BRIDE KIDNAPPING IN KYRGYZSTAN

BRIDE KIDNAPPINGS IN KYRGYZSTAN

Franco Galdini of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Imagine a country where, on average, every 40 minutes a girl is kidnapped for the ostensive purpose of marriage: that is 32 girls per day, for an approximate total of 11,800 kidnapped girls per year. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan, where this has been the grim reality of countless women for decades. Although precise statistics are difficult to come by, it has been calculated that half of all married Kyrgyz women have been "stolen," as jargon has it, by their future husband -- with about one-third of all marriages being nonconsensual. In the countryside, forced marriages account for a hefty 57 percent of the total. It is no surprise then that, while 92 percent of all kidnapped women end up marrying their abductor, 60 percent of those marriages will eventually lead to divorce. [Source: Franco Galdini, Radio Free Europe, May 29, 2014 |=|]

Bridal kidnapping is called Ala Kachuu — roughly translated as "grab and run" — in Kyrgyzstan. According to Newsweek: “In Kyrgyzstan, as many as 40 percent of ethnic Kyrgyz women are married after being kidnapped by the men who become their husbands, according to a local NGO. Two-thirds of these bride kidnappings are non-consensual—in some cases, a "kidnapping" is part of a planned elopment—and while the practice has been illegal since 1994, authorities largely look the other way...At one time, the majority of marriages among Kyrgyz women were arranged by parents. Today, bride kidnapping is frighteningly common, and—although some kidnappings do create happy couples—marriages resulting from such incidents are also thought to cause significantly higher rates of domestic abuse, divorce, and suicide. [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013]

Asel Kalybekova wrote in Eurasia.net: “Seven years ago Aijan was walking home from her waitressing job in central Bishkek with two girlfriends. They did not notice the three men following them. As two men tackled the other women, one dragged Aijan, 21 at the time, into a waiting car. “I was screaming, cursing, and hitting them. […] I was crying for them to let me go, but they wouldn’t listen,” Aijan recalls. She did not know where they were headed. When the car finally stopped, a stranger opened the door. “You should be happy that I’m kidnapping you,” was the first thing Aziz, Aijan’s future husband, said... “I wanted to run away, but his family followed me everywhere,” said Aijan (not her real name). She added that her own parents visited her the day after her abduction to say they would not take her home. [Source: Asel Kalybekova, Eurasia.net, May 10, 2013]

Galdini wrote: “Women often stay with their future husband-cum-abductor due to the crushing social pressure brought to bear on them. This often translates into family pressure, as the family themselves come under intense scrutiny from the community...Bride kidnapping is not the result of a whimsical act by one individual... The groom-to-be has to plan it carefully with his extended family. Then he carries it out with some friends-accomplices aided by few close relatives (paradoxically mostly women) and, at times, some of the prospective bride’s own friends or family members. |=|

Bride Kidnapping, Child Marriages and the Law In Kyrgyzstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Although prohibited by law, the newly “traditional” practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported it opened 20 different criminal cases on forced marriage-related crimes in the first half of the year. Recent independent studies estimated that 50 to 75 percent of all marriages in the country involved bride kidnapping. Freedom House reported there were 5,000 nonconsensual bride kidnappings every year in the country and that 2,000 of them involved rape. Cultural traditions discouraged victims from going to the authorities. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

“Underage abductions were believed to be underreported. Children who are 16 and 17 years old may legally marry with the consent of local authorities, but the law prohibits marriage before the age of 16 years under all circumstances. The government did not have a program to address the problem of early and forced marriage. Instead, local authorities handled reports of its occurrence on a case-by-case basis. During the year the UN Population Fund reported 14 percent of women in the country, mainly in rural areas, married while underage. \*\

The Sezim Center reported approximately 50 percent of its clients were in unregistered marriages, which do not have legal force. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. \*\

Some victims of bride kidnapping reportedly went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. In 2012 the government strengthened the penalty for bride kidnapping to a maximum of 10 years in prison. Despite the tougher law, NGOs continued to report there had been no increase in the reporting or prosecution of the crime. \*\

Carrying Out a Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

Usually the groom’s friends and relatives help the groom carry out the act. The plan of kidnapping is hatched beforehand. On the day of the abduction, the groom’s relatives lay table and cook a festive dinner. The groom “snatches” the bride and brings her to his house. When she crosses the threshold of the house a white kerchief — the sign of virginity — is placed around her head. Then the boy's parents and relatives scatter "chachyla" — "boorsoks" (traditional bread), sweets and fruits — over the new daughter-in-law. By doing this they wish happiness and successful welfare between themselves and her in future. Following this she bows before them and enters the house. Then she is placed behind the curtain in one of the rooms. This curtain is called "koshogo" where she sits for three days. [Source:fantasticasia.net ~~]

Right after this boy's parents invite a "moldo" - Muslim priest, who blesses the marriage in a special wedding ceremony according to the Muslim tradition. After this blessing, called "nike kyiu", the bride and the groom are considered husband and wife before Allah. During the three days the bride is behind the curtain, women and girls come to see her and give "korunduk" — usually money and gifts such as a new kerchief. On the fourth day after the kidnapping the young wife begins to do the woman's work about the house. Today this custom is still observed in Kyrgyzstan. ~~

According to Newsweek: “Typically, a would-be groom gathers a group of young men, and together they drive around looking for a woman he wants to marry. The unsuspecting woman is often literally dragged off the street, bundled into the car and taken straight to the man's house—where frequently the family will have already started making preparations for the wedding. Once the girls are inside the kidnapper’s home, female elders play a key role in persuading her to accept the marriage. They try to cover the girl’s head with a white scarf, symbolizing that she is ready to wed her kidnapper. After hours of struggle, around 84 percent of kidnapped women end up agreeing to the nuptials. (The rest manage to get back home.) The kidnapee's parents often also pressure the girl, as once she has entered her kidnapper’s home she is considered to be no longer pure, making it shameful for her to return home. In order to avoid disgrace, many women tend to remain with their kidnappers. [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013]

History of Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

Franco Galdini of Radio Free Europe wrote: “To supporters, Ala Kachuu is the quintessential Kyrgyz tradition: a nomadic people, the Kyrgyz have always snatched their wives riding on the back of a horse, common wisdom goes. Women’s rights activists and researchers beg to differ. The main source for Kyrgyz customs is the national epic, Manas. But if you read the entire Manas, nowhere in it does the hero kidnap his wife or even reference the practice. Actually, according to our research, we think the practice of bride kidnapping started in the 19th century and didn't become popular until the 1940s and 50s, when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union. [Source: Franco Galdini, Radio Free Europe, May 29, 2014 |=|]

“Thus spoke Russell Kleinbach, professor of Sociology at Philadelphia University and deputy director of the Kyz Korgon ("Girls' Shelter") Institute. Until the second half of the last century, bride kidnapping was practiced as a form of elopement to counter the opposition of the young couple’s families to the wedding. Some such instances still occur, from which derives the romanticizing of a practice that, apart from violating women’s basic human rights, exacts a heavy toll on their psychological and physical well-being. Of the 11,800 kidnapped brides each year, more than 2,000 are also raped. |=|

“Some argue that poverty has been a potent factor behind the exponential postindependence growth of this phenomenon. As Kyrgyz weddings cost a fortune, due to the kalym (dowry) and the party, the groom’s family enjoys a better negotiating position as the dowry becomes "usually around a third lower" after the kidnapping. However, in a survey conducted with 268 victims throughout the country in April-June 2010, the NGO Open Line found that only 4 percent of respondents believe that economic gain is behind this practice. Most contend, instead, that it is due to "love at first sight" (26 percent), fear of rejection (23 percent) or a bet between friends (22 percent). These results reveal the power game that lies behind the tradition myth. |=|

One elderly Kyrgyz couple told Newsweek they got married by kidnapping in September of 1954. Eshen, 83, and his wife Tursun, 82, said, "We don't like the modern way of bride-kidnapping. When we were young, it was consensual kidnapping. We knew each other well and exchanged love letters before kidnapping. Nowadays, young people violently kidnap women and this is not our tradition." [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013]

Bride Kidnapping Laws in Kyrgyzstan

Asel Kalybekova of Eurasia.net wrote: “A new law signed by President Almazbek Atambayev in January aims to discourage bride kidnapping by increasing the criminal penalty from a 3-to-7-year prison term to 5-10 years. Such a sentence would make the punishment for bride kidnapping roughly the same as that for sheep theft. The legislation also changes the way a criminal case is registered, from a private complaint to a public one. That means a case cannot be dropped, as it could before, if both parties reconcile. [Source: Asel Kalybekova, Eurasia.net, May 10, 2013 <<<]

Franco Galdini of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Bride kidnapping was made illegal in the Criminal Code of postindependence Kyrgyzstan in 1994. Articles 154 and 155 of the Kyrgyz Criminal Code define the financial and criminal liabilities for people who "abduct a woman with the purpose of marriage." On 25 January 2013, President Almazbek Atambaev signed a bill into Law n. 9, which amended Article 154 and Article 155 of the Criminal Code increasing the maximum prison sentence for bride kidnapping to seven years, and 10 years where the bride is a minor. The amendments came in the wake of a mobilization of grassroots and civil society organizations which picked up momentum in 2012 and coalesced into Campaign 155, a "national campaign to eradicate the practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan." [Source: Franco Galdini, Radio Free Europe, May 29, 2014 |=|]

On 10 December 2013, at a full-day seminar organized for Human Rights Day in Bishkek, Aygul Konoeva, deputy director of the Women Support Center -- sounded cautiously optimistic: in 2013, our monitoring projects in the provinces of Talas, Issyk Kul, Naryn and Batken indicate that the idea of bride kidnapping being a crime is slowly starting to sink in people’s minds. Once we have new statistics, if the new law is working -- wonderful. But if it isn’t, we’ll ask for Article 155 to be cancelled, so that all kidnapping cases will have to come under Article 123. |=|

Kalybekova wrote: Munara Beknazarova, head of Open Line, a Bishkek-based NGO that lobbies to end bride kidnapping, “is optimistic about the new law. “Men should understand that girls have a right to choose. And if this [law] is a lever for action, then I support it.” Her position is widely shared among civil society activists. Ombudsman Akun calls the law an “important precondition” to stop bride kidnapping. “This is not a tradition, this is a crime that is alien to our society,” he told EurasiaNet.org. Getting the public to see bride kidnapping as a crime is an ongoing challenge. Bubusara Ryskulova, head of the Sezim crisis center in Bishkek, thinks that the law will not be effective until society at large demands change. “Girls should learn to protect their rights. Men need to be told that women are not property, they are human beings,” she argues. <<<

Lack of Bride Kidnapping Convictions in Kyrgyzstan

Asel Kalybekova of Eurasia.net wrote: Most cases never make it to court in the first place, observers say. “We ask girls, ‘How can we help you?’ If you want to charge him, we will give you legal advice, provide you with shelter and a lawyer. But they don’t want it,” says Beknazarova..., Beknazarova says conservative mores – especially among parents afraid of being publicly shamed – constitute a major obstacle. “If I could go back to the past, I would leave… But my family told me they blessed our marriage. I was angry and lost,” said Aijan, who today lives in Bishkek and has two children with Aziz, who works in Russia. [Source: Asel Kalybekova, Eurasia.net, May 10, 2013]

Franco Galdini of Radio Free Europe wrote: “The number of court cases initiated against perpetrators is dishearteningly low compared to the scale of the problem. Convictions are rarer still. In a 2008 report, the Forum of Women’s NGOs stated that, out of a total of 35 cases brought to court in the first half of 2006, 15 resulted in convictions. Official statistics offer the same dismal story: 19 convictions in 2010; 28 in 2011; and 25 in 2012. The stigmatization associated with rebelling against what most people still consider a tradition often cows the girl and her family into not pressing charges. In the few occurrences where a case goes to court, rarely is a verdict reached because a bargain is struck beforehand via either compensation money or threats, or a combination of both. [Source: Franco Galdini, Radio Free Europe, May 29, 2014 |=|]

“The result: only one in every 1,500 abduction cases ends with a sentence. In three separate incidents between 2010 and 2012, three young women from the north-eastern Issyk-Kul province committed suicide after being kidnapped and raped. And yet, only one perpetrator was sentenced to six years in prison for incitement to suicide, rape, and forced marriage. Quite apart from the leniency of the verdict in view of the charges, this is a rare exception to the pervasive climate of impunity. |=|

Examples of a Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

Photographer Noriko Hayashi managed to photograph some kidnapped women in Kyrgyzstan. This is one of the women she caught: Hayashi wrote: “After forcing 20-year-old university student Farida and her friend into the back of his car, 26-year-old Tyhchtykbek and his relatives march her into the family yurt. While in the vehicle—where she at first screamed at Tyhchtykbek: "I am not going to marry you!"—Farida was convinced by Tyhchtykbek's older sister to accept his proposal. Farida and Tyhchtykbek had met twice before he kidnapped her. [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013 <^>]

“Tyhchtybek and an elderly female relative talk to Farida at his home, aiming to convince her to marry him. Tyhchtybek says: “I promise you that you will be happy in the future so please marry me,” to which Farida replies: “How come you kidnapped me? You know that I have a boyfriend. Even if I married you, there would be no love in our married life.” <^>

“Farida clings closely to her brother, who has arrived to rescue her. He tells the female relatives: “If my sister wants to stay here, I won't stop her. But look at her, she is crying and is saying that she wants to leave. So I will take her back home.” Eventually he was able to leave with her. A few weeks later, Farida married her original boyfriend. <^>

“Aitilek sits in a room wearing a white scarf, the symbol of marriage. After being kidnapped in Bishkek, she was convinced to accept Baktiyaf's proposal before leaving the city. She didn't know that she was being taken to a remote farm that lacked even a phone line.” <^>

Another Example of Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan

In the case of another girl, Hayashi wrote: “Dinara, 22, struggles as an elderly relative of the man who abducted her tries to force a white scarf on her head; the scarf symbolizes that she has succumbed to his demands to be married. Three hours later, Dinara accepted the proposal and let her parents know over the phone that she was going to stay with Ahmat, the man who kidnapped her. Her parents, however, didn't want to agree to the kidnapping, and asked Ahmat's parents to propose to her in a formal way. Dinara went back to her home that night. The next day, Ahmat gave her an engagement earring and brought her to his home again. “I didn't know Ahmat well and didn't want to stay there. But I accepted because this is our tradition,” Dinara says. [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013 <^>]

“Dinara and Ahmat pray during the celebration on their wedding day. About ten days before the kidnapping, Ahmat and Dinara had met in a market, and he fell in love at first sight. Later, he proposed to her, but Dinara said no, because they didn’t know each other well enough...Ahmat kisses Dinara as she’s in the kitchen doing dishes after their wedding ceremony. <^>

“After their first night together following their wedding ceremony, Dinara gets ready for the new day...Ahmat’s 13-year-old sister wakes up early in the morning during the week-long wedding party and looks down. "I don't want to be kidnapped in the future,” she says...Dinara takes a break from her housework in the kitchen during her wedding party.

Bride Kidnapping Not Just a Rural Phenomenon

Although bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan occurs primarily in the countryside, it also takes place in Bishkek and other cities. Asel Kalybekova wrote in Eurasia.net: “Many know of bride kidnapping as a phenomenon in rural Kyrgyzstan. But few realize it happens in the relatively liberal capital, Bishkek, too. According to human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun, as rural migrants flood into the city, young men too poor to afford the pageantry of a traditional wedding opt instead to kidnap a bride – a method that anecdotal evidence suggests has increased throughout the country in the penurious post-Soviet period. “Moving to Bishkek, they don’t become liberal-minded all at once,” Akun said of the young men. [Source: Asel Kalybekova, Eurasia.net, May 10, 2013 <<<]

“Neither do their families. Bowing to social pressure, parents of a kidnapping victim often do not take their daughter back because, the thinking goes, a kidnapping suggests the woman has somehow been sullied. Many kidnapping victims are raped and a daughter’s virginity is prized in conservative Kyrgyz households. Uluk, a 23-year-old part-time driver in Bishkek, highlights the challenge for anti-bride-kidnapping advocates. “Just think about it, our parents and grandparents were raised like this. Many families that I know were created by kidnapping the bride and they live normally,” Uluk says. <<<

“Though many would argue that bride kidnapping is not a tradition, but a product of recent economic decline, that is no consolation to Aijan. “If I wasn’t kidnapped, I would have studied, I would have gotten a degree,” she said. “I can say that it negatively influenced my life.” <<<

Bride Kidnappings That Ended in Divorce and Suicide

Asel Kalybekova of Eurasia.net wrote: “While there is little research available, a survey conducted by Open Line found that out of 268 kidnappings that resulted in marriage, 60 percent eventually ended in divorce. At the same time, there is little incentive for women to leave their kidnappers: almost half of the divorcees – 46 percent – admitted that after returning to their parents’ house, they had no say in family issues anymore, and their status in the family diminished. [Source: Asel Kalybekova, Eurasia.net, May 10, 2013]

Noriko Hayashi wrote Newsweek: “Elvira Kasymova, 26, holds her 2-year-old daughter, Adinay, while looking out the window at her parents’ home. Because of domestic violence, she left her husband's home with her daughter and now stays with her parents. In September of 2004, Elvira was kidnapped by a taxi driver. Although she resisted for two hours, she ultimately accepted his marriage proposal. "I had never met Azamat before and didn't want to get married. But his elderly female relatives kept telling me to stay … In order to avoid the scandal of rejection, I gave up. Now that I left my husband's home, I started to go to medical school. I want to get a divorce, and want to be a doctor in the future.” [Source: Noriko Hayashi, Newsweek, November 4, 2013 <^>]

“ Imonakunov Seitbek, 34, sits with head bowed and his hands cuffed at his trial. Seitbek kidnapped a woman named Kasymbay Urus, and although she was taken back home two days later by her family, she hanged herself in the backyard of her home the following day. Seitbek was sentenced to six years of prison for the crimes of kidnapping and rape...At Kasymbay Urus’s grave, her mother, sister, and boyfriend mourn her.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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