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The landlocked, mountainous Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gained independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The loss of Soviet subsidies meant a drastic fall in the money available to the government to pay for schools and hospitals and for families to meet basic needs.
Tajikistan is still recovering from its civil war (1992 -1997) during which 50,000 died and more than 10% of the population fled the country, many to Kyrgyzstan. Although the economies of both states are growing, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. The farmers do not grow sufficient food to feed everyone and the cost of imported food has skyrocketed since 2007. In Tajikistan some 80% of the population lacks food security. Many households depend on remittances from family members who have left to find work in Russia or Kazakhstan, which has been severely constrained due to the onset of the global economis crisis. In addition, in the rural areas, many children do not attend school regularly nor can they access treatment when they are ill.
Save the Children Central Asia
Save the Children started work in Central Asia in 1992, by providing food, clothing and shelter to children and families in need. Our main program focus has been to ensure that all children attend primary school and to improve the quality of the education they receive there. We also strive to keep children safe from harm, particularly street children and those living in institutions and orphanages.
In Tajikistan, Save the Children works in Dushanbe, the capital city, and with isolated rural communities in Khatlon province in the south and Soghd province in the north. In Kyrgyzstan, we work in areas including Osh, Chui, Naryn and Talas.
Poverty has a strong impact on children's access to adequate food and nutrition in Central Asia. Reports show that coping strategies for poor families often dictate that they eat less nutritious food. Household economic security is tenuous in the region. For example, hundreds of thousands of Tajiks are employed outside their country annually, as opportunities for employment in the region are few. Malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid are increasingly widespread, and malnutrition, and child and maternal mortality are high. Central Asia has high rates of stunting, anemia and micronutrient deficiencies among children and women as well as poor water and sanitation infrastructure. Many Central Asian youth under age 18, who make up a significant percentage of the population, are involved in exploitative labor, live in the streets and often have been victims of abuse and neglect. Drug use and exposure to HIV/AIDS are also serious threats.
The decreasing quality of education is a critical issue in Central Asia, as is the challenge of maintaining and renovating school infrastructure. Substantial effort needs to be made in all three countries to improve the state of education, update curricula, build and maintain schools and train teachers.
In Tajikistan, Save the Children is supporting 150 schools in their use of information management systems to keep track of who is coming to school and who is not. If the systems work well, then we plan to introduce them to other schools. We currently are working with the children's clubs and community education committees at each school to find out what stops some children attending school and what must be done to discourage this disconnect. Save the Children is holding meetings with teachers, education committee members and pupils to identify what prevents girls and disabled children from going to school, in particular as well.
In Kyrgyzstan, we have developed a manual to help schools include all pupils fully in school activities, regardless of their background. Save the Children used this method in training sessions with 110 participants from ten school coordination groups – teachers, school administrators, parents and children — so that they could make their schools welcoming to all children. Because Russian is the language used for teaching in Kyrgyzstan, many refugees struggled in the classroom. With the help of Save the Children, Kyrgyzstani children helped establish extra language classes, so that refugees could feel confident about coming to school. Children also have run village-level awareness campaigns on the rights of children from all backgrounds to learn in school. By encouraging unbiased school participation and involving the community in these efforts, these children have helped strengthen overall class attendance in Kyrgyzstan.
Schools in both states have few resources and teachers are poorly paid, in scarce supply and many are unqualified. In Kyrgyzstan, Save the Children has trained an additional 100 teachers and 140 school inspectors during the past year. In Tajikistan, we have been working with 3,500 teachers in 150 schools using methods which get pupils really involved in their learning. These teachers are, in turn, training others in this approach. Save the Children has trained 400 lead teachers who then provide mentoring visits and in-class support to their colleagues. We enable all the teachers to share their experiences in a newsletter, which is distributed among teachers, teacher trainers and those working at the Ministry of Education.
Kyrgyzstani community education councils (CECs) have played a big part in enrolling more children in their schools. They are made up of parents, local community members (including refugees) and religious leaders, as well as representatives from the school administration, the local education department and non-governmental organizations. In particular, they have raised the money needed to fund extra activities, such as the clubs run by the children. As a result of these activities, 851 refugee and other children who were not going to school in 2006 are now attending full time. Nearly half of these children are girls.
Save the Children's health program has three goals: to help children, families and communities adopt healthier behaviors and practices; to enhance the capacity of Ministry of Health staff to be more efficient and knowledgeable; and to improve the access, quality and availability of health services, especially at the rural level.
The Central Asia region is experiencing one of the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world. Although the countries are currently listed as low-prevalence, conditions are in place for the explosive growth of the epidemic. Upcoming programs will address HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support services for vulnerable children, young people, women and labor migrants.
The sudden poverty many Kyrgyzstani families experienced after independence made it difficult to take care of their children. Many believe that a residential institution, where their child is sure to be fed, can be a substitute for family care. The number of state-run institutions — and the number of children that live in them — has doubled since 1991. Most of these children have at least one surviving parent or extended family.
Save the Children is improving the care children receive within the orphanages. Funded by the European Union, we are working with teachers in three orphanages, which are home to 469 children. We have also trained social workers in children's rights and the responsibilities of staff under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Together, we have drawn up a set of rules for staff to follow to prevent children being placed unnecessarily in orphanages.
Save the Children supports children living safely in families again, whether their own, part of their extended family, or a substitute. Save the Children has trained 72 social work managers from three regions to prepare children living in institutions to return to family care. School pupils have also helped children living in orphanages become part of the wider community again. For example, they have formed clubs in the orphanages and devised plays focusing on the importance of family and friends, which they have performed both to children and adults. We are planning to carry out more work to help children return to family life in the coming year.
At least 8,000 children in Tajikistan live and work in the streets, where they are vulnerable to violence, sickness and coercion into the sex trade, drug trafficking or other crimes. Save the Children works with the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and a local non-governmental organization to advocate for positive changes in policies and practices to protect the rights of vulnerable children.
Children's rights are still a new concept in Central Asia. Though Tajikistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993 and Kyrgyzstan in 1992 nbsp;, children are generally unaware that they possess rights, as are parents and community leaders in general. Save the Children is working with staff from the Tajikistan Ministry of Labor and Social Protection to develop the knowledge and skills which will enable them to deal with child protection issues both in Dushanbe and the rural areas. To raise the level of awareness among Tajikistanis, Save the Children is putting together a series of 24 radio programs and twelve television programs on the issues of children and their rights. We are also publishing a quarterly bulletin and writing articles for the most popular national magazines and newspapers.
Some 5,000 children live and work on the streets of Dushanbe in Tajikistan, out of the city's total population of 817,000. Save the Children has set up a center in the south of the city for children in need of food, shelter and basic healthcare. We also encourage younger children to return to formal education, by offering a six-month course to help them catch up with others of their own age who are in school. Save the Children is hoping for at least 100 children to complete the course and 50 to return to school. Practical skills training sessions will also be provided for 50 young people between fourteen and eighteen, so that they can earn an independent living in the future.
Tajikistan Facts and Statistics
Unless otherwise noted, facts and statistics have been sourced from Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report. You can access detailed data here.
Other sources as follows: Infant Mortality Rate: CIA World Factbook 2012; Life Expectancy at Birth: World Bank's World Development Indicators 2012; National Poverty Rate: World Bank's World Development Indicators 2012; Population: CIA World Factbook 2012; Human Development Index Rank: United Nations Development Program
Last Updated October 2013