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City in Focus: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, was once little more than a pit stop on the great Silk Road. But today, as Kyrgyzstan’s only large city, Bishkek draws grass-roots tourism for its outdoor sports and is the pride and joy of the nation of Kyrgyzstan, the Pearl of Central Asia.

Outside this city, in the rural hinterlands, Kyrgyz traditions stigmatize prostitution but uphold other abuses. Bride Kidnapping, the practice that involves a suitor actually abducting his would-be bride, kicking and screaming, and whisking her away to a location where she is forced to marry him, is a Kyrgyz tradition.

In Bishkek, prostituted women are trafficked outside of nightclubs and hotels, not unlike any other capital city. While reports that over 3500 women work as prostitutes in Bishkek, other unofficial estimates claim numbers upward of 2 times higher. The sex trade in Bishkek alone is estimated at $3 million, and every major newspaper features advertisements for sex services that makes seem modest. Surprisingly, many of those thousands of women are servicing an unlikely clientele.

The United States Military has maintained an air base, Manas, just on the outskirts of Bishkek since 2001. Manas has been a launching point for airstrikes into Afghanistan for the entire war. The recently elected Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan announced last November that the base would be closed for fear of further incursions into other nations by the U.S. Military. NGO’s have reported that hundreds of prostituted women, who make their means solely from U.S. Clientele, may lose their primary means of income.

Despite the official stance that U.S. Troops are prohibited from soliciting the service of prostituted women, evidence shows that the U.S. Military presence has caused a spike in the Bishkek economy. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) stated that prostitutes in Bishkek reported that their earnings have quadrupled over the last few years.

However, the most shocking part of trafficking in Bishkek is that the IWPR chronicles that 20 percent of the prostitutes are children. An alarming number of young girls, ages twelve to fourteen, are being sold to traffickers in the rural areas around Bishkek, some by their own parents. One sixteen-year-old girl describes her life of prostitution as primarily involving police officers and local officials, who entertain their important clients from out of town in mountain villages by providing them with her services as well as her friends’. Corruption in the government runs rampant, which is the only way that child prostitution can thrive in a region that has passed trafficking laws already.

Movements have emerged to legalize prostitution so that the trade may be regulated, but opponents point out that this will only empower corrupt police forces to abuse prostituted women by providing their services for free. The challenges presented by the highest levels of the judicial system being complicit, and a foreign military power inciting a prostitution boom, appear to be daunting. For real transformation of lives to begin, secrets must be uncovered, and truths must be declared.


  • Pray that God would send laborers to Bishkek who would bring revival and reformation.
  • Ask God to break in with the fear of the Lord on the corrupt government officials.
  • Pray that all foreign military presence would obey the laws and directives of their home countries’ military and cease engaging in illegal actions involving prostitution.

3 Comments on “City in Focus: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”

  1. William Brown Says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 5:23 pm


    Let me say that ending slavery, particularly the nauseating form of it
    that is sexual slavery, is an incredibly noble and important
    endeavor. Kyrgyzstan is definitely a place where awareness of this
    issue does need to be raised. That said, it is an issue that needs to
    be handled delicately with a facts first approach. In reference to
    facts, I take issue with a few pieces of your article.

    My first issue is that your post seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to
    frame US service members as being frequently involved in the Bishkek
    sex trade. Only one of your sources pointed at this and that source
    was from 2005, did not provide a single independently verifiable
    source, and looks like a propaganda piece against the US presence in

    Your quickness to point the finger at the US military
    ignores the fact that those stationed on the base can leave only on
    rare occasions which are usually highly regulated in terms of times
    and locations, it ignores the large contractor presence which is not
    only affiliated with Manas airbase, and it makes logical jumps that
    are not necessary when a wealth of information is available on this

    This sentence seems awfully biased and not well thought out: “Despite
    the official stance that U.S. Troops are prohibited from soliciting
    the service of prostituted women, evidence shows that the U.S.
    Military presence has caused a spike in the Bishkek economy.” Yes,
    to be sure, you would expect a boost in the economy when the US is
    spending millions of dollars to lease Manas and have local
    contractors do work on the base but in no way does that indicate a
    connection with prostitution.

    My second issue with your posting is that Kyrgyzstan IS going through a
    reformation. When was the last time you were in Bishkek? Kyrgyzstan?
    Central Asia? Kyrgyzstan is the only parliamentary democracy in
    Central Asia and they’ve had elections which were deemed mostly fair
    by the international community which is a huge step. As for corrupt
    officials, it is not the fear of the Lord that they need it’s reasons
    to not be corrupt. Kyrgyzstan needs investments and experts who can
    help them build the infrastructure and legislature to succeed.

    For anyone who reads this post I encourage you to consider traveling to
    Kyrgyzstan to see that the people there are real and have real agency
    over their own lives and destinies.

  2. Caleb Pahl Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Hello William,

    Thank you for your comments. I agree with you that it is not fair to blame the US military for the problem of sex trafficking in Kyrgyzstan (Although the US military is notorious around the world for contributing to the sex trade as consumers). I believe that sex trafficking in Bishkek would be present with or without the Manas air base.

    I have been to Bishkek twice and was able to witness the corruption by the police firsthand (I was robbed by a group of police in a park near the city center). I agree with you that a big part of the problem is that the economy is so bad in Kyrgyzstan that it is very difficult for these men to earn an honest income as a policeman or in any profession for that matter. However, I would argue that they DO need the fear of the Lord. Corruption is not only a problem with the poor, but also with the super rich in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. I believe the only thing that can bring redemption to the problem of sex trafficking and other issues facing Central Asia is the Gospel. I thank God that to this point, there are still open doors for m workers in Kyrgyzstan. I also thank God for those locals who have given their lives to Christ. I pray that their influence, though seemingly insignificant, would work through the nation and the surrounding nations like yeast.

  3. William Brown Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 11:06 pm


    Being robbed in Bishkek is never fun, particularly if it is done by the people you expect to be protecting you, I can definitely commiserate with that. I just wanted to address some issues I have with your colleague’s posting and what seemed like dangerously weak citations, evidence, and strong bias. I hope you are successful in your endeavors to stop human trafficking in Kyrgyzstan and anywhere where human beings have to suffer. Thank you for responding!