In August 2020, Kyrgyzstan adopted amendments to its Alimony Law to enhance the rights of women and children to collect alimony. In 2018 the country documented over 40,000 alimony evaders.
The amended law increases access to alimony payments for children and mothers by introducing greater consequences for evaders and the addition of new criteria. The draft law was promoted by the joint UN-EU Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year partnership to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, in close collaboration with civil activists and lawyers.
Two of the main people leading on these efforts are civil activist Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova and Nadezhda Prigoda, a family law attorney.
From bottom to top: when personal experience empowers
In 2015, Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova filed a lawsuit to establish paternity and recover child support. However, the process took over 4 years due to legislative gaps and inconsistencies in the judicial system. While fighting for justice, Ak-Moor met many other women who shared similar struggles with receiving alimony.
“The considerable gap in the existing legislation is a lack of leverage to influence alimony evaders. Even if women win in court, most do not receive alimony payments, because an evader pays a fine to the state and that's it”, says Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova.
In response, Ak-Moor brought together a community of more than 800 single mothers and negotiated with women MPs to pass amendments to the Family Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. Ak-Moor says she realized the importance of working within the judicial system to make the laws useful but adds that not all their desired amendments were included in the final draft law, such as deprivation of parental rights.
“I lost the lawsuit in the city court without justifications. The courts were endlessly forwarding me to different courts, and my case ended up in three big cases (laughing). Most mothers have to defend their rights and cope with procedures at suit for a long period. They no longer fight to be eligible for alimony but seek deprivation of parental rights as they cannot leave the country with their children without the consent of the second parent. It is precisely this provision that MPs rejected,” she says.
Nadezhda Prigoda, a family law attorney and the working group’s expert on amendments to the Family Code, adds that deprivation of parental rights is a very sensitive topic that needs to be elaborately dealt with.
In addition, the Kyrgyz Republic is in the process of humanization of its laws that is not in line with imposing a custodial sentence for failure to pay alimony. In this regard, Nadezhda believes it is necessary to create conditions to enforce alimony payments.
“With the new amendments, we have envisaged another type of sanction for alimony evaders - the bailiff is now obliged to ban the debtor from going abroad in case of non-compliance with court decisions. This provision comes into effect in case of failure to pay child support allowances for more than three months”, says Prigoda.
A set of legislative advancements for children and mothers
Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova says she received valuable support from the women who joined her in promoting adoption of the bill. Together with her community, Ak-Moor participated in meetings with MPs, which triggered public discussions on the amendments to the Family Code.
As a result of these discussions, the new amendments finally defined “wilful evasion of alimony payment”, which means a systematic non-fulfilment or incomplete fulfilment of obligations to pay alimony. The precise definition adopted enables the court to deprive the “wilful” alimony evaders of parental rights, that is, hold them accountable under family laws, but the negligent parent will still be obligated to pay alimony.
The amendments also set forth a minimum amount of child support. Previously, the payable amount from a parent's wage or income was based on the following scheme: 1 child = 1/4 of the parent's monthly remuneration or income. Since the law came into effect in September 2020, the minimum amount of support per child now cannot be less than 1,854 som (equivalent to 21.84 USD) monthly.
“This is obviously little money. However, compared to the previous situation, when a child could receive 300 som per month, this is far better support,” notes Nadezhda.
Moreover, the law establishes a requirement that both parents are held liable by a court decision to cover the child's living and medical expenses. As 92 percent of alimony evaders appear to be men, this change would improve the economic condition of single mothers and children, civil activists believe.
“Nevertheless, there are still some changes to be made in 2021”, says Nadezhda Prigoda. “As for implementation, more complex legal mechanisms are needed to be integrated into the judicial system”.
Having realized the power and capacity of the women's movement, Ak-Moor is continuing her efforts to build solidarity among women. She now leads the SMM8 group and Mother, you are not alone which is the movement for educating women on online sales, marketing and other skills.
“We need a strong women's community to advance equal interests at the state level. I believe we can build a strong community capable of changing laws towards justice”, says Ak-Moor.
Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova is the leader of # МАМАТЫНЕОДНА (translated as Mother, you are not alone) movement.
Nadezhda Prigoda is a family law attorney with 20 years of experience, associate professor at the Department of Civil Law and Procedure, the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, PhD in Law, author of about twenty legal and gender expertise of various draft laws.
The paper was elaborated by Chyntemir Kalbaev, Communications Assistant, UNDP Country Office in Kyrgyzstan and Communications Specialist of joint UN-EU Spotlight Initiative.