Kazakhstan enacts law ensuring rehabilitation for children returned from war zones

By Ksenia Bondal

Children who returned from Syria to Kazakhstan play at a rehabilitation centre in Mangystau Province, Kazakhstan. The undated screenshot is from a KNB video.

Children who returned from Syria to Kazakhstan play at a rehabilitation centre in Mangystau Province, Kazakhstan. The undated screenshot is from a KNB video.

ALMATY -- Kazakhstan has passed a new law ensuring the social rehabilitation of children who have returned from wars in the Middle East.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed the law "On Changes and Additions to Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood", reported May 14.

In recent years, 524 Kazakhs have returned from combat zones, mainly Syria and Iraq, including 357 minors, after coalition forces territorially defeated the "Islamic State" (IS). Most of the returnees are women and children, taken to Syria and Iraq by radicalised husbands and fathers. The men, if not dead, are either in prison or being pursued by authorities.

Under the new law, the Ministry of Education and Science will manage the social rehabilitation of these children and determine what social measures to undertake.

The most important thing for these children is to adapt to present conditions, said Asylbek Izbairov, director of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies in Nur-Sultan.

"In the case of 7- to 8-year-old children, you need to make sure that they don't get any degrading nicknames, such as 'radicalists' or 'jihadists,'" Izbairov said.

"This needs to be monitored by social workers and school psychologists," he said. The children "don't have deep psychological problems and what they need to do is learn, specifically from a practical point of view, to build social ties with teachers and children."

A school psychologist or social worker can teach the children how to deal with any conflicts, he said. But the rehabilitation of adolescents, from age 12 and above, has other nuances.

A competent theologian should meet with them so they gain basic knowledge about religion so they can be intellectually armed against destructive ideologies, Izbairov said.

Helping mothers to protect children

"In addition to psychological help, children need economic support to be provided to their mothers," said Izbairov. "They [the mothers] need to be brought into normal life; otherwise, these women can be recruited again because they belong to a population group that is very vulnerable psychologically and socially."

Kazakhstan has many state-level programmes for training businesswomen and creating female-owned micro-businesses such as small garment factories, he said.

One way to de-radicalise women is to have them devote all their time to starting such businesses and then increasing their level of responsibility, according to Izbairov.

Occupying mothers with doing the right thing is important because children undergo rehabilitation through the mothers, whose influence is more important and stronger than that of any psychologist or theologian, he said.

"As for some welfare benefits for such mothers, they would be welcome if these women qualify for them under existing criteria -- mothers of many children or a socially vulnerable [impoverished] part of the population," he noted.

The best rehabilitation for children is a normal environment and good treatment by adults, according to Yerlan Dosmagambetov, a graduate student in religious studies at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty.

"I don't think they need some kind of deep psychological work," he said. "These are children -- they receive changes well and quickly. But if we're talking about some specific tools of rehabilitation, then it's best to work with their parents, if the children are not orphans."

The women who have returned are "already positively influenced by the fact that the state returned them together with their children from the war zone", said Dosmagambetov.

"When I worked at the Akniyet rehabilitation centrе three years ago, during the peak of radicalisation, we opened garment-making workshops for them where they were trained," he said. "In doing so, we established contact with them. We should support them for at least two to three years because it's not easy to come to one's senses after a war."

But those who work with women need to remember one detail, he said.

"In my experience, there have been cases when husbands, serving a prison sentence for terrorist activities, forbade their wives, who weren't in prison, from speaking with our specialists," he added.

"As a result, some of them refused to make contact with a psychologist or theologian," said Dosmagambetov.

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Friendly interactions between children ages 6-14 in the said countries is entirely different than that shaped over the decades here in Kazakhstan. One should not include boys and girls together in the rehabilitation period, studies, sports, vocational process and games. And after 15 years old these are the people who have likely seen and experienced more than their mentors.