Tajikistan's Prostitutes Are Punch Bags for the Government

Difficult times for Tajik women.

Difficult times for Tajik women. Posted on Asia-Plus. Creative commons.

The economic crisis currently enveloping ex-Soviet Tajikistan has triggered a rise in the number of sex workers, offering the Central Asian state's government opportunities to collect greater revenues in terms of administrative fines, while also presenting itself as a source of moral virtue to the conservative population.

Last year, the Global Fund for the fight against HIV / AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, reported that a total of 14, 000 women are engaged in prostitution in Tajikistan, a statistic the Ministry of Health and Social Protection swiftly dismissed as “baseless”.

Nevertheless, Tajikistan is concerned enough about the growth in sex work to have doubled the minimum fine for those engaging in it while also offering prostitutes “morality lessons”.

This is a continuation of a public shaming campaign that was in evidence last year, when the state media outlet Khabar said sex workers were wearing hijabs — Islamic clothing is frowned on by the secular government — to lure conservative clients.

Interviewed by the Tajik service of RFE/RL, the Deputy Chairman of the Department of Women's Affairs of the southern Khatlon region Kumriniso Sangalieva said students of the recently introduced morality lessons would be some 30 women arrested during police raids on discos and restaurants last month:

Цель таких уроков – предотвращение распространения проституции среди женщин и их нравственное воспитание. Каждый урок проходит более часа с участием представителей местных депутатов, врачей, женщин-активисток и сотрудников общественных организаций. Женщинам рассказывают об этике поведения в обществе, нравственных устоях и призывают к «правильной» жизни. Мы призываем их к нормальной жизни, чтобы они рожали здоровых детей и были ограждены от разных венерических заболеваний.

The aim of these lessons is preventing the spread of prostitution among women and ensuring their moral education. Each lesson takes more than an hour with the participation of local deputies, doctors, women activists and employees of public organizations. Women talk about the ethics of behavior in society, moral principles, and call for the women to lead a proper life. We encourage them to live a normal life and give birth to healthy children free from various sexually transmitted diseases.

A 35-year-old sex worker called Gulmira interviewed in the same article complained:

Пусть проводят беседы с мужчинами о том, что негоже давать своим женам «талок» (развод по-мусульмански). Когда мужчина после развода не выплачивает алименты и не помогает материально своей бывшей жене и детям, что остается делать женщине? Остается только этот путь. Я сама стала заниматься проституцией из-за отсутствия работы. Вот если бы найти хорошую работу, не занималась бы этим.

 They should better conduct lessons for men about how it is bad to divorce their wives via the “talok” (Islamic divorce law). When the man does not pay child support after a divorce and does not help financially his ex-wife and children, what should the woman do? [Prostitution] is the only way. I became a prostitute because of lack of work. If I could find a good job, I would not have to deal with this.

That sentiment was also broadly supported by commenters on news.tj, who noted that high levels of outmigration to Russia placed incredible pressure on the women left behind to feed families:

Обеспечить возможность женщинам зарабатывать на жизнь другими способами, организовать рабочие места, создать условия их мужьям зарабатывать деньги здесь у себя на родине и не уезжать на чужбину чтобы прокормить семью. После этого появится право судить и наказывать.

Provide opportunities for women to earn a living by other means. Organize jobs and create conditions for husbands to earn money at home, and not go to a foreign land to feed his family. After implementing all these conditions we will have the right to judge and punish.


Green means prostitution is legal, blue means prostitution is legal but organized activities such as brothels are illegal, red means illegal, green means no data. Wikipedia image.

Child Prostitution

Back in 2011, the Tajik Ministry of Internal Affairs, shocked many citizens in the republic by noting that 8 out of 10 criminal cases the previous year related to prostitution were in the “child prostitution” category.

In an interview with news.tj, 16-year-old Sabina said that after her father died the husband of her mother's friend, who was 60-years-old and a former policeman, forced her into intimate contact with him, marking the beginning of a career in prostitution.

When bad rumours about her began to spread across her hometown, Sabina was called to face an informal panel that criticised her.

News.tj, who followed Sabina reported the following exchange between her and a client:

Вы слишком мало предлагаете, давайте хотя бы за 30 сомон.

- Э, ты что, с ума сошла! Ты ведь не девственница, а такую сумму требуешь! Если бы девственница была, я бы дал, а так нет. Если не хочешь то идти отсюда.

Sabina: You offer too little, let the sum be at least 30 somoni [$4.50].

Client: Uh, are you mad?! You're not a virgin and you demand such a high price! If you were a virgin, I would give you it, but if you're not then no. If you do not want it then go away.

After she walked away, the man, a taxi driver, continued to hurl insults at her for another five minutes according to news.tj's correspondent.

Tough times for Tajik women

Left exposed to a deepening economic morass and the whims of an authoritarian government prone to extortion, the case of prostitution in Tajikistan is an example of how some women in Tajikistan face come under public and state scrutiny for responding to economic circumstances beyond their control.

Recently a disturbing trend has even seen women drown themselves and their children to escape difficult lives.

Better laws to protect women from violence are part of the answer to a deepening problem, but currently the government is prioritizing other things.

Those things include explaining how a Tajik woman should dress in public, or look during privileged meetings with ageing President Emomali Rakhmon.


  • Atheisticus

    Typical male patriarchal hypocrisy. While the perpetrators are Islamic in this case, one can see the same thing in fundamentalist Christian society here in the West. Blame the victim while the victimizer goes scot free.

  • […] Yes, they’re going to be “helped” after they’re tricked, brutalized, chained up and threatened with having their lives destroyed.  But it’s OK, because the word “faith” is in there.  Of course, in the United States government isn’t supposed to get mixed up with religion, but somehow when sex is involved everyone conveniently forgets that.  They’re a lot more open about it in Tajikistan, a country which views prostitution much as the…: […]

  • […] editors who helped make this edition possible. This episode features stories by Mong Palatino, Echo of Truth, Amira Al Hussaini, Lara AlMalakeh, Demba Kandeh and Cati Restrepo. We also featured Creative […]

  • […] editors who helped make this edition possible. This episode features stories by Mong Palatino, Echo of Truth, Amira Al Hussaini, Lara AlMalakeh, Demba Kandeh and Cati Restrepo. We also featured Creative […]

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