After posting a few weeks ago about the infamous tradition of bride kidnapping, I received a fascinating message from Russell Kleinbach, a professor at Philadelphia University. Kleinbach, who holds a PhD in Social Ethics and has been involved in the civil rights movement since the 1960s, became interested in the practice of bride kidnapping while teaching on a Fulbright in Osh in 1999. What followed has been a bulldog-like commitment toward researching the issue, attracting international attention, and, most crucially, developing a comprehensive educational program to rid Kyrgyzstan of the practice.

Kleinbach, together with Gazbubu Babayarova, now runs the Kyz-Korgon Institute, which works toward that goal and to provide assistance to women who are kidnapped for marriage against their will (in Kyrgyz, Kyz means “girl” and Korgon, “shelter or a place to seek protection”).

It turns out that this October the team from the institute ran an educational project in Kyrgyzstan and has some of the freshest data on the topic. The project focused on the city of Karakol, chosen because of its size (around 60,000 people) and status as a regional center, and because an organized anti-kidnapping demonstration took place there that past spring in response to two suicides by kidnapped girls. Aided by around 60 student volunteers, project staff blanketed the city, visiting door-to-door approximately 95 percent of non-Russian homes and apartments in Karakol (Russians don’t typically engage in bride kidnapping). They distributed materials to counter the practice, including brochures and pledges not to kidnap (for boys) or to not stay and marry if kidnapped (for girls). I’ve posted the translations of the pledges below.

Presentations and seminars were also held in 10 universities/colleges and one university dormitory for approximately 1,175 students, and similar material distributed to over 700 faculty members. The students were shown previous research on bride kidnapping, viewed the Petr Lom documentary film that I mentioned in my previous post, and engaged in discussion. “A few boys will defend the practice as tradition until they hear the research information and see the film,” says Kleinbach. “They learn it is not tradition – it is illegal, it is forbidden by Islam. Then they stop defending the practice.”

Researchers in Karakol also took the opportunity to interview women married and/or kidnapped in 2010 or 2011. Based on 101 interviews, the results were:

56 (55%) of women were married in the traditional way without kidnapping

45 (45%) of women interviewed were non-consensually kidnapped. Of those:

29 (64%) of kidnapped women’s family members did not attend their wedding.
25 (56%) of kidnapped women did not previously know the men who kidnapped them.
15 (33%) of kidnapped women were kidnapped by men who did not know them.
3 ( 7%) of kidnapped women loved the men who kidnapped them (but did not want to be kidnapped)
8 (18%) of kidnapped women were forced to have sex (raped) before the marriage ceremony.
8 (18%) of kidnapped women are now divorced.
2 ( 4%) of kidnapped women did not marry; they were rescued by family.

Of those married in the traditional way, 43 % responded positively when asked if their husbands had been influenced to not kidnap them because they had previously seen educational materials.

Such data backs up previous evidence that Kleinbach cites that shows that the distribution of such materials to homes and seminars can reduce the rate of non-consensual bride kidnapping from over 50% to under 30% of marriages in one year.

As I wrote earlier, I’m still amazed that this practice is still so widespread, yet receives relatively little international attention. I’m equally surprised that Kleinbach has had so much difficulty raising money to fund such educational campaigns (which he says cost a mere $0.25 per person or $1.5-$2 per family). He used his own money to finance those activities in Karabol that I mentioned above.

“What we need now is funding,” he says. “We have been writing grants but so far no positive response.”

At the same time, the research is seemingly so clear-cut: Even a modest investment in such a program can revolutionize the way large groups of people think and save hundreds of women from traumatic experiences and unhappy, destructive marriages that can tear families and communities apart.

The pledges follow:

Kidnapping Pledge of Resistance for Men

“Forcing a woman to marry . . . or kidnapping her in order to marry
without her consent,” is a violation of the law of the Kyrgyz Republic, and
a violation of her fundamental human rights of security, freedom and equality.

Therefore, I, ___________________ [printed name], pledge that I will not kidnap a woman for marriage, and I will resist, with all my abilities, such kidnappings by my friends and relatives,

I have informed my family of my intentions and they have agreed to support my decision. They have agreed not to encourage me to be involved, in any way, with a kidnapping. They have witnessed my signature of this statement and signed below as an affirmation of their agreement and support.

In the event that I wish to marry using the tradition of Ala Kachuu, it will be only if, at least 10 days prior to the Ala Kachuu, I have the consent of the woman I plan to marry, and if she has participated in the planning of when and how the Ala Kachuu will take place.

_______________________- _________________________-________________________
Man’s Printed Name Signature Date

Witnesses:

_____________________- ____________________-___________________- ___________
Relationship to Man Printed Name Signature Date

_____________________- ____________________-___________________- ___________
Relationship to Man Printed Name Signature Date

[It is recommended that men carry a copy of this pledge to show friends, relatives
and persons who might consider participating in a kidnapping.]

Kidnapping Pledge of Resistance for Women

“Forcing a woman to marry . . . or kidnapping her in order to marry
without her consent,” is a violation of the law of the Kyrgyz Republic, and
a violation of her fundamental human rights of security, freedom and equality.

Therefore, I, ___________________ [printed name], pledge that if I am kidnapped for marriage, I will resist, with all my abilities, such a marriage.

I pledge that I will use all existing laws to prosecute to the full extent possible, those people responsible for the kidnapping.

I have informed my family of my intentions and they have agreed to support my decision. They have agreed to assist in my rescue from a kidnapping, and to refuse to give their consent or approval to a kidnapping. They have also agreed to assist me in prosecuting those persons responsible for the kidnapping.

My family have witnessed my signature of this statement and signed below as an affirmation of their agreement and support.

In the event that I wish to marry using the tradition of Ala Kachuu, it will be only if I have given my consent at least 10 days prior to the Ala Kachuu, and if I have participated in the planning of when and how the Ala Kachuu will take place.

_______________________- _________________________-________________________
Woman’s Printed Name Signature Date

Witnesses:

_____________________- ____________________-___________________- ___________
Relationship to Woman Printed Name Signature Date

_____________________- ____________________-___________________- ___________
Relationship to Woman Printed Name Signature Date

[It is recommended that women carry a copy of this pledge to show friends, relatives
and persons who might consider or actually might kidnap them.]

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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