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Kazakh 'Bridenapping' Caught On Video

An illustrative photo from the Kyz Korgon Institute, an NGO that campaigns to eliminate bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, where it is also common but illegal.
An illustrative photo from the Kyz Korgon Institute, an NGO that campaigns to eliminate bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, where it is also common but illegal.
Ah, romance -- the kicking, the hair-pulling, the slapping, the shouts from in-laws that "this marriage is going to happen!"

These are the memories of a Kazakh "bridenapping" that can be shared with everyone now that a video of a one-sided courtship has made it to Facebook.

Shot in the dark of night, the video sheds light on a nomadic tradition that is rarely seen in the open.

At first, the shaky camera reveals only the occasional blurry image, providing no reasons for the piercing cries of a woman, the barking dogs, and the giggles and harried conversations taking place in the background.

But then, an unseen male gives a clear directive: "Make sure she puts her right foot forward when she is stepping into the home for the first time." Doing so, superstition holds, ensures a happy and prosperous family life.

Once under the light, a young woman in a red dress gets her first look at her abductors, and future family members. "Don't hold me! Why are you holding me? Why are you talking to me like this? I want to leave," she says. "What are you talking about? I will leave. Why? Why?"

WATCH: Amateur footage of an abducted woman being forced into marriage in southern Kazakhstan
Kazakh 'Bride-Napping'
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Her efforts to flee futile, she is ushered kicking and screaming out of the kitchen, through a dark hallway, past a prepared dinner table, and into a back room.

There a group of men and women of various ages take turns trying to force upon her a white scarf -- the traditional symbol of an accepted marriage proposal.

When the offer is demonstratively refused, the group employs various methods to change her mind. She is pushed and pulled, slapped, screamed at, and gets in a hair-pulling wrestling match with one of the younger women in the group.

"That is it! This [marriage] is going to happen!" shouts one woman. "We are going to make you wear this white scarf anyway."

"Why are placing obstacles in the way of your own bright future?" a male voice asks. "You should be ashamed of yourself!" scolds another, while a woman warns: "Don't make us upset."

"No, no, no!" the young woman insists. "I'm not going to sit, I won't stay in this house. I'll leave. Let me go!"

But her pleas fall on deaf ears: "No one is letting you out from this house."

'Abducted In Broad Daylight'

This video was posted on the Facebook page of Kairat Kozhabekov, who wrote that he recorded the scene on his mobile phone in the Maktaaralsk district of Southern Kazakhstan Oblast.

The post provided only a vague clue as to when it was recorded, announcing that the girl eventually agreed to the marriage and has since given birth to a son.

Kozhabekov wrote on Facebook that bride kidnapping is a widespread phenomenon in his native southern Kazakhstan, but as the video was shared, outrage followed.

"Disgrace! This is a violation of human rights," wrote Kazakh Facebook user Bakhytzhan Duysenov. "You can't play with someone's life like this," commented Kazakh blogger Ansa Mustafa.

The blogger recalled that two of her female friends were kidnapped and forced to marry, but both marriages ended in divorce. "One of the girls was 19 years old when three men abducted her in broad daylight, forced her into a car, and took her to the prospective groom's house," Mustafa wrote.

"Like the scene depicted in the video, my friend also resisted and cried for help. But the mother of the 'groom' put bread and a white scarf before the girl and laid down on the floor to obstruct the girl's way. 'You will be very unhappy all your life if you walk over these three sacred things,'" the woman told her.

The girl relented, and her spouse turned out to be an alcoholic who had no chance of finding a mate otherwise, Mustafa concluded.

Illegal But Unpunished

In the wake of the video's posting, some have called for all the men and women involved in the kidnapping to be brought to justice. But it is highly unusual in Kazakhstan for victims to turn to the authorities for help.

That helps keep bridenapping in the dark, with little known about it other than that it takes place.

The tradition dates back centuries, although it customarily took place with the bride's consent. Today's nonconsensual bridenappings often involve single men who could not otherwise find a wife.

In many cases, complete strangers are targeted, and the groom gains the benefit of avoiding the costly wedding parties and expensive gifts associated with conventional weddings.

Like any other kidnapping, bridenapping is a criminal offense in Kazakhstan and is punishable by up to seven years in prison, says Almaty-based lawyer Nura Tynyskyzy. While local tradition may recognize unions forged by kidnapping, the lawyer says, they are not valid in the eyes of the law.

"Kazakhstan's family and marriage law stipulates that marriage is a voluntary union," Tynyskyzy says. "If one of the parties don't want to make such union, the marriage is considered illegal."

Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service correspondent Maqpal Mukanqyzy
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