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Quality, Not Just Quantity, For Kazakh Hero Moms

Kazakh mothers of large families now have to prove their good parenting skills before receiving extra benefits. (file photo)
Kazakh mothers of large families now have to prove their good parenting skills before receiving extra benefits. (file photo)

Giving birth to six children used to be enough, but now Kazakh moms need to prove they are good parents as well if they hope to achieve special status.

The Kazakh government has for years dangled honorary titles to encourage women to have large families. Have at least six bundles of joy and one could expect to reap financial and social benefits.

Not anymore.

"The titles and allowances are provided, not only for giving birth to a large number of babies," according to Elvira Darkhankyzy, an official at the Almaty provincial government, "but also for their proper upbringing."

Prospective heroines are now required to provide reference letters -- from neighbors, or others who know them closely -- to prove their good parenting, according to Darkhankyzy.

The reference letter should also include information about the social and financial situation of the family as well as any criminal records the mothers have had.

In 2010, Kazakhstan introduced the title Kumis Alqa (Silver Ring) for those who gave birth to or adopted six children. With one more child, mothers could move up to Altyn Alqa (Gold Ring) status.

They titles replaced the Soviet-era Heroine Mother status awarded to mothers who gave birth to -- or adopted -- at least 10 children.

The newly minted honors come with a monthly allowance of about $60, free housing (if the family didn't already have a place to live), and a discount on utility bills and car registration fees.

Even newbie mothers can get in on the action, with one-time $300 payments upon delivery of their first, second, and third children. Starting from the fourth child, those payments rise to $500 per child.

And no matter how many children they have had, all women are provided with free medical care throughout their pregnancy and the delivery of their child.

Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world by size, is sparsely populated with some 18 million people.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called on women to help improve the oil-rich nation's demographic situation -- saying that the most beautiful woman is the one who has given birth to the greatest number of children.

"Nature has given women a holy mission -- to give the gift of life to new generations and raise children," Nazarbaev said during an official meeting with women activists in 2013.

Nazarbaev, however, pointed out that "quality" was equally important to "quantity," and stressed the need for mothers to raise "decent citizens" and "patriots."

Saltanat, an Almaty resident who gave her first name only, says the new regulation complicates the effort to reward mothers.

Saltanat's seventh child was born in 2014, and she had hoped to receive the Altyn Alqa title and the benefits that come with it.

But she says her application form has been rejected pending the submission of reference letters, leaving her legacy in the hands of the neighbors and acquaintances who must vouch for her.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service correspondent Nurtai Lakhanuly and Kazakh media reports