Following on from recent sad news from Kyrgyzstan, Africa, is on the agenda due to the widespread practices of the violent natured bride abductions despite numerous attempts to eradicate it throughout Africa by human rights groups.
The threat of bride kidnapping is one of the reasons for the restricted lives of women in certain areas of Africa especially in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The effects of bride kidnapping ranging from sexually transmitted diseases, marital rape, unwanted pregnancies, domestic abuse and verbal abuse it is no surprise that young women are afraid to step out of their homes.
Love isn’t an option for the women who are just statistics in these awful crimes against humanity.
This issue stems from deeper problems, which lie within gender based corruption in all aspects of social, family and work life in many African countries.
Rwanda has one of the most severe problems in regards to bride kidnapping due to the violent nature of the custom. Unlike in many cultures the kidnapping in Rwanda are more likely to end in repeated rape and impregnation.
The victimized women are usually taken from their household or just outside, to ensure that she submits to the marriage the man or men rape her. Due to social conventions surrounding ‘deflowered’ women and especially unmarried pregnant women most of the victims accept their fate.
In addition Human Rights watch has stated that a vast amount of the abducted women are abandoned or solemnized and used as a concubine. In a country where domestic violence is not illegal and bride kidnapping is not outlawed women are still under serious risk. According to a criminal justice official in Rwanda bride kidnappers are very rarely seen and prosecuted in court. The official at the criminal investigation department in Nyagatare in Umutara has stated “When we hear about an abduction, we hunt down the kidnappers and arrest them... But we are forced to let them all go several days later”.
As long as bride abduction is not specifically outlawed we will have kidnappers roaming around freely on the streets continuing to threaten women and their freedom. As well as several women’s rights groups the gender and family promotion ministry have also been trying to take preventative steps. In an interview last year Alfred Karekezi, mentioned several 5 day workshops, which ‘provide all district officials in charge of gender and family promotion with relevant tools enabling them to increase awareness of gender principles in their districts.’
A Unifem report on violence towards women in Rwandan districts has revealed that 17% of women encountered their first sexual experience against their will and 13% of women suffer sexual harrassment in public on a day to day basis while attempted forced sexual intercourse rises to 40%. Out of the surveyed women 86% of them had undergone forced sexual intercourse or attempted sexual intercourse while 12% had suffered from sexual touching or undressing within family or familiar environments. The above statistics show us that women are not only in danger in public but suffer greatly in familiar environments too. This occurs especially if one is part of a majorly male dominated society.
As with Rwanda, there is a problem regarding gender equality and forced patriarchy in Somalia. This also leads to the victimization of women and problems within family relations.
As well as gender discrimination, Somalia has a notorious reputation on child labour and child abductions. Due to the complicated state of governmental issues many problems, which should be priorities including gender discrimination and child abductions are pushed to the bottom of the list. However, United Nations Entity for Women has stated, “All governments are obligated under international law to undertake action to end harmful practices”. Bride Kidnapping in Somalia is one practice, which has not been given enough attention.
Regardless of the amount of initiatives by human rights groups this custom continues and is majorly undocumented not only in Somalia but also in the majority of countries this method of marriage prevails in. Although the practice of bride kidnapping is a terrible custom, certain Somalian societies allow the abduction of child brides often to men older than their fathers. This patriarchal system with very little protection towards women sees many forced marriages with under age girls who have been abducted and abused into wedlock even though the legal age is 18.
Zena Mahlangu who was abducted from school by two royal messengers to await marriage to thirty-four-year-old King Mswati III is a prime example. The King who Zena was abducted for was known to have another nine wives at the time.
Modern child bride abduction has serious effects in the long run for these young girls and society. Child abduction is motivated with the desire to marry virgin girls in the belief that they are free from diseases. With the loss of their virginity the girls are forced to either stay or harm themselves, as the return to their homes would bring dishonour to their families and community.
The juxtaposition of a modern scourge and an age-old practice render girl children even more vulnerable than before. Child and maternal deaths are also more prevalent in these instances we the physiology of these child brides are too underdeveloped to cope with the stresses brought on by their abductors. Not only have they been stripped of their future social and economic independence due to dropping out of school early but they have also been stripped of their innocent childhoods.
African Rights Monitor has stated that Ethiopia’s overall situation for women is one of the most precarious in the world “with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, limited political and legal resources for women, elevated rates of forced marriage, and female genital mutilation”.
Likewise to Somalia girls as young as 10 years old have been reported to have been kidnapped for the purpose of marriage in Ethiopia. These young girls and women are usually taken from their homes on horse back for an easier escape and raped repeatedly until the victim is pregnant.
Once the intended ‘bride’ is pregnant, the ‘groom’ as the unborn child’s father has ultimate control over the both of them, legitimizes the marriage by offering gifts or money to the bride’s family.
Many human rights groups over the years have tried to intervene and find a solution to this problem in Africa and other countries where bride kidnapping is a prominent cultural issue. However, it is a complicated and long process as not only do we have to change embedded patriarchal ideas but also push the governments into supporting their women. These crimes are on the rise and are becoming more violent by the day; these women must stop living in fear in their own homes.
A report initiated by the Women’s Affairs Office found that legally and institutionally women have been and still are extremely constrained. The Women In Development (WID) reports the lack of NGOs representing women, the deprivation of women in work and public spheres and cultural taboos are catalysts in the mistreatment of females within Ethiopian society.
What we can do to combat this issue?
At Restless Beings we are currently campaigning against bride kidnapping with a focus on Kyrgyzstan, we have recently received news that yet again one more young girl has committed suicide (please find the relevant article here) as a result of Ala Kachu. Although we are currently negotiating stronger ties within Kyrgyzstan we are also working on building relationships with other countries affected by this practice to create a network between the victimized women, to educate the younger generations to ‘Demand Change, Say No’!
- Unifem (2008) AN EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS OF CASES OF GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE IN RUTSIRO, KAYONZA, NGORORERO DISTRICTS AND THE CITY OF KIGALI.
- NGO News Africa (2011)Rwanda: Gender-based corruption is still a problem, says Transparency. [online] <http://ngonewsafrica.org/archives/9521>
- All Africa (2011) Kenya: Bride-Kidnapping, Once a Charming And Romantic Practice, Has Now Turned Ugly. [online] <http://allafrica.com/stories/201105230152.html>
- Gender Index (2011)Gender Equality in Ethiopia. [online] <http://genderindex.org/country/ethiopia>