Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

Kazakstan: Concerns Over Adolescent Suicides

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Publication Date 13 April 2011
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Kazakstan: Concerns Over Adolescent Suicides, 13 April 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4da7ebfa15.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Rising public concern over the incidence of suicide among young people in Kazakstan has prompted the government to take action.

The current focus on adolescent suicides stems from a high-profile case last October, when two teenagers in a village in the Almaty region hanged themselves. A special commission sent by the Kazak interior ministry discovered what the parents already suspected – that the pair had been victimised by a teenage gang extorting money.

The case prompted the education ministry to call a meeting the following month in Taldykorgan, the administrative centre of Almaty region, at which officials discussed adolescent crime and suicide with teachers.

Deputy education minister Mahmetgali Sarybekov's revelation at the meeting that 340 cases of actual and attempted suicide had been recorded in January-October 2010 led to a public outcry, with calls to take action on the bullying that is one of the factors driving young people to take their own lives.

In January, member of parliament Jarasbay Suleymenov formally requested the government to take action on what statistics indicate is a major problem.

"The time has come to understand that conferences, meetings and events held once a year or once a month to prevent suicide among children won't help solve this problem," he said.

Official statistics show that 237 deaths of children and adolescents were recorded last year, and 260 the year before. Most were aged between 12 and 19.

Kazakstan has the highest incidence of suicides recorded among girls aged 15 to 19, and the second highest for boys, after Russia, according to the most recent report from the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, covering Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The figures are 18 and 31, respectively, per 100,000 people. Slovakia had the lowest rate for girls, at just over one per 100,000, and Armenia the lowest for boys in this age group, at under one per 100,000.

Published last year, the report cites figures from 2008. Another UNICEF report from 2009 says there was a 23 per cent increase in the number of suicides among young people between 1999 and 2008.

Raisa Sher, who heads the education ministry's child protection committee, said public attention turned to the issue because of media coverage of the two cases in October, and the disclosure of official statistics on suicide.

"The problem of teenage suicide in Kazakstan existed before, but it simply wasn't discussed," she said.

Sher said bullying in schools was one of the factors that led to suicide, but she also argued that wider societal changes – the loss of values, falling standards of social behaviour, and the exposure of minors to violent images on TV – played a part.

Natalya Raspopova, who heads a department dealing with suicide at Kazakstan's National Centre for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Narcology, says a complex range of factors can lead young people to take their own lives – bullying, family problems and relationships.

"Until recently, the problem was ignored by the government and by non-government organisations," she said.

Educationalists say children can be overwhelmed by such problems if they do not get support from parents, teachers and peers. Alexander Katkov, deputy chairman of the League of Professional Psychotherapists in Almaty, said they may become anxious and demoralised and come to believe there is only one way.

Aynash survived a suicide attempt last year, when she was 19 and became depressed while attending teacher training college in Semey in northerneastern Kazakstan.

She drove a knife into her abdomen after worrying over what she felt was her long list of failings, and found she was unable to speak to anyone who could offer emotional support.

"I did it on a sudden impulse, when I couldn't bear things any more," she said. "None of my family members and friends understood me."

After adolescent suicide hit the headlines, Kazakstan's government took action with a three-year programme that will look at the causes of stress and potentially suicidal behaviour among young people. Testing will be conducted to identify high-risk groups, and teachers will be given special training in how to support vulnerable children. In addition, the current national health programme includes plans to train up specialised school psychologists.

Helplines, 168 children's advice bureaus and 14 crisis centres offering psychological help have existed for some time. But experts say more work needs to be done to make adolescents aware of these opportunities to get help and advice.

Raspopova argues that psychologists should also work with parents to give them a better understanding of how to make children more able to cope with stress.

"The roots of this problem don't lie in children; it is primarily adults who are at fault," she said.

In terms of the law, a court case in the northwestern city of Aktobe this February may provide a precedent for dealing with bullying.

A 19-year-old youth was convicted of driving a 17-year-old to commit suicide by hanging in September. The victim had been subjected to repeated instances of extortion.

Rahila Muhambetkalieva, a judge in Aktobe, said there had been previous criminal cases in Aktobe region involving accusations of provoking suicide, but it was the first time it had been successfully proved in court, as it was difficult to demonstrate the causal effect of bullying.

Mirlan Telebarisov is an independent journalist in Kazakstan.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Search Refworld

Countries