Bride kidnapping - A Kyrgyz Manhood Tradition

This article is one of many to come, which will be posted every 6-8 weeks based around project two - bride kidnapping.

This article will cover bride kidnapping - the 'tradition' from the male's perspective and how it is regarded in today's Kyrgyzstan.

A Kyrgyz Manhood tradition

Women in Kyrgyzstan have many things to be proud of but ala kachuu (bride kidnapping) is not one of them. Kyrgyzstan attained independence in 1991, and has seen the resurgence of an old 'tradition' - ala kachuu. Bride kidnapping occurs when a prospective groom abducts a prospective bride against her wishes and coerces her into marriage. Unfortunately, this new phenomenon is rising rapidly.

A study conducted in 2004 found that the most common reason given for ala kachuu is that it is regarded as "a good tradition". The notion that bride kidnapping is a tradition echoes across Kyrgyzstan, and men welcome it with open arms, for instance a study carried out by Wilensky-Lanford (2003) found, a young military student expressed that "he would consider stealing a wife, because it is a Kyrgyz tradition". The study went on to find that men regard bride kidnapping as a good 'tradition', it allows men who are less attractive a chance to get married and the poor who are unable to pay dowry (Wilensky-Lanford 2003).

Once an act becomes deemed as a tradition it then becomes part of the "unwritten social charter", which means cases, are resolved by 'law of the people', rather than written laws. Social 'unwritten laws' are generally dealt by males usually favouring men.

Studies carried out by researchers and NGO's have found 80% of marriages in rural areas (villages) were a result of kidnappings - 57% were non-consensual. Another study found estimates of 40% of women in the city were kidnapped, whilst 60% kidnappings took place in villages, drawing to the conclusion that it is more common for kidnappings to occur in villages (HRW, 2006).

Bride kidnapping is illegal in Kyrgyzstan however, cases are rarely brought to the courts. "Officials failed to acknowledge that abduction of women for forced marriage is a serious crime and that state has an obligation to punish the perpetrators and prevent future incidents". Many government officials view bride kidnapping as a tradition rather than crime. For example, Ethan Wilensky-Lanford was conducting his research when he was contacted by the chief of police informing him of one of his police officers, who was planning to abduct a potential bride with details of the event (Wilensky-Lanford, (2003). Clearly, illustrating that bride kidnapping laws are not adhered by law officials, who play a vital role in combating this 'tradition'. In addition, the general population will learn from example that bride kidnapping will not be dealt in a criminal manner.

Kyrgyzstan is a patriarchal society and this tradition of kidnapping a potential bride only "defines Kyrgyz manhood". It is a 'tradition' conjured up by men to define their status and masculinity. It has been argued that a 'tradition' like bride kidnapping can be perceived as nationalism and to be against bride kidnapping it is to be a non-nationalists. "If nationalism is associated with bride capture, to be nationalist is to be non-modern".

In addition, experts and NGO's also "emphasize that not only is abduction not a tradition, it is a crime".


A greater awareness and educating the general population of women's rights, the illegalities of this crime and the implications it has on victims. Greater law enforcement is essential, as well as ensuring authorities are well equipped to deal with this matter. Ultimately, community support will help change people's perception with less regards to it as a 'tradition' and more of a crime.

The next article will be based around women's rights in Kyrgyzstan, and the affect it has on bride kidnapping.


  1. HRW (2006) Bride-Kidnapping HRW (accessed 20/08/11)
  2. UNFPA (date unknown) Bride Napping (accesses 20/08/11)
  3. Hann-Woo Choi (2000) The Social and Political Status of Kyrgyz Women: the Historical Heritage of the Soviet Union and Negative Tendencies in Post-Communist Kyrgyzstan. The International Association of the Central Asian Studies Institute of Asian Culture and Development (accessed 19/08/11)
  4. Wilensky-Lanford. E (2003) Nationalist Tensions: Tradition and Modernity in Discussion of Kyrgyz Bride-Capture. Reed College (accessed 23/08/11)

Image from IPA.