Social security programs were first introduced in 1956, and were revised in 1991 and 1996 following independence. All employed persons, including noncitizens, qualify for old age, disability, and survivorship pensions. Employers contribute 30% of payroll, while employees contribute 1% of earnings. Residents of ecological disaster areas are entitled to early retirement. Workers' compensation is offered under a dual social insurance and universal system. The economic and financial crisis in the mid to late 1990s, however, has meant that the government is often unable to pay pensions or other forms of benefits owed to citizens.
Women have equal rights under the law, although discrimination persists. Women generally have access to higher education but are still channeled into mostly low-level, low-paid jobs. Traditional attitudes towards women are a barrier to achieving an active role in politics or business. Violence against women and domestic abuse remain a problem and are vastly underreported. There are about 30 women's rights organizations, including the Union of Women of Kazakhstan, the Union of Women Entrepreneurs, the League of Muslim Women, and the Union of Feminists. Most women's groups work to obtain support for families and increase women's participation in public life. The government has signed the UN Convention in children's rights. The constitution provides for the upkeep and education of orphans, although limited financial resources result in many children receiving inadequate education and medical care.
Ethnic tensions between Kazakhs and Russians continue to exist. Ethnic Kazakhs receive preferential treatment in housing, education, and employment. Although the Russian language still predominates, the 1995 Constitution specifies that Kazakh is the official state language. The government is responsible for numerous violations of democratic freedoms and human rights. Prisoners are beaten and tortured, and killings are committed by security forces. A top political opposition leader was jailed for a year for insulting the president, then barred from running for parliament because he had served time in prison.