On 10 November 2011 the Kyrgyzstan Ombudsman for monitoring human and civil rights announced a month of actively promoting human rights and freedoms, in particular addressing bride abduction. Each year the Kyrgyz's ombudsman champions a marginalised human rights issue and more than ever bride kidnapping, also known as Ala Kachuu, has been on the increase in the country and amongst its neighbours. Recently journalist Fayzia Ahmadova reported Tajikistan had seen a growing trend in bride kidnappings. No formal government investigations have developed yet there are a fear that influences from Kyrgyz neighbours may be developing a "new custom" in Tajikistan.
In Kyrgyzstan it is estimated 11,500 to 16,500 girls are kidnapped to become brides each year and the issue has become more acute in Kyrgyzstan. The fate of young kidnapped girls subsequently ends in forced marriages with some experiencing physical violence, such as rape, when kidnapped. Whether there is rape or not, the cultural stigma of spending a night with stranger is too much for victims and their families and girls are forced into marriages with their kidnappers. Those that cannot endure the kidnapping and forced marriage have tragically taken their lives.
Bride kidnapping has been criminalised in Kyrgyzstan's constitution which guarantees that all "men and women have equal rights and freedoms and equal opportunities for their realization". The Kyrgyz Criminal Code has explicitly stated forced marriage and kidnapping is a crime; however, law enforcement agencies still perceive bride kidnapping as a cultural act rather than a criminal act. Bride kidnapping is not only criminal and a human rights violation, it also compromises the legal status of young women as many marriages are unregistered. This month is an opportunity for the Kyrgyz government to tackle a controversial topic amongst its people. Bride kidnapping is still widely believed to be a valued national custom, however this myth must be dismissed and replaced with the view that kidnappings, rapes and forced marriages are human rights crimes.
On 7 November 2011 Equality Now, an organisation which works for the protection of the human rights of women and girls around the world, has called to end bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. With very few international organisations addressing this practice, Equality Now has recommended writing letters to Kyrgyz government officials to properly investigate allegations; raise awareness and strengthen current legislation against bride kidnapping. This is welcomed international attention and successfully coincides with the Kyrgyz's new commitment to raising domestic awareness.
The Kyrgyz Ombudsmen has stated this month of awareness intends to discredit myths of national custom and activities include organising activities that reduce the number of kidnappings; dialogue exchange with citizens that practice it; active media coverage; and thematic workshops and conferences throughout the year.
Restless Beings welcomes this renewed focus and encourages the Kyrgyz authorities in tackling this dangerous and culturally sensitive subject. Awareness and direct engagement by the Kyrgyz authorities is an excellent initiative to challenge domestic perceptions as well as affecting neighbouring countries, such as Tajikistan, where growing trends of bride kidnappings are also appearing.
Image from UNAFF.