Kyrgyzstan’s Kidnapped Brides
In 2006, movie audiences roared when Sacha Baron Cohen snatched Pamela Anderson after getting an autograph from the actress. While Borat was a comedy, the scene actually showed a frightening reality for women in Kyrgyzstan where bride kidnapping is a widely accepted practice.
In small mountain villages, there is sometimes a lack of available young women to marry. Young men don’t have a chance to date or they can’t find a local girl who is interested romantically. There is additional family pressure for young men and women to marry in their late teens or early twenties before they are too old and no one wants them anymore. For men in mountain villages, they also don’t have enough money for a dowry. The combination of all these factors adds up to marriage kidnappings.
Some of the plans are more elaborate with the man stalking his potential bride for days or weeks before he gets together a few of his friends to steal her away. The groom usually rents a car or hires a taxi so they can make a quick getaway after grabbing the girl. They take the girl to the groom’s home where his parents have prepared for the wedding, and the groom’s female relatives coerce the girl into staying through emotional manipulation and physical force. It is recognized that once the girl has the wedding scarf on her head, she has accepted the marriage and is ready to go ahead with the wedding. Some girls have the scarf forced upon their head, and when the girl tries to return to her family, she is rejected. Her family assumes that she is no longer a virgin, and they will bring shame on their house if they let her return home.
Many of the women who marry their kidnappers do so out of desperation. They feel that their only choices are to just accept the marriage and get it over with, struggle and end up eventually accepting the marriage anyways, or refuse to marry their kidnapper and return home with shame. Norkuz, a girl who fought but eventually married her kidnapper, explains, “I couldn’t marry my true love. Only 1 in 100 Kyrgyz girls marries her true love. Our life is about kidnapping, accepting, and living on.”
No one should live in fear of kidnapping. No one’s life should be about accepting a practice that is illegal and violates a person’s basic human rights. Whether its practitioners like it or not, marriage kidnapping has been illegal since 1994. They are breaking the law. Proponents of marriage kidnapping claim that outsiders should not judge it based on their cultural standards and should instead try to see it through the eyes of Kyrgyz people. As a woman, however, I cannot accept a practice where a woman’s will is disregarded and struggling and crying are considered part of the tradition. To those who still defend it, I ask them to consider the case of Kyal. She was kidnapped right outside of her home by men claiming to be classmates and shoved into a waiting car. After four days, her father brought her body home. Her kidnappers claim that she hung herself, though Kyal’s father suspects that she was raped.
People think that women’s struggle for equal rights is over or that women have not suffered in the same way as other oppressed people groups. If this is true, then the young women of Kyrgyzstan will have to keep fighting alone, their fate in the hands of a man who could not find a woman who would marry him willingly.
You can read more about marriage kidnapping on Global Post at http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/asia/100721/bride-kidnapping-kyrgyzstan or on PBS’s Frontline World website at http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/kyrgyzstan/thestory.html.