HORROR REALITY: Sick practice of ‘bride kidnapping’


You are a 16-year-old girl, going about your business, walking along the streets near your family home.

All of a sudden a van pulls up, and a group of men accost you.

Laughing and yelling, they drag you into the vehicle and you recognise a man you met briefly two days earlier.

Soon, you pull up to the home of this man. Despite your screams and protestations you are forced into the house, where the man’s female relatives shove you into a corner, restrain you and inform you that today, you will marry this man.

It sounds like a nightmare but this mind-boggling ancient custom of “bride kidnapping” still happens in countries including Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, Armenia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and South Africa.

Footage of these kidnappings taking place makes for distressing viewing.

Bride kidnapping, or “ala kachuu” which means “to take and run away”, is particularly common in Kyrgyzstan.

Here nearly 12,000 young women and girls are thought to be kidnapped for marriage each year, the Women’s Support Centre says.

That represents around one in four females.

Heartbreakingly, the kidnapped brides tend to be incredibly young.

A report released in August from Duke University states that kidnapped brides tend to be younger than those in love marriages or arranged marriages, with 19 being the mean age.

Nearly one in 10 girls in Kyrgyzstan are married before they turn 18 according to global charity Girls Not Brides.

Picture taken by Japanese photographer Noriko Hayashi of a bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Picture: Kyodo/Alamy

Picture taken by Japanese photographer Noriko Hayashi of a bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Picture: Kyodo/Alamy

For the women involved, it is a truly terrifying ordeal.

The groom often gathers a group of his friends and they simply drive around looking for a young woman he likes the look of.

The women in the groom’s family then attempt to bully the abducted female into marriage. They often physically restrain the woman and place a white scarf on her head (the headscarf is highly symbolic – when she agrees to wear it, the marriage is considered to be a done deal.)

As Newsweek reports, around 84 per cent of the kidnapped women end up agreeing to the nuptials (the rest manage to flee 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.”

Sometimes, the groom rapes the woman to shame her into staying with him – of the 12,000 reported cases of forced abduction in 2013, 2,000 of those women reported being raped.

Picture taken by Japanese photographer Noriko Hayashi of a bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Picture: Kyodo/Alamy

Picture taken by Japanese photographer Noriko Hayashi of a bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Picture: Kyodo/Alamy

The practice occurs to this scale despite the country having outlawed bride kidnapping in 2013.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in a 2015 report said there had been only one conviction for bride kidnapping since 2008 even though searches on YouTube find numerous film of distraught women being dragged away in broad daylight by uninvited suitors.

According to many, authorities tend to look the other way when it comes to this “ancient custom”.

David Gullette, an anthropologist and author of The Genealogical Construction of the Kyrgyz Republic: Kinship, State and Tribalism told the Irish Times that people justify the practice by saying it is part of their culture.

“People use justifications for bride kidnapping: ‘Aaah we always did this. As nomads it’s how we carried off our women’. It’s a highly romanticised vision,” he says.

“There is [also] the economic argument: ‘I can’t afford to pay for a bride or a wedding” (in Kyrgyzstan you are expected to pay a “bride price” and host the family – a cost that is often beyond many of the poorer males).

The cost

The fallout from this practice is wide-reaching.

Kyrgyzstan has the highest maternal mortality rate in Central Asia – the large number of underage girls giving birth following forced marriage is one factor in this.

Marriages resulting from bride kidnapping are also thought to cause significantly higher rates of domestic abuse and divorce.

“We are putting in place free legal advice and representation: 40 per cent of lawyers in Kyrgyzstan have agreed to give up to 50 hours per year pro bono to victims of domestic violence,” says Lucio Sarandrea, the United Nations Development Programme chief technical adviser on the rule of law.

There is also a frightening number of women who commit suicide following the abduction.

Newsweek tells the story of Kasymbay Urus, a woman who was kidnapped by Imonakunov Seitbek for marriage.

He raped her, and although she managed to return to her home two days later, the experience traumatised her so badly she hanged herself in her backyard.

Seitbek was sentenced to six years of prison for the crimes of kidnapping and rape.

An image of a kidnapped bride taken in 2012.

An image of a kidnapped bride taken in 2012.

The fall out is also reaching the children of the kidnapped brides. The Duke University study found that ethnic babies in Kyrgyzstan are smaller than average.

Smaller birth weights have been linked to a higher risk of disease.

It was unclear why these babies were smaller, but it was likely due to the psychological trauma suffered by the mother from being in a forced marriage, said economics professor Charles Becker, who co-authored the Duke University study.

Unfortunately, it seems that bringing an end to this practice will be a slow process

In 2013, President Almazbek Atambayev approved legislation that increased the penalty for bride kidnapping to up to 10 years. Prior to that, a man could get a longer prison term for stealing a sheep than for abducting an underage girl for forced marriage, reports The Huffington Post.

The few female MPs in government are having a hard time addressing the issue.

Kyrgyz MP Aida Kasymalieva. Picture: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Kyrgyz MP Aida Kasymalieva. Picture: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Aida Kasymalieva, Kyrgyzstan’s youngest female member of parliament, was stunned when her male colleagues walked out as she spoke at a session on women’s issues, including bride kidnapping last month.

“We were discussing assignments, grants, roads, and all men were sitting in the hall then the parliamentary hour (on gender issues) started … and all men in the hall just stood up and went, she told Reuters.

“Men will never think about domestic violence and kidnapping.”



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