Bride Kidnapping

last updated June 2010

Bride kidnapping is a phenomenon in some cultures in which a young girl or woman is abducted by an individual or group wishing to force that girl into a marriage which she and her family would not otherwise consent to. This could be due to a lack of money to pay a bride price or due to the character of the prospective husband. The abducted girl or young woman is held against her will and subjected to rape by the prospective husband. In such cultures, the loss of virginity, though it is through forcible rape, makes the victim unmarriageable. This circumstance often leads to the parents of the girl agreeing to a marriage between victim and perpetrator to preserve the honour of the family. Another unfortunate effect of this practice is that many parents of girls agree to marriages for their daughters at very young ages to protect them from the practice of bride kidnapping. This practice is common primarily in Central Asia, the Caucuses, Africa (particularly Ethiopia), Chechnya, and Kyrgystan.
Bride kidnapping and forced marriages are closely related. For example, in the conflict in Sierra Leone, a common practice was for young girls and women to be abducted by soldiers and forced to serve as “bush wives,” wherein the girls are subjected to rape, forced labor and servitude, and sexual slavery. By equating such situations with marriage, survivors of this practice frequently face stigma and social ostracism based upon cultural and religious attitudes about marriage in a way distinguishable from other sexual violence occurring during war time. The distinction was recognized by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the landmark case of Prosecutor v. Bima, Mara and Kanu (AFRC Case). In this decision, forced marriage was recognized as a separate category of crime against humanity under international criminal law.
Stormorken, Lalaine Sadiwa, Vincent, Katrine, Vervik, Ann-Kristin, & Santisteban, Ruth. No More Excuses! Ending all Harmful Traditional Practices against Girls and Young Women, Plan Norway and Plan Finland, 2007.