Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz family in the village of Sary-Mogol, Osh province
Kyrgyz family in the village of Sary-Mogol, Osh province

What is Bride Kidnapping?

Bride kidnapping occurs when a man captures or abducts the woman he chooses to marry without her consent. Although this practice has been made illegal in most countries, it is still widely practiced. Many women forced into these marriages have no way out. Bride kidnapping is particularly common in Kyrgyzstan, where it was banned under Soviet rule and is now illegal, but not frequently enforced.

Kidnapped And Forced Into Marriage In Kyrgyzstan

In Kyrgyzstan, bride kidnapping has a long history that is not rooted in violence. Before the latter half of the 20th century, bride kidnapping was a way to protest disapproval from the families of the bride and groom. It was something the couple entered into willingly. This history has perhaps given a romantic twist to the custom and helped to promote its continued practice.

Today, it is usually carried out by a group of men. The groom chooses his accomplices, and the group drives around looking for a woman that the groom thinks might make a good wife. The woman is not consulted in the matter, and the group of men grab her off the street and throw her in the car. Not knowing what will happen, the woman is taken to the man’s house where the wedding planning has already begun.

With the victim inside the house and surrounded by strangers, escape is not likely. The family of the groom, particularly older women, spend hours trying to convince the kidnapped woman to agree to marry her captor. Estimates suggest that around 84% of these women finally accept the marriage after being forced to wear a white scarf on her head, a signal that she is willing to marry. She must then write a letter to her family, asking for permission.

The damage is done the moment these women are inside of the groom’s house. Local culture dictates that a woman is no longer pure after being inside of a man’s house, going home would bring shame to her family. Many times, even her own family pressures her to marry the man to avoid public embarrassment.

Frequency Of Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

This act has been illegal since 1994, but local authorities do little to enforce the law. In fact, approximately 40% of Kyrgyz women are kidnapped and forced into marriage. This percentage equates to around 12,000 women and girls every year. Given that some women escape the situation, as previously mentioned, this means that more than 12,000 women and girls are kidnapped annually. In other words, this is over 30 women a day and approximately one woman every 40 minutes. Sometimes this kidnapping is consensual and part of an elopement plan, but the majority of the time it is not. Research indicates that only about one-third of these reported kidnappings occur with prior consent from the bride. It is important to remember that these numbers are based on the reported instances and could, therefore, be much higher.

Why Is Bride Kidnapping So Common In Kyrgyzstan?

Several factors play an influential role. The first is that grooms and their families are able to avoid paying the traditional bride price, a custom that requires the family of the groom to pay the family of the bride before the marriage takes place. Kidnapping the bride may be one way to deal with scarce financial resources. Another factor influencing this tradition is the cultural stigma behind a rejection. Refusal of a marriage proposal may bring embarrassment to the groom; kidnapping a bride makes rejection nearly impossible.

What The Law Says?

Since 2013, this practice has been punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Previously, that penalty was only three years in prison. Although illegal, bride kidnapping continues to be a problem in this country. When cases of forced marriage are reported, the perpetrators rarely face an investigation. One out of every 700 reported cases is followed up by the judicial system. When they do make it to court, kidnappers are rarely convicted. This reluctance to convict and punish kidnappers is often contributed to the court systems in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. These courts are not the state's legal systems, but rather councils of local elders who practice customary law. Given that the bride kidnapping is a traditional custom, cases of kidnapping are disregarded and not considered of importance. In 2008, of 35 court cases, only 15 resulted in convictions.

Violence Against Women

Bride kidnapping is one of the most common forms of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan. While it affects both women and girls, a large number of the kidnapped brides are under the age of 18. Being underage does little to deter the kidnapper, however, because child marriages are another common occurrence in this country, particularly in rural areas. While many of these marriages are arranged by the child’s parents, the majority are the result of kidnapping. This is one of the greatest acts of violence against women. Stripping women of the ability to give free and unpressured consent for marriage is a human rights violation. Additionally, marriages as a result of kidnapping are more likely to experience physical and psychological abuse against the woman. Studies also show that these marriages display higher rates of suicide and that 60% of them end in divorce.

Preventing Bride Kidnapping

Many nonprofits and other organizations now manage programs that focus on preventing bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Some of these programs, like the National Federation of Female Communities of Kyrgyzstan (NFFCK), are funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. The NFFCK currently operates in three towns, spreading awareness and educating the population about the dangers of bride kidnapping and women’s right to choose when and if they marry. These programs bring together women of all ages to talk about their personal experiences and share their stories. This sort of communication is valuable in changing cultural attitudes towards violence against women and girls.

Media, sporting events, and artists participate in spreading the message against bride kidnapping. These communication mediums have helped to educate the public about the increased penalties of 2013 and encourage women to tell their stories. However, even with so many organizations working toward ending this practice of violence against women, it will take years for it to receive proper judicial treatment and perhaps longer for it to become culturally stigmatized.


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