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City In Focus: Almaty, Kazakhstan
WRITTEN BY BRET MAVRICH
Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan, a beautiful city characterized by wide boulevards separated by flower beds, twin towers, shimmering high-rises of copper and glass, and impressive statues. At the foot of the mountains that form the border with nearby Kyrgyzstan, this city, literally “a bundle of apples,” is still the major trade city of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan, declared independent in 1991, has drawn attention from foreign investors for its rich energy resources. China has been jockeying for a stake in Kazakhstan’s energy assets and has agreed to a $10 billion loan for the development of the oil and gas industries. Russia has loaned $3.5 billion to Kazakh banks to secure its own trade interests, and the US has made inroads to build military bases in the region. All of these activities from outside investors do two things: ensure swift development and maintain the status quo of corrupt governments. And where industry springs up, prostitution soon follows, to meet both the demand for workers as well as the demand for high-end clientele. Traffickers capitalize on this opportunity.
Already, Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, is showing signs of underage prostitution. Conservative estimates suggest that a third of the prostituted women in Almaty are underage. In Kazakhstan, parents have been known to loan or even sell their children to a pimp to help make ends meet. Clients may purchase sex for as little as $2 a trick, on building sites or even in public restrooms. While poverty plays a role, corruption is the single largest barrier to ending the slave trade in Almaty and the whole region.
Almaty is a comfortable place to live, a “garden city” that draws wealth from throughout the region. Often, trafficking victims from the region are sent here as a point of sale. Through false job offers and other means of fraud, young girls arrive in Almaty to work the flesh trade. The notable night club scene in Almaty is gaining popularity, and tourism is increasing. While prostitution is illegal, corrupt police turn a blind eye, and informal brothels operate freely.
Beyond that, the international airport in Almaty is a convenient hub for transit. Central Asian girls are found in the far-flung sex markets of Amsterdam, Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, many having passed through Almaty on the way to their fate. Almaty could easily become the “Bangkok” of the next wave of trafficking, attracting tourism for all of the wrong reasons, and the attention of international trafficking rings as an easy way to transport girls to major sex markets in Europe and Asia.
Pray that God would send Christian missionaries and NGOs to work with the Kazakh peoples.
Ask the Lord for reformation of the justice system, that the existing trafficking laws would be fully enforced.
Pray for a revival in Almaty that would sweep through the entire Central Asian region.