"Bride Kidnapping"

Last updated July 2019

Some forced marriages are preceded by so called “bride kidnapping”. The term “bride kidnapping” is used to describe the harmful practice of a man or group of men abducting a young girl or woman for the purpose of forcing her into a marriage to which she would not otherwise consent to.

While this harmful practice occurs in many regions of the world, bride kidnapping is particularly notorious in Kyrgyzstan. One local NGO estimated more than 11,800 cases of bride kidnapping occur annually in Kyrgyzstan, and that over 2,000 of those women and girls reported being raped after their abduction. [1] Another study found that around 20% of Kyrgyz women and girls had been kidnapped for marriage.[2] In Kyrgyzstan, so called “bride kidnapping” follows a normative succession of events:

The first event is the abduction, which involves a young man and his male friends taking a young woman (typically by force or deception) into a car, and she is then taken to his parent’s house or the home of a close relative…. Frequently, the girls are raped immediately after the kidnapping…. The second event occurs when a member of the groom’s household presents the girl with a marriage scarf…. Often she is physically and psychologically coerced to submit and marry her kidnapper. Placing the marriage scarf over her hair indicates that she accepts the marriage. In the third event, the girl is asked to write a letter of consent to the marriage to her family… [and is subject to] extreme social pressure to stay, and most girls make this choice even if it goes against their true wishes…. The letter is the precursor of the fourth event, when the groom’s relatives send an official apology; they traditionally bring their daughter’s letter of “consent,” sheep, and many other gifts.[3]

This narrative is one that facially provides a woman with the choice to refuse to marry her kidnapper, either by rejecting the marriage scarf or refusing to write the letter. However, in practice, women are not provided with an opportunity to refuse due to social pressure.

[1] New Law in Kyrgyzstan Toughens Penalties for Bride Kidnapping, U.N. Women (Feb. 6, 2013), http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/2/new-law-in-kyrgyzstan-toughens-penalties-for-bride-kidnapping.

[2] Lin Taylor, One in Five Girls and Women are Kidnapped for Marriage in Kyrgyzstan: Study, Reuters (Aug. 1, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kyrgyzstan-women-bride-kidnapping/one-in-five-girls-and-women-kidnapped-for-marriage-in-kyrgyzstan-study-idUSKBN1AH5GI.

[3] Ryan Muldoon & Ursula Casabonne, World Bank Group, Gender Norms in Flux: Bride Kidnapping and Women’s Civic Participation in the Kyrgyz Republic 6 (2017).