At its session in Geneva on 24-25 February 2015, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will examine the implementation of the corresponding treaty in Tajikistan. The Committee will assess progress made by the authorities of this Central Asian country since 2006, when its record first was subject to review. A report prepared for the review by a coalition of Tajikistani NGOs and individual experts provides independent information on the current protection of economic, social and cultural rights in Tajikistan and highlights concerns with respect to the situation of women, children, disadvantaged families, labour migrants, ethnic minorities, rural residents and other vulnerable groups.
Major issues raised by the NGO coalition includes:
- While poverty has decreased considerably in Tajikistan in the past 15 years, over 40% of the population is still deemed to live in poverty. The growth of new jobs is not on par with the rate of population and work force increase and it is estimated that the real unemployment rate may be as high as 25%, although official figures are much lower. The government has failed to introduce provisions on minimum wage consistent with international standards and frequent wage arrears remain a problem. Employment in the informal economy is common, resulting in a lack of social protection for employees.
- At the same time, the level of many social benefits has decreased rather than increased in recent years and there are remaining, basic gaps in access to social security. For example, most mothers are not eligible for childcare assistance as this requires employment on a long-term contract, few people without work receive unemployment benefits and the pensions of most retired people are currently very low in relation to the cost of living. Families who are in a particularly vulnerable situation such as families with disabled children also receive inadequate support. Another concern is that the independence of trade unions is not guaranteed and that such unions in practice are controlled by the government.
- There is currently no comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Tajikistan, although the Constitution and the Criminal Code contain provisions that prohibit certain types of discrimination. The existing provisions do not apply to discrimination committed e.g. on the grounds of age, disability or sexual orientation. While numerous programs aimed at promoting gender equality have been adopted in recent years, the implementation of these is often wanting due to the lack of a systematic approach, concrete action strategies and resources. In practice, stereotypes regarding gender roles and responsibilities remain prevalent in society.
- The employment rate among women is considerably lower than that of men and there is significant gender segregation in the labour market, with women being underrepresented in skilled jobs. The gender gap in wages is one of the highest in the former Soviet Union: according to 2012 figures, women on average earn only some 50% of what men earn. There are concerns that the transition to a new scheme in which pensions are increasingly income-based will further increase the gender gap in pensions.
- Domestic violence remains a widespread problem, although there are no comprehensive statistics of the scale of it. The adoption in 2013 of a law on preventing domestic violence was a welcome step per se, but the law is weakened by the lack of clear definitions and effective implementation mechanisms. Domestic violence is not a criminal offense and victims have limited access to justice, with few ever turning to the police. Traditions of early marriages and unofficial polygamous marriages also adversely affect the status of women.
- Due to the lack of economic opportunities in Tajikistan, labour migration above all to Russia has been extensive in recent years. Annually hundreds of thousands of labour migrants travel abroad and in 2013 remittances sent home by migrants amounted to about half of the national GDP, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Many labour migrants have an undocumented status, which reinforces the risk of exploitation and leaves them unprotected by bilateral migration treaties. Back in Tajikistan, families who have been abandoned by predominantly male bread-winning migrant workers are struggling to make ends meet.
- According to media reports, a growing number of Tajikistani labour migrants are leaving Russia due to the depreciation of the ruble and the entry into force of new restrictive migration rules (which also include tighter rules on deporting and banning migrants from entering Russia). NGOs are concerned that the Tajikistani authorities have failed to take effective measures to reduce dependency on labour migration remittances, prepare for the possible mass return of migrants and promote the re-integration of returnees.
- The quality of education in Tajikistan is impaired by the lack of textbooks and well-qualified teachers. These problems are particularly acute with respect to instruction in ethnic minority languages, which has also been cut back in recent years. While the school enrolment rate is generally high, there are concerns that a considerable number of girls drop out prior to completing all years of basic and secondary education and that vulnerable groups such as disabled children, working children and children in conflict with the law have limited access to education. More than 90% of all children do not have access to preschool education.
- Tajikistan spends less on public health care than other countries in the region. According to 2011 statistics, public health care expenditure amounts to less than 2% of the national GDP and only 30% of the total health expenditure is government-provided. Despite improvements, lack of access to quality health care remains a concern especially in rural areas. Residency registration requirements limit access to health care of vulnerable groups. Mental health care is badly underfunded and effective safeguards against forcible psychiatric hospitalization are missing.
- Many rural residents do not have access to safe drinking water and sewage systems, although foreign-funded projects have resulted in local improvements. Much of the existing infrastructure dates back to the Soviet era and is badly outdated. Due to seasonal variations in hydroelectric power – the main source of electricity in the country – electrical supply is heavily limited in autumn-winter. Lack of housing is a growing problem as construction does not keep up with the population growth and there is no proper social housing policy. Little protection is available to victims of forced evictions, such as long-term residents of Soviet-era dormitories that have been privatized.
This week’s CESCR session on Tajikistan is the second stage in a review that began in May 2014. At that time, the Committee adopted a list of questions that the Tajikistani government was requested to respond to, in addition to preparing an official report on its progress on realizing the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Tajikistan acceded in 1999. This time the Committee will engage in a face-to-face dialogue with Tajikistani government officials and adopt concluding observations on the situation in the country after examining the information provided by the national authorities, as well as other sources.
The report submitted by the Tajikistani NGO coalition for this week’s CESCR session is a follow-up to a report submitted for the May 2014 session. The report has been prepared by the following organizations: Nota Bene, Panorama, the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Consumers Union, the Human Rights Center, the Independent Center for Human Rights Protection, Law and Prosperity, Sarchashma, the Office for Civil Freedoms and Your Choice, as well as individual experts. Nota Bene has coordinated the preparation of the report within the framework of the project “Promoting Socio-economic Rights of Women and Children in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan” with support from the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. International Partnership for Human Rights has provided assistance with editing the final version of the report as part of the project “A Transnational Civil Society Coalition in support of Fundamental Rights in Central Asia,” which is implemented jointly by four organizations with financial assistance from the European Union.
Representatives of the Tajikistani NGO coalition will be present at the CESCR session in Geneva.
The Tajikistani NGO coalition report for the upcoming CESCR review is available here and the report prepared for the CESCR pre-session review is available here.