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Bride Kidnapping: A Tradition Or A Crime?

Although bride kidnapping is officially a crime in Kyrgyzstan, few cases reach the courtroom (illustrative photo from the Kyz Korgon Institute, an Kyrgyz NGO that campaigns to eliminate the practice).
Although bride kidnapping is officially a crime in Kyrgyzstan, few cases reach the courtroom (illustrative photo from the Kyz Korgon Institute, an Kyrgyz NGO that campaigns to eliminate the practice).
By Farangis Najibullah
Some 200 people took to the streets in a northern Kyrgyz province earlier this week to protest the longstanding practice of bride kidnapping.

The custom -- in which single young men kidnap their bride of choice and pressure them to agree to marriage -- is not uncommon in Kyrgyzstan.

But bride kidnapping has recently come under sharp criticism in the Central Asian country after two kidnapped brides committed suicide in a matter of months.

The site of this week's rally, the northern Issyk-Kul Province, is home to the two suicide victims -- Venera Kasymalieva and Nurzat Kalykova, both 20-year-old students.

The rally, dubbed "Spring without Them," was organized by local women's NGOs and other activists and held in the town of Karakol. During the protest participants called on authorities and community leaders to put an end to the old tradition.

Bride kidnapping is officially a criminal offence in Kyrgyzstan, where the criminal code stipulates a maximum three-year prison term for bride-kidnapping.

In reality, however, few cases reach the courtroom, and those who are tried for bride-kidnapping usually walk away after paying a small fine.

Between 68 and 75 percent of marriages in Kyrgyzstan take place with bride kidnapping (photo courtesy of Jackie Matthews).

"Once bride-kidnapping was characteristic mostly to rural areas, but it has become widespread everywhere, including the capital, Bishkek," says Gazbubu Babayarova, founder of Kyz Korgon Institute, a nongovernmental organization that campaigns to eliminate the tradition of bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.

"Our researches indicate that between 68 and 75 percent of marriages in Kyrgyzstan take place with bride kidnapping."

Babayarova says economic hardship is one of many reasons behind the recent rise of bride kidnapping, as many families try to avoid paying dowries and wedding expenses. But it is by no means the only motivation.

"It is encouraged by parents of the boys," Babayarova says. "And sometimes, boys are afraid of asking the girls' permission. They think it's easier just to kidnap her, because they are afraid maybe she will refuse. 

"Another reason is that even if there is a law, it's not being implemented. Since the kidnappers go unpunished, bride-kidnapping is happening again and again."

How It's Done

According to the tradition, when a Kyrgyz man, usually in his twenties, wants to get married for the first time, he picks a bride and starts to arrange her kidnapping.

The man and his friends seize the young woman in streets, sometimes using violence, and forcibly drive her to the captor's family home. The rest is left to female relatives of the man, who try to persuade the kidnapped woman to marry her captor.

The woman is put under enormous pressure, including physical violence, but in the majority of cases, the captor refrains from rape, Babayarova says. 

If the woman finally agrees to marriage, the family of her potential husband puts a white kerchief on her head, and asks her to write a letter to her parents. They take the letter to the bride's family to ask their daughter's hand in marriage and arrange a quick wedding ceremony.

While the groom's relatives take part in "choosing" and arranging the kidnapping of their future daughter-in-law, the potential bride and her family do not usually know the captors or their intentions until after the kidnapping takes place.

Many brides follow tradition and simply accept their fate. But some of the marriages born from bride-kidnapping fall apart and for some -- like the two young students in Issyk-Kul -- this can bring a tragic end.

"She Wasn't Ready for Marriage So I Kidnapped Her"

Kalykova's acquaintance, Ulan, once asked her if she wanted to marry him. Kalykova and her parents refused the marriage proposal but they didn't predict Ulan would not take no for an answer. 

Late one evening in November 2010, Kalykova 's parents came home from a dinner party to find their daughter had gone missing. Days later, they found out that Kalykova has been kidnapped by Ulan, who was now asking their permission to conduct a marriage ceremony.

The parents brought Kalykova back home. But under constant pressures from relatives, Kalykova and her parents eventually accepted the marriage proposal.

The marriage didn't last long -- Kalykova committed suicide just four months later.

Despite the outcome, Ulan sees nothing wrong in his approach to marriage.

"We were friends with Nurzat for three years before our marriage. I wanted to marry her, but she always postponed it. Perhaps she wasn't ready," Ulan told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Ulan doesn't hold himself responsible for his wife's suicide. 

"We lived alright, we were friendly," he says. "To this point, I don't understand what possibly could have gone wrong."

Authorities say they have launched a probe into Kalykova's case but it is unclear whether Ulan will be charged with kidnapping. 

Organizers of today's rally in Karakol called on authorities to enforce existing laws to punish men who opt for kidnapping as a means of finding a wife.

In a tearful address to participants, Venera Kasymalieva's father, Oken, said his daughter's kidnapping ruined his family's life.

I call on young men to refrain from kidnapping, he said. "I don't wish any young girl to commit suicide in the future. My wife died suddenly five years ago, and that's why my daughter [Venera] was like a mother to my younger kids."

Abaz Jyrgalbekov, a 20-year-old man who also joined the rally, says not all Kyrgyz men support the kidnapping tradition. 

It's a way for insecure men to get girls, Jyrgalbekov says. "Who usually kidnaps a woman? Guys with no self-confidence; who are afraid that a girl doesn't like him."

"I want to marry in a normal way," he adds.
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by: Yulija
May 21, 2011 17:17
So if we take Abaz's words, up to 75 per cent of Kyrgiz men have no self-confidence and think girls don't like them?

When will people learn that the happiest AND the healthiest of marriages come about when people choose their own partners? Central Asian countries should focus on educating their people about these things.
In Response

by: Turgai
May 25, 2011 11:38
"When will people learn that the happiest AND the healthiest of marriages come about when people choose their own partners?"

Yulia, apart form teh fact that more and more Kyrgyz are sick and tired of being lectured by outsiders on how to live, your statement is simply not true. Just look at the divorce rates in countries where they actually do chose their own partners or/and have the posisbility to live unmarried before marriage: the EU average of divorces is 43.5% (with peaks of up to 71% in Belgium) and that in Belarus 65%.

Much of this has to do with infantile, unrealistic expectations (especially by women) and with the fact that many people (again: especialy women) can not handle the pressure and responsibilities that come with 'freedom'.

Now that we're at it, bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan has become a fetish cause of Western-funded feminist NGOs who merely want to justify their existence.
In Response

by: Ciambella from: USA
June 01, 2011 03:16
Interesting that you cite statistics for divorce rates, Turgal, but fail to do likewise for "especially women" being the root of "infantile, unrealistic expectations" and the inability to "handle the pressure and responsibilities that come with 'freedom.'" Where are you getting this from? Suggesting that the marriage model is inappropriate based on statistics is fine, but find the statistics for everything being women's fault before you patronize women in a manner that has nothing to do with the article at hand. While you're at it, find also the statistics stating that victims of bride kidnapping are actually happy in their "marriages."

Do you think the majority of women prefer the idea of being kidnapped and brainwashed or coerced into marrying someone they didn't choose or weren't ready to marry over actually having the freedom to marry? Would you prefer being kidnapped over choosing yourself?

by: Felipe Muñoz from: Santiago, Chile
May 21, 2011 20:34
Good point from Abaz Jyrgalbekov. However, i think that this problem is not only of how much tough or the laws; this is also an educational problem, as well as social. I say that the best way that the government can tackle this problem for the future, is to educate boys against this practices since early ages. Besides, tougher sanctions are needed to keep aware the population against this practices. From my point of view, this is nothing more than a crime, and can easily considered as a 'human right violation': as a result, Kyrguiz govt, should act more severely against this cases. No matter the sex, men and women are persons and humans, and the rights of everyone must be respected; even more of women. An interesting thing to discuss for Kyrguizstan society and government.

by: Gilles from: Paris
May 22, 2011 09:18
Something I would like to know is whether women who are already married can be made subject to bride-kidnapping. Or, if she's already married, does the kidnapper retreat?
In Response

by: An English Teacher from: Bishkek, KG
May 22, 2011 14:41
As an american living and working in the capital and doing alot of work in villages I can safely say that I have never heard of married women getting kidnapped mainly because only virgins are prized. I am not sure of this NGOs statistics when it says ~75% of marriages are a result of bride kidnapping because 'kidnapping' is a broad subject here when it comes to marriage. Some are an smoke screen for two young people getting aloped without the bride's parents permission and sometimes it is simply an old-fashioned arranged marriage... that being said I ahve seen girl and students of mine kidnapped and I am happy to hear of this rally over at the Lake.
In Response

by: Ingush from: Ingushetia
May 23, 2011 17:04
Oh, cool. Supporting kidnapping of Muslim girls and "happy". True face of democrats.
In Response

by: An English Teacher from: Bishkek, KG
May 24, 2011 08:00
@ Ingush
No I obvioously don't support the practice and in fact many Kyrgyz people don't either. I was simply saying that the reality on the ground is much more complicated than the binary way in which it is often presented.
And I was happy to hear of people protesting in an organized manner. There are laws ont he blooks that are largely ignored due to popular intransigence and tacit support, so hearing of rallies in Issyk-kul against the practice makes me hopeful that the tradition will disappear eventually.

by: Medina Aitieva from: England/Kyrgyzstan
May 22, 2011 16:32
Gilles, married women are not the target; men know in advance whom they will be kidnapping, it's usually well discussed among kin, men's friends, etc., therefore, the whole extended family is involved in it. There have been cases when men simply 'hunted' for one driving through cities and picking one they liked and forcibly bringing her home.

It has to do more than just self-confidence. You gotta understand that it's often orchestrated by the whole family, relatives, kin, neighbours - it becomes everybody's business if a young person has not been married yet and/or has not started a family. There is a huge amount of pressure on both men and women.

There are many reasons why men kidnap, and each case has to be studied thoroughly, as this is a complex phenomenon and giving simplified conclusions and generalize is a huge mistake, which many of the journalistic pieces end up doing.

Kidnapping is also a form of a consensual marriage, some imitate the practice when bringing a bride home, therefore, it's prearranged and is symbolic of woman's innocence implying that a woman "wasn't desperate to get married" but she was "brought" by the man... looking into the cultural and symbolic implications of the act is important as well.

Finally, kidnappings continued not only due to economic reasons, but mainly because men know that they can do it, they don't even think about it as a crime, they don't even think that if they do, they will get away with it. The crime factor has been invisible for decades now. Men and families dont think they are committing a crime, they wrongly think they are engaged in something important -- a "traditional way of getting married". We can go on with this topic and ask questions as why women stay, why families pursue it, support their sons and don't save their daughters, but until the state is unable to enforce the laws written in black on white. Young men and their families in KG unfortunately will continue the practice as they value marriage and the creation of the family more than rule of law and human rights. Nevertheless, active members of the community together with those whose lives have been affected and those who cannot keep it in the family anymore and who are well aware that the police wll not help them are out today and expressing their views. Finally.
In Response

by: Ingush from: Ingushetia
May 23, 2011 16:41
Oh, really? From your first name I conclude you are a "Muslim". In ISLAM we always find a proof for any kind of righteous behavior. Could you please provide me with proof from The Noble Quran or Hadiths which tolerate the kidnapping of a bride? That's right you can't. Change your first name it should be Marusya.
In Response

by: Nasir from: Xinjiang
May 24, 2011 00:07
Dear Ingush, no one here is attacking Islam. Nowhere in either the article or following comments was Islam mentioned as the cause of these incidents. I do believe that Islam stresses the importance of the "Jemiyet" or "society", something which this article pretends to discuss by bringing forward questions about social pressure related to these acts. Also, your response to The English Teacher was uncalled for; perhaps you should read his comment again. The English Teacher clearly stated that he was happy about the protests, not the crime. If you believe that everyone is constantly trying to attack Islam you will start to see everything as an attack.
In Response

by: Ingush from: Ingushetia
May 24, 2011 11:17
Its not about attacking Islam. It is about Muslims being Muslims.
In Response

by: Turgai
May 25, 2011 12:23
“Young men and their families in KG unfortunately will continue the practice as they value marriage and the creation of the family more than rule of law and human rights.”

Medina, the family is the basic unit of a healthy society and those who want to destroy society target the family by setting up women against their families, propagating homosexuality and support prostitution (all under the common denominator of ‘gender’). We all know that ‘human rights and rule of law’ are mere hypocrite development jetset talk.

It’s not that I support the practice of bride kidnapping. It’s nomadic not Islamic (and now that we’re at it, it happens in non-Muslim societies too, e.g. parts of Rwanda, among the Turkana in Kenya and among Roma Gypsies). The reality is that foreign donors and women NGOs focus on the minority of cases that en tragically to advance designs that are far less noble that the well-being of Kyrgyz women.

Far worse than bride kidnapping IMO is the trafficking of women in the sex traffic.

by: Bryan Dale from: USA
May 22, 2011 16:54
What a "no brainer", of course kidnaping should be a criminal act. Only in a barbaric society would this be considered "normal". Wakeup people! Men and women should have the same God given rights and responsibilities. For ALL are created in God's own image and should not be abused. Genesis 1:27

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
May 22, 2011 17:00
The only reason this practice continues is because you can get away with it.
In Response

by: Ingush from: Ingushetia
May 23, 2011 16:45
The only way you cannot get away with it when Islamic Sharia Police officers behead you on the central square for:
1. Kidnapping
2. Rape
3. Forceful marriage
In Response

by: For crazy Ingush
May 24, 2011 12:52
Unfortunately, these days there are so many half-educated Islamists like you!

So, why kidnapping does not stop? Because - half-educated Islamic clerics bless the marriage with "nikah", whithout caring for the "girl's" consent!!! If they had a some knowledge of Sharia law, then they would know that it is forbidden to build a family by force!

Open your eyes, please! Don't try too hard to protect Islam, istead you will destroy it by showing your illiteracy! Next time, just read the article and comments several times before you answer!
In Response

by: Rick from: Boston, USA
June 17, 2011 16:35
I agree %100 Bill. I lived in Kyrgyzstan for over a year and I will honestly say that in general, it is a barbaric society of uneducated and uncultured people. These men who do this are cowards who should be kidnapped themselves and forced to do things they don't want. It's called getting a taste of you own medicine. For those who will attack my comments, I say this! If Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya are'nt uncivilized, then why are the kidnappers not prosecuted by the authorities? Believe me, it will continue because the governments reall don't care. They're animals!!!

by: Anonymous
May 22, 2011 21:36
You are right Aitieva. However, there's no doubt that the whole society will have to face this problem earlier or later. We are all living in a more and more globalized world, and undoubtly, there's an authentical ''cultural face-to-face'' between Western values and thinking, and asian traditions and thinking. If Kyrguizstan pretends to become in a ever more 'modernized' (as said in Western Bloc) and globalized country; they'll have to decide once for all about this issues: Defend or Forget this 'tradition'. Kyrguizstan is the first country that i know that has a female president in the Muslim World, i think is a good opportunity to KG to move forward about this question. After all, everybody knows that in the whole muslim world, only few countries have the reputation of protect women rights (or at least, taking them into account). Otunbayeva, it's your time to make progress in this issue.
In Response

by: Turgai
May 25, 2011 11:51
“Kyrguizstan is the first country that i know that has a female president in the Muslim World,”

Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina), Turkey (Tansu Ciller), Indonesia (Megawati Sukarnoputri) ? What is interesting with at least three of these examples is, that they show that ‘female president’ (or head of govt. , whatever the title) does not automatically mean ‘less corrupt’. :-)
In Response

by: Felipe Muñoz from: Santiago, Chile
May 25, 2011 20:42
Hmm yeah, i really forgot those cases, BUT because they are not politically active actually (or dead, in the case of Benazir Bhutto). The rest of those cases are not really accountable actually in the Post-9/11/2011 world. The approach in the muslim world about issues such as women liberties are a very sensitive issue since that day. Just look at Benazir Bhutto, she is dead; many can say that was an action coming from Musharraf's Govt in the momment, but is quite important to remember that even in his govt., there werean growing presence of more and more 'muslim hardliners' or radicals. Bhutto was destinated to die, no matter Musharraf or muslims hardliners. About Bangladesh, their behaviour compared to Pakistan is quite different (they even thought a war of liberation); and in many ways as society are similar to India (excepting by faith, obviously), so their approach about the relation Faith-Politics is more compared to India than Pakistan and Arab States ^^. Turkey, is quite obviously!, by constitution this country is secular; so they in fact, never the issue of religion was controversial in the political arena (and besides, she is from the 90's :P). The rescent muslim-resurgence in Turkey has been leaded by Erdogan's AKP Party :). And about Megawati Sukarnoputri, she has lived in a country in which for decades, the religion wasnt something determinant in politics; that's why we seen the tensions between Govt. and hardliners. Indonesia has always wanted to be more like Japan, South Korea, etc; that to be like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or the Middle East as example.

But i underlined the case of Otunbayeva, because this countries in Central Asia are living in an increasingly menace from 'fundamentalist islam infiltration' in their societies, coming from North Caucasus and Afghanistan as well. Her appearance in this 'After 9/11 World' shows that countries like Kyrguizstan are avoiding being influencied by 'islam fundamentalism', contrary to what are we witnessing in Tadzhikistan as example. Many or your examples are before of this After 9/11 World, so are not so accountable. The things in the Muslim World have become very sensitive in this last decade, resulting in increased muslim fundementalism world-wide. And always, women are the first targets of the changes from secular to fundamentalist societies.. remember that ;)
In Response

by: Felipe Muñoz from: Santiago, Chile
May 25, 2011 20:50
And at least... it's more easier to tackle the corruption problem in a country like KG, than to fight a deadly fushion between a Fundamentalist and corrupt government, such as Iran. You can expect in a secular government to achieve changes through many ways; however, it's not the same when you have a conjuntion of religious leaders and political figures working and corrupting the country hand by hand... it's nearly impossible to achive something.. just look at Iran. Otunbayeva has been given the duty to tackle problems like this case we are discussing; but the corruption problem is up to the whole society to fight against it.
In Response

by: kamil from: Kyrgyzstan
June 02, 2011 11:59
I can't stand with it, all the time people call KG an Islamic country, It is not! We are pagan culture. We have Islam mixed up with our culture which no one excepts as a belief or faith in God. It's simply part of culture or tradition. So called Islam here became one small domain squeezed into a kyrgyz's life, but it doesn't shape peoples' morals, ethics, politics etc. Rather it is something, that you do not even every Friday evening, in a place called mosque, but when you desire. Whether it is Islam or bride kidnapping both are traditions, although the first one became an instrument or tool for some individuals in public service to popularize themselves by entertaining people. It is so stupid officials talk about Islam, as if they are part of it. Then I think, absurd and bad behavior including corruption, cheating.. you name it.. are also part of the kind of "religion"

by: Bek from: KG
May 23, 2011 17:05
I shame on you for our tradition. It is necessary to re-educate young generation..
In Response

by: Turgai
May 25, 2011 11:56
Baike, I fully agree that the young should be educated but this should not be done wby Westren NGOs and their local cronies since they don’t care about the well-being of Kyrgyzstan and its people, they just want to colonize it.

So if this can be of help:

Understanding the role of Muslim women
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/626-understanding-the-role-of-muslim-women

Капиталистическая кампания против мусульманки
http://www.qirim-vilayeti.org/content/view/334/100/

Роль семьи в Исламе
http://qirim-vilayeti.org/content/view/2167/255/


by: kudos from: Washington, DC
May 23, 2011 21:40
It’s great to see this issue getting publicity. Look at all the discussion this article has already inspired! Tradition is only 'traditional' when people claim that it is tradition and - as @Medina Aitieva @Bill Webb stated above - because people let it happen. Culture can change when people community members challenge it and stand up and say “enough is enough.” It’s not about western culture and eastern culture, or whether or not the practice is Islamic. It’s about what a community chooses to tolerate and accept. Kudos to the brave participants of the rally at Karakol for trying to change the status quo, and for demanding that the laws be enforced. This is a year of great change for Kyrgyzstan, and I hope that you can seize this as an opportunity to better your communities.
In Response

by: Felipe Muñoz from: Santiago, Chile
May 24, 2011 19:43
I didnt said that is some kind of ''cultural clash'' between western ans eastern concepts. I said it by the reason that this kind of 'historical social questionings' ,occurs usually once a society realizes what is happening with their customs is rejected in nearly the whole world. when they began to realize this? when they look to Bible or Quran, and realize that those practices are condemned. But also, when they look at countries such as Russia, and that something like that doesnt exist there. So, in fact, in our modern times, discussions like this are awaking in many other parts of the world. But those have been triggered by the extension of globalisation through Internet, satelite TV, as well as broader radio and TV coverage (like in this case, covered by RFE/RL).

Look at how revolutions in Egypt and Tunicia found expression through social networks, and Internet. So, through the time, cases like this appears and are discussed, because of the views oppinions coming from the whole world. A child won't know what is bad or good, if no one tells him what is bad and good... that's a simple example that explain discussions like this.

by: Jipar from: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
May 24, 2011 09:18
firstly, the pity thing is that very often a man does not know his own future wife. sometimes they try to kidnap one girl, an when failed, just catch first met on the street. so even married woman are kidnapped by occasion sometimes

secondly, the girls decide to suicide, because as it was writtern by someone earlier here, only virginz are prized, so, once girl spends a night under the roof of a man, she is not considered as virgin anymore. so... most probably other men would not accept her anymore.

thirdly... kidnapping is not just kidnapping, but also sexual violation.

fourthly, parents f girl very often also ask her to stay with potential husband. just to avoid rumors. girls know they will nto find support in their own families, and among friends.

only strict legal measures, such as imprisonment. it is sexual violation!
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