Forcible Bridal Abduction is Subject of National Debate in Kyrgyzstan
Sunday, May 1, 2005 12:25 PM

"A good marriage should begin with tears." Kyrgyz Proverb

Over 50 percent of married women in Kyrgyzstan were kidnapped by their husbands; at least a third of all brides are taken against there will in an act of violence. The Kyrgyz practice is known as "ala kachuu," which translates approximately to "grab and run." Women and girls are taken off the street or from their homes to a man’s house and kept overnight. In the man’s home, the man’s family forces the woman into a white shawl which is called a "jooluk,:" a symbol of her submission. By tainting the women’s reputation and status as a virgin, the man coerces her into marriage.

The custom, although sometimes a ceremonial act between consenting partners, has its roots in tribal traditions of stealing women and horses from rival tribes. The practice is looked at by some Kyrgyz men as simpler than dating and less expensive that paying a standard "bride price." Talant Bakchiev, 34, a graduate student in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said, explaining his participation in abductions: "Men steal women to show that they are men."

The practice has technically been illegal for some time, formerly under the laws of the Soviet Union and now under the 1994 Kyrgyz Criminal Code, but the law has rarely been enforced. The law is not well known, and prosecutions stemming from abductions are rare and usually are for an accompanying assault or rape.

There is growing awareness in Kyrgyzstan that bride kidnapping is a significant problem. In 2004, Canadian filmmaker Petr Lom, released a documentary about the practice. Russell Kleinbach, a sociology professor at Bishkek's American University, has been studying the practice. Lom and Kleinbach’s work on the issue have helped spur a national debate. Both men have publicized cases of abductions ending in the death of the woman. Kleinbach tells of a woman whose body was found in a river four days after her abduction. The family that abducted her was never charged with murder. Lom's film documents the mourning of a woman who hanged herself after being kidnapped. Her family was also unsuccessful in bringing her abductors to trial.

Kyrgyzstan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1995. In January 2004, Kyrgyzstan’s second periodic report was considered by the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW was provided information by women’s NGOs that the Kyrgyzstan government has been lax in protecting women from bride kidnapping, and is not enforcing the criminal prohibition on the practice. The Committee expressed disapproval at the Kyrgyzstan government’s acceptance of this discriminatory cultural practice and urged the Government to monitor the practice and take active steps to eliminate it.

Compiled from "The Bridal 'Grab and Run'" International Herald Tribune 29 April, 2005; "Interview with Petr Lom: Marriage by Abduction"; Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 30th Session, 12-30 January 2004.