Bride kidnapping is such a provocative topic (similar to the old blood vendetta stories that periodically emanate from northern Albania) that I guess I figured that the practice had declined in Central Asia since I had heard less of it lately. How wrong I apparently was. Earlier this week, I received word of a call issued by a high-profile international organization to end bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Equality Now —which, with offices in New York, London, and Nairobi, fights to protect the human rights of women and girls around the world—sent out a call on 7 November “for the Kyrgyz government to properly investigate and prosecute kidnappers to the fullest extent of the law and to introduce amendments guaranteeing victim protection and provisions for easy access to medical, social and legal services.”

A press release cited an estimated 11,500 to 16,500 girls that are kidnapped each year in Kyrgyzstan alone (the practice is present in other Central Asian nations, as well as places such as Chechnya). As TOL reported back in 2003, such figures are notoriously unreliable as almost no victims report the crime to the authorities (back in 2001, Interior Ministry statistics reported only between 10-30 kidnappings annually). So it’s hard to judge how much the practice has increased, but data mentioned by Equality Now seems to indicate that bride kidnapping is even more widespread today:

In 2010, research by women’s NGO Public Foundation Open Line found that more than 50% of the 268 women interviewed had never seen their kidnapper prior to the abduction and that 81% of kidnappings ended in marriage.  74.2% of the women surveyed stated that pressure, including threats and violence, was exerted on them by the kidnapper and his family to force them to stay.  23% of women revealed that they had been raped before marriage.  One respondent was determined to report the kidnapping to the police after escaping, but was re-abducted and raped by the kidnapper, which forced her to accept the marriage. 

Equality Now has called for a letter campaign, urging people to write to top Kyrgyz officials and urge them “to ensure that cases of bride kidnapping are properly investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and to raise public awareness about the crime of bride kidnapping and the importance of equal rights within society.” The organization also wants current legislation strengthened, including “accomplice liability for relatives” that assist in the kidnapping—something no doubt controversial among those that still believe the practice is an honorable way of carrying on an age-old tradition.

I’ll try to check with Equality Now in the coming weeks to see if the campaign finds resonance among its supporters and leads to strong international pressure on the Kyrgyz authorities. However, with a new president taking power and continuing political and ethnic discord, I’m afraid that the injustice of bride kidnapping will slip down the list of priorities…

For more background on bride kidnapping, see our earlier article on the topic, mentioned above.

An excellent short film on the topic can be found on the PBS Frontline site, which shows an actual kidnapping. Shown in 2004 and reported by Petr Lom (then a CEU professor, now a documentary maker), “The Kidnapped Bride” was later turned into an award-winning film.

The Kyrgyz wedding photo was taken by Evgeni Zotov on July 28, 2010, part of his photo stream on Flickr.com. (The inclusion of the photo does not suggest that the bride was kidnapped).

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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