Voices from Eurasia

A Call to Action: Stop “Bride Kidnapping"


Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference.

One of the less pleasant things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel tradition of “bride kidnapping”.

Recent research from local NGOs show that at least fifty percent of the marriages in the country involve elements of this ritual.

Essentially, “bride kidnapping” is the ritual of ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper.

In the best-case scenario, she is subject to enormous psychological pressure and brainwash from female relatives of the kidnapper to accept the marriage; the rest of the time, she is a subject of rape.

I read a lot of sad stories about this tradition, most of which consist of cultural justifications based on the poor economic situation of Kyrgyzstan. But perhaps the most striking story of all is the direct account of a dark-eyed young woman who I will call Roza.

Roza’s Story

Roza was “kidnapped” twice, first at the age of nineteen, the second time at twenty-three. In both cases, she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home.

As though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle, and she the spoils.

The first time she was kidnapped, Roza was brought into a nicely set room with tea and plov where her potential mother-in-law kept praising the virtues and qualities of her son. “A hard worker and mild person,” she described him. Roza stubbornly refused to consent to the marriage. Many other women joined the room, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with screams and threats.

After a neverending night, she was finally allowed to leave. Once home, she had to face her father’s anger and outrage for putting herself and the entire family in this “shameful” situation. According to his advice, she should have accepted the marriage with the kidnapper even though she barely knew him.

The second time there was no tea or plov offered. She was raped.

In both cases she refused marriage, provoking the anger of the aspiring groom and her father. Now Roza has two children from a husband she chose of her own will.

The scars inside her never healed.

Roza often needs to use “emergency pills” when the nightmares of her trauma come back to haunt her.

Overall, she describes herself as lucky: Most of her school friends have been kidnapped at least once. She says:

“Some have agreed, some have refused, some have committed suicide. Others decided to get married as early as possible in order to avoid getting caught in a similar situation.”

In all cases, the best years of their lives have been ruined by the fear of violence and of becoming an involuntary bride.

This is the kind of trauma that lives on.

A call to action

A lot of work has been done to stop the custom of "bride kidnapping", as well as other forms of violence against women, in Kyrgyzstan.

Still, the efforts are far from enough.

Recent studies reveal that 32 women are kidnapped for marriage every day. Criminal investigations are rare, with only 1 out of 700 cases prosecuted.

Let’s all work together to prevent this ritual from happening. We must stop romanticizing this tradition, and give it the name it deserves.

There is no bride in this picture – there are only kidnappings, rapes, tortures and suicides.

Let’s stop calling it “bride kidnapping,” and let’s work together to prevent it from hurting more women.

Blog post Kyrgyzstan Rule of law Human rights Sexual and gender-based violence

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