with the campaign.

*Editor’s note: Alisher Khamidov is a researcher specialising in Central Asian affairs.

This story was originally published by EurasiaNet.org.


BBC Provides Horrific Testimonies on Forced Sterilization in Uzbekistan

April 12, 2012 –

The BBC has a horrifying new report on the forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan.

Stories have been leaking out for years about doctors secretly performing hysterectomies on women who have given birth in hospitals. The surgeries are described as “voluntary,” but EurasiaNet.org has reported how increasing numbers of women are choosing to give birth at home, fearing doctors will tie up their fallopian tubes or cut out their uteri without their consent.

The UN Committee Against Torture and the US State Department have both expressed concern. Nevertheless, it appears Tashkent is issuing doctors quotas for the procedures.

“Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilized,” a gynecologist from Tashkent told the BBC’s Natalia Antelava.

Several doctors I spoke to say that in the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in Caesarean sections, which provide surgeons with an easy opportunity to sterilize the mother. These doctors dispute official statements that only 6.8% of women give birth through C-sections.

“Rules on Caesareans used to be very strict, but now I believe 80% of women give birth through C-sections. This makes it very easy to perform a sterilization and tie the fallopian tubes,” says a chief surgeon at a hospital near the capital, Tashkent.

One local expert estimated tens of thousands of forced sterilizations have happened in the past few years across Central Asia’s most populous nation, a vast country of, officially, 28 million.

Adolat comes from Uzbekistan, where life centers around children and a big family is the definition of personal success. Adolat thinks of herself as a failure.

“What am I after what happened to me?” she says as her hand strokes her daughter’s hair – the girl whose birth changed Adolat’s life.

“I always dreamed of having four – two daughters and two sons – but after my second daughter I couldn’t get pregnant,” she says.

She went to see a doctor and found out that she had been sterilized after giving birth to her daughter by Caesarean section.

“I was shocked. I cried and asked: ‘But why? How could they do this?’ The doctor said, ‘That’s the law in Uzbekistan.'”

One mother of three describes regular visits from a nurse warning her to get a free hysterectomy before the state starts charging. “Another mother says she experienced months of mysterious pain and heavy bleeding following the birth of her son. Then she had an ultrasound check and discovered that her uterus had been removed,” the report said.

Why? Some observers believe Tashkent is obsessed with statistics. Unhappy that maternal mortality rates place the country between Palestine and Botswana (Central Asians dread being compared to Africans), officials seem to see sterilizations as a way to improve their rankings.

“It’s a simple formula – less women give birth, less of them die,” said one surgeon.

The result is that this helps the country to improve its ranking in international league tables for maternal and infant mortality.

“Uzbekistan seems to be obsessed with numbers and international rankings,” says Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“I think it’s typical of dictatorships that need to construct a narrative built on something other than the truth.”

The government denies women are being sterilized by force and says Uzbekistan should be considered a role model for maternal health.

Listen to BBC Radio Program


North South Dialogue IV (Conference On Inclusion of Disabled)- Goa 19-23 Feb

There are over 100 million disabled Indians who have no access to services. Despite legislation only 2% disabled have so far been covered. The North South Dialogue (NSD) was conceptualized by Dr. Mithu Alur and ADAPT – Able Disable All People Together (formerly SSI – Spastic Society of India) to explore models of reaching out to these people, strive for inclusive education and use the dialogue to build partnerships between Indian and global organization, learning from one another, exchanging ideas and supporting one another in the journey for inclusion.

In the past 11 years of its existence and 3 previous versions (2001, 2003 and 2005), NSD has done these and much more. It has seen global speakers from countries like UK, Canada, USA, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet etc. Representatives of organizations as diverse as the governments of various countries, to those of World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, CIDA, civil society orgs, individual activists have participated and exchanged experiences from diverse cultures, contexts, resources and policies.

Overall the conference has not only been successful in generating innovative ideas for the disabled and their inclusion, but in also pushing forward disabled friendly policy and consciousness in the Indian sub-continent. The concrete steps have helped impact the lives of millions of disabled in a positive manner.

A fountainhead of ideas, it has become a must attend event for government officials at state and central level, NGO’s, activists and those providing services to the disabled, family members who want to do more, practitioners, academicians etc. not just from India and the Indian subcontinent, but also from the rest of the world who want to understand the Indian condition and share experiences from their own culture.

The 4th conference entitled ‘Implementing Tools of Change for Inclusion’ will be held in Goa between 19th and 23rd February. With 200 participants and speakers, it is expected to be a veritable mix of learning and inspiration, networking and interaction with participation from countries like UK, Germany, USA, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet and of course, India.

Those interested in participating and knowing more about the conference, its purpose, costs etc. can contact: Mrs. Diane Saldanha, Conference Co-ordinator, ADAPT, K C Marg, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (West), Mumbai – 400050. India. You can email nsd4.adapt@gmail.com or call +91-22-26443666/88 or fax: +91-22-26436848.



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