Imagine being kidnapped on your way to the shops, kidnapped by strange men, driven several miles away to a village where you learn that one of your kidnappers is to become your new husband. Your soon-to-be in-laws blackmail and intimidate you into accepting this, that it happened to them and now it is happening to you. Your parents have no idea where you are. When they finally do, they discover that you are now married, by then it is too late. This is the fate of hundreds of thousands of young women and girls in Central Asia including Kyrgyzstan.
Ala Kachuu or bride kidnapping can sometimes be used as a form of consensual elopement, more often than not it is non-consensual. Refusal to marry your kidnapper means bringing shame and dishonour to the victim’s family. This usually leads to the girl’s parents having no choice but to convince their daughter to accept her fate and new husband in order to avoid social suicide (as it is assumed the girl is no longer a virgin therefore no longer marriageable to someone else). The stigma attached to having spent the night away from home, also compels most girls to accept their fate of a forced marriage without love, consent and often filled with domestic abuse.
You may ask how can such a practice exist in the 21st century? In theory the authorities in Kyrgyzstan have put in place laws that can result in the prosecution of those that facilitate and take part in bride kidnapping. The kidnapping of these young women can mean a prison sentence of up to 10 years; this term seems inadequate when the jail sentence for stealing a goat is 11 years.
However, other reasons put forward to justify bride kidnapping include the fact that some men cannot afford the bride price, which is supposed to provide the bride and her family with some economic security before entering the marriage. Kidnapping is also practiced by ‘undesirable men’ such as drug addicts and alcoholics who see kidnapping as the only means of getting a wife. Coercing the bride to accept the marriage or spend the night at his home, results in a significant reduction of the bride price.
The reality on ground is that the practice persists as it is widely perceived as a Kyrgyz tradition. Bride kidnapping was outlawed in Kyrgyzstan under Soviet rule, and was revived under the break-up of the Soviet Union, as was the case in many neighbouring former Soviet States in Central Asia. For these women it is difficult to challenge the practice in a highly patriarchal society.
As victims of bride kidnapping, women are not given a choice of who they can marry and they are left financially vulnerable if their bride price has not been paid for in full. In order to prevent and stop bride kidnapping, it is important to provide women with access to the Refuge Centre* as well as working with our local partners in disseminating information that educates Kyrgyz society of the trauma and hardships experienced by those who are kidnapped and the infringement of their human rights.
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*Restless Beings helps to fund, through our local NGO partner Sezim, a refuge centre and home for victims of bride kidnapping based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We are currently raising money for the women’s accommodation at the refuge shelter and our victim helpline to provide counselling and advice to these courageous women.