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 What does child poverty look like in “rich” Kazakhstan

The illusion of prosperity

Anna is 37 years old. She and her husband, Sergei, live in Karaganda and have two children. Their daughter is studying in the 4th grade, and their son is a first grader. Sergey works as a handyman at the construction sites. He is the breadwinner of the family. 


Anna takes care of the children at home. She is a plasterer-painter, but doesn’t work by her occupation; as she does not like this job. It was like this from the very first day of college, but children from the orphanage where Anna grew up, can not choose a profession by themselves.

“Where they sent [us], [I] studied there. Moreover, I should’ve been grateful that the state pays for this,” recalls Anna.

The family’s food choice is poor. They only eat pasta, buckwheat, and rice. These are the cheapest products on store shelves. Anna has long been shopping alone because, in the store, children ask for what she has no money for.

Anna's family lives at 120,000 tenge per month ($ 261). This amount is insufficient to meet the family’s needs.

“We can't afford to buy milk for children every day, it's expensive for us.”

Anna buys a package of milk for several days, trying to extend the package of her children's favourite drink. 

To get vitamins and essential micronutrients, it is necessary to eat fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products.There are             for the consumption of food products in Kazakhstan. When recalculated per month, a person needs to eat:

🍇 11 kg of fruits and berries 

🥩 6.5 kg of meat and meat products 

🥛 25 kg of milk and dairy products 

🥕12.4 kg of vegetables and gourds

🍞 9 kg of bakery products and cereals 

🍫 2.75 kg of sugar and confectionery products


These numbers confused Anna. The family rarely buys meat or sausage. Neither the children nor she, and certainly the husband, consume the right amount of healthy foods. 

 In Kazakhstan, the poorest families do not have almost all the healthy products of the norm. Most of all, they lack fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish.

               of children under the age of 5 years are underweight. The number seems small, but we are talking about more than 121 thousand children in Kazakhstan.In addition, malnutrition is observed among 97 thousand children under the age of 5 years. 


For children aged 6 to 9 years old, this trend remains the same: 5% are underweight, according to the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2% of the children have stunted growth.

Anna tries to buy healthy products in very limited quantities. She often has to refuse buying something for herself and her husband in favor of their children. The woman does not check the ingredients list at all. Everything cheap is suitable.

If half of the expenses of the population are spent on food, it might be one of the factors of social stress and poverty, economists say. 

 In Anna's family, more than half of the money is spent on basic foods. The rest of the money goes to public utilities, fares, and other necessary things. 

Anna's daughter dreams of dancing, but there are no free dance classes, according to the woman. And the paid ones are asking for an unbearable amount. A month of classes in such a school costs 40,000 tenge ($87).

“This is certainly great; classes are very professional, and lunches are included, but I can’t imagine how we can spend almost 30% of the budget for this. No way," says Anna, sadly.

The son wants to take karate classes. However, for now, all the desires of the children have to be ignored. They splash out energy on playgrounds in the neighborhood's playground because there is no such “luxury”  in their own.

 But, with an income of 120,000 tenge for four people, Anna's family is not considered poor officially. How did it happen? 

For the state to consider you poor, your income should be lower than the poverty line. This amount is regularly changing, and in 2023 it will be 28,397 tenge ($61) per month per person.

In Kazakhstan, the poverty line is 70% of the living wage. 

This means that the state does not help Anna’s family.

To receive Targeted Social Assistance (TSA), the income of a family of four people should not exceed 113,588 tenge ($247) per month.

Thus, only 1603 tenge ($3.5) per person removes Anna's family from the category of the poor.

There is a difference in living conditions between the regions of Kazakhstan: for example, in Astana, only 1.9% of people live below the living wage, while in the Turkestan region, the poorest region of the country, there are almost 10% of such people. 

At the same time, large families are more vulnerable; every sixth family with four or more children lives below the living wage. According to the statistics, there are more poor families among those with many children.

To support people in need, the state pays Targeted Social Assistance to citizens living below the poverty line. The number of recipients has been decreasing over the past five years. In 2022, more than 728 thousand citizens received TSA. 

*The TSA amount is determined as the difference between the average per capita income in the family and the poverty line. This means that a person will receive the amount of money only needed to reach the poverty line. These payments help to survive, but they are not enough for a normal life. 

What is wrong with TSA? 

Currently, targeted social assistance is paid as the difference between the average per capita income in a family and the poverty line. The state helps to "pull" him to this very line ($61.8 per month). If the average per capita income is at least 100 tenge ($0.22) more, payments will not be assigned. And if a person lacks 100 tenge to the line, the state will pay him 100 tenge.

If there is an employable member in the family, the TSA is appointed for a short period until the person retrains and finds a new job. But if he/she does not want to do this, then the entire family is deprived of the right to be granted the TSA. The rudeness of social workers, accusations of dependency, and unwillingness to work also often become obstacles for people in need. Because of these barriers, according to Human Rights Watch many families remain unreached with help from the state. 

Officially, only 5.3% of the population of Kazakhstan lives below the poverty line. But how much does this reflect the real picture? And how many people, like Anna and her family, are there in Kazakhstan who are not considered poor?

The poverty line set in Kazakhstan is significantly lower than international standards.

The World Bank has set a poverty line of $6.85 per person per day or $205.5 per month (about 94,000 tenge) for middle-income countries belonging to the upper segment, i.e., Kazakhstan. 

If counted this way, then the poverty level in Kazakhstan in 2022 was 16%, which is three times higher than national statistics. 

However, according to the Digital Family Map of Kazakhstan, almost half of the people are poor. The Ministry of Labor’s Digital Map project is a portrait of families compiled based on various factors. The entire population of Kazakhstan is assessed and divided into five categories. 

*of the total number of citizens included in the calculation (19.4 million citizens out of 19.7 million), data for 2022

Thus, 47% of the population, or over 9 million Kazakhstanis, are classified as having unfavorable, crisis, or emergency levels. This is nine times more than official poverty statistics.

Kazakhstan offers more social benefits to its citizens than any other country in Central Asia. But this is in absolute numbers. It is also important to look at the percentage of GDP per capita. This is how the level of social support for children is assessed and compared across countries and over time. 

According to UNICEF, 0.6%. 

The situation in Kazakhstan has improved significantly. Total spending on social protection (excluding health care costs) amounted to 5.1% of GDP, including 0.6% of GDP on social protection programs for children.

This indicator shows the extent to which state resources are aimed at improving the lives of children relatively to the economic potential of the country.

Comparing with neighboring countries in Central Asia, the picture reverses: 

Although in Kazakhstan, the state pays a “categorical” allowance for families with children and TSA for the poorest, this is still not enough.

says Arman Umerbayev, social policy officer at UNICEF Kazakhstan.

“As the experience shows, when using this approach, many children who need support may fall out of sight,” 

Therefore, UNICEF recommends the gradual introduction of universal child benefits for all children under 18 years of age, he adds.

Click here to listen to the audio

*The interview was translated and voiceovered from Russian language

A master of social sciences in psychology and a practicing psychologist, Leyla Yesnazarova explains:

What are the consequences of child poverty? 

turn on the sound 

Psychologist Yesnazarova identifies three factors that influence the child’s psyche:

*biological (poor nutrition, lack of proteins for the brain and nervous system),

*psychological (lack of communication factors and a favorable family climate),

*social (violent environment, difficulties in school, and difficulties in building friendly relations).

How does poverty affect children? 

From 2025 on, there will be a new system for determining the poverty line, not based on the cost of living but on the median income of the population. But for now, families like Anna’s can only rely on themselves. 

While the state deals with this problem, society needs to learn not to stigmatize people in need.

Government agencies need to improve the psychological competencies of specialists working with children, explains psychologist Leyla Yesnazarova.

Recently, Anna and Sergei’s son turned 7 years old. The boy wanted to celebrate his birthday with friends and new classmates, but his family couldn’t invite them. 

“Firstly, I don’t want everyone to see how poorly we live. Secondly, even the cheapest cake costs more than we can afford to spend in a day,” says Anna. 

The parents made a budget gift for their son — a car from a thrift shop, to make the child’s childhood a little brighter.

Authors: Katerina Afanasyeva, Nikita Trushin 

Mentor, Data editor: Aziza Raimberdieva 

Text editors: Aziza Raimberdieva, Tatyana Trubacheva

Illustrator: Yekaterina Zaverukha 

Layout: Katerina Afanasyeva, Nikita Trushin

Project contributors: