Kyrgyzstan: Parliament Fails to Pass Bill Discouraging Bride Kidnapping
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:10 PM

Bride kidnapping, the practice of abducting women and girls in order to force them into marriage, is illegal in Kyrgyzstan. However, the approval of a local mullah, an Islamic cleric, can validate the marriage in the eyes of the community which enables perpetrators to avoid registering the marriage with the state. A bill that could have helped curtail this practice was recently defeated in parliament. The bill called for fines for Islamic clerics who bless marriages that are not registered with the state; a member of parliament contended that the bride-kidnapping bill failed to garner enough votes because it could also be used to crack down on polygamy. Experts believe polygamy is widespread among men who can afford to have more than one wife. Thus, many legislators, especially those from rural areas, were unwilling to support a law that might anger their constituents.

The bill’s failure frustrated many female legislators. Asiya Sasykbayeva, a parliamentary deputy from the Ata-Meken party, explained that she believes the political will to combat bride kidnapping exists. She pointed to the passage of a 2011 law that increased the legal marriage age from 16 to 17 to help protect school-age girls from forced marriage. However, she explained, “…it is well known that unofficial polygamy exists in Kyrgyzstan. I think many deputies voted to defend their private interests.”

Advocates for victims of bride kidnapping were also disappointed. Munara Beknazarova of Open Line, a Bishkek-based NGO that offers support to victims, said many mullahs are aware that bride abduction is "against Islamic principles" but still bless marriages if the bride says she has consented. However, she explained, the bride is often coerced into consenting before the mullah arrives for the ceremony through physical intimidation, threats, and rape. Experts agree that discouraging mullahs from blessing this type of marriage is essential because the practice of bride kidnapping has persisted despite being legally prohibited. A study by the Kyz-Korgon Institute, an NGO that seeks to raise awareness about bride kidnapping, showed that 45 percent of women married in the provincial town of Karakol in 2010 and 2011 had been kidnapped.

Compiled from: Efforts to Tackle Bride Kidnapping Hit Polygamy Snag, Inter Press Service, (11 February 2012).