Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan
by Amber Chang
Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia and home to a majority of both Russians and Uzbeks. It’s mostly rural with a central city area, filled with breathtaking scenery, plentiful mountains, and beautiful temples. In the rural areas, the Kyrgyz may pass time by making their own utensils, clothes, equipment, and other items in everyday life—for farming, cooking, hunting and so on. But they have another tradition that is not so innocuous to most: bride kidnapping. Yes, a tradition. Meaning that it is almost like an heirloom, passed down generation after generation. In a nutshell, it is when a man kidnaps his future wife—brides kidnapped can be as young as 14 years old. Once the girl is kidnapped and taken back to the house of the kidnapper, the female relatives of the groom will try to convince the girl to stay and accept the marriage. Sometimes the wedding ceremony is already set up, waiting for the bride. If (or when) the bride accepts the proposal, a white head scarf is placed on her head and the ceremony begins. To most women, this is often very humiliating, even if they harbor affection for the man that kidnapped them, and there are many cases in which the bride attempts to escape or commit suicide. Since it is considered a tradition, most of the times the captured bride will reluctantly stay even if they do not love the man. There have been some cases in which the bride was even forced to accept the marriage by her own family—otherwise it would bring shame to the family name.
In this country, around 40% of Kyrgyz women accept marriage after kidnapping. There have been many misconceptions about this so-called tradition, such as people seeing it more as rape than a common practice. According to Vice and Newsweek, “Two-thirds of these bride kidnappings are non-consensual—in some cases, a 'kidnapping' is part of a planned elopement—and while the practice has been illegal since 1994, authorities largely look the other way.” The interpretation is that women would agree beforehand to the marriage but because they do not want to seem impure, they struggle during the kidnapping. Also, in some cases, the kidnapped girls are facing their kidnappers for the first time—a total stranger. To be forced into a marriage without knowing anything about someone is cruel. Although most of these cases involve only the women of the family to convince the bride to accept, there have been some instances in which the men of the family or the groom will rape the bride until they agree to the proposal.
This topic has not been discussed enough. Even though there are bride kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan every day, the police force don’t do much about it. Sure, the “groom” or kidnapper is sentenced and jailed if caught, their incarceration time is not long, and usually bail is easy to pay. To hear that this is a common tradition—well, it is hard to assess whether or not this is also a crime. And should this be considered a crime? To put it into perspective, people do things because they can, and while that may not seem to be morally correct to the rest of the world, it is a way of life for these people.
To conclude, I personally don’t agree with this practice. Even if it is a tradition, it does not justify the kidnapping of a young girl off the street just because they fancy them. It does not justify forcing someone into an unexpected marriage when they may have other plans in life. And it does not justify placing such a heavy burden on an innocent life.
Hayashi Panos, Noriko. "Grab and Run: Kyrgyzstan's Bride Kidnappings." Newsweek. 4 November 2013. Web. http://www.newsweek.com/grab-and-run-1634.