BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz lawmakers have passed a bill in its second reading to increase the maximum jail term for bride kidnapping from three to 10 years.
A third reading is needed before the new legislation is adopted by parliament and the president needs to ratify the bill for it to enter into force.
The legislation's supporters say it will help better protect women’s rights and tackle the persistent phenomenon of early marriage in Kyrgyzstan.
There is no reliable figure, but rights activists estimated nearly 12,000 women and girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage annually in Kyrgyzstan.
Many of the abducted brides are less than 18 -- the minimum legal age for marriage.
Critics say women and girls coerced into early marriage often are denied legal rights and opportunities of education, and become the victims of forced domestic labor.
Early marriage is generally not registered with the state, leaving the girls with few legal rights.
Some 30 Kyrgyz human rights activists picketed the parliament earlier on October 18, demanding tougher punishment.