In an unusual move, the Turkmen government has cooperated with UNICEF on a youth film project in Ashgabat. NBCentralAsia observers say the initiative may help open up a broader dialogue with the authorities on human rights.
A week-long youth film workshop organised by the Turkmen culture and broadcasting ministry and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, ended in Ashgabat on May 20.
Young people from the National Institute of Culture and the Youth Organisation made one-minute films about children’s rights in Turkmenistan. Some 20 short reportage pieces on the problems children face were filmed in the streets, parks and schools in of Ashgabat.
The plan is to broadcast the short films on local television.
NBCentralAsia media expert Oleg Gant says that despite the limited scope of the project, Turkmenistan is such a closed country that the fact that the authorities agreed to work with an international organisation is a positive step.
The young directors may not be allowed to show what life is really like for children in Turkmenistan, but workshops like this will offer them hope that the human rights situation might improve, he says.
Turkmenistan has signed the UN Convention on the rights of children, and in 2002 and 2005 laws were adopted banning child labour for under-16s and protecting them from economic exploitation.
But these laws continue to be flouted, and the biggest violation of children’s rights in Turkmenistan remains their vulnerability to exploitation, particularly as forced labout in the fields, as well as limited access to education.
One Ashgabat-based journalist says the Turkmen authorities have always been favourably inclined to UN projects, and other international organisations could learn from UNICEF’s example and open up a broader discussion on human rights.
Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human rights, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, believes the Turkmen authorities may now be ready to tolerate discussion of children’s rights.
“One can only welcome [this] and recommend a bolder approach to engaging young people in various ways and familiarising them with openness,” she said.
However, other NBCentralAsia interviewees warn that the significance of government cooperation on the UNICEF project should not be overestimated.
“You can’t talk about violations of children’s rights if the rights of their parents are also being massively violated,” said Vyacheslav Mamedov, head of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, another émigré group.