By: Samantha Peko
“Tell my dad I am still a virgin; I hope I am leaving for a peaceful place now,” read the suicide note of a 17 year-old girl who was kidnapped.
Bride kidnapping is called “ala kachuu” in Kyrgyz. Typically, ala kachuu involves a girl being abducted, taken to a man’s home and then coerced by his family into marriage. Once the girl is taken, she cannot go back to her family.
About one third of Kyrgyzstani girls are married this way, most are younger than 18 and it occurs in all regions of Kyrgyzstan, Russell Kleinbach explained. Kleinbach is the program director for the Kyz-Korgon Institute. He has led several studies and educational outreach programs since 2003. His research showed that bride kidnapping was uncommon prior to the Soviet-era but many Kyrgyz believe it is an ancient tradition which justifies the act of kidnapping.
Ala kachuu tradition
Nuraiym Orozobekova became an advocate after almost being kidnapped herself. She avoided this fate after being warned of a family friend’s son’s plot from her mother.
“I wanted to choose my husband myself, so I decided to help our Kyrgyz women who are in this situation,” she said.
She has coordinated several anti-bride kidnapping projects at the Kyz-Korgon Institute and the sociology department at the American University of Central Asia. Through her advocacy, Orozobekova has been able to lead educational programs that de-romanticizes bride kidnapping.
“Bride kidnapping was always one of the biggest challenges for girls and women in Kyrgyzstan,” said Aishoola Aisaeva, who is a member of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ.
One of the problems with bride kidnapping is that it starts to seem normal to those don’t know what the alternatives are, she explained. Aisaeva talked about a woman she knew that was kidnapped by a man she had not met just after she had completed her education at a local university. Despite years of being in a difficult marriage, later in life, the kidnapped bride consented to the marriages of three of her daughters by kidnap and pressured her son into kidnapping her now daughter-in-law, Aisaeva recalled.
The act of bride kidnapping remains prevalent
in Kyrgyzstan. | Photo courtesy of VICE News
“Why can't girls just leave? It's scary,” she asked.
Aisaeva blames societal pressure.
“If a woman was kidnapped and left the house [her captor’s], it will mean that she has already been in a marriage and not pure anymore. It makes families of kidnapped girls afraid of being ashamed of that,” she said.
If a girl is lucky enough to learn about the plot beforehand, some women find refuge in their family or friends’ homes because most police officers do not offer any protection, she explained.
“It happened with my cousin, who lived in my home for one month, until the man finally stopped coming to her house and kidnapped another girl,” she said.
Sevara Khaldarova, a project assistant for Open Line Organization, explained that many men kidnap women because of peer pressure. Open Line researches and documents violations against women’s rights, particularly on bride abduction. Khaldarova said that a lot of kidnapping occurs when a man’s friends are already married but he is unsuccessful. Then, his friends might tell him to kidnap a girl and even offer their help. Kleinbach conducted seminars in 37 schools and surveyed a total 608 male and female students. According to his 2015 report to UNICEF, 67% of the respondents said that men kidnap girls because other men do.
Underlying the sense of societal obligation is the sentiment that Kyrgyz women are property of their husbands. Azat Ruziev, a native of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, said that there are a lot of people that are just stupid.
“One of the deepest root of most problems in Kyrgyzstan is that some people think they are better than others and they have rights to do what they want with people around. They do not carry consider a girl as a human, for them is just an item, that you can steal. After wedding this item has to make children, clean houses, take care of this stupid man and sometimes his parents,” he said.
Under Kyrgyz Criminal Code Article 155, “kidnapping a woman to marry against her will” is illegal. After amendments were made in 2013, the sentence changed from a fine to five to seven years imprisonment.
Banur Abdieva is a civil initiative leader with an organization called Youth Volunteer Organization (YVO) Leader. She was also actively involved in the “without spring” campaign that asked for harsher punishments for men who kidnapped their brides.
|President Almazbek Atambayev signed a law in 2013|
increasing the penalty for bride kidnapping in
Kyrgyzstan from a fine to five to seven years in prison. | Photo
courtesy of Dawn News.
This campaign started when the Alliance of Women’s Legislative of Issy-Kul region in Karakol protested to amend the Kyrgyz criminal code on May 18, 2011 after two girls in the region committed suicide after being kidnapped. Venus Kasymalieva committed suicide on December, 18 2010 and Nurzat Kalykova on March 9, 2011. Civil action taken during the first six-month period after the first tragedy. Abdieva remembered nearly 2,000 people came to support the cause, holding spring flowers (a stock symbol).
The next year, June 2012, there was another bride that committed suicide in Karakol.
Abdieva and other activists spoke with the husband’s family after, “his family were puzzled why the daughter Dinara [the bride who committed suicide] was so unruly.” She explained that the husband and family did not feel that they had done anything wrong, and attributed this to the light punishment that men received even if a suit was filed.
After 20 months, the law was signed by President Atambaev on January 28, 2013.
However, there still remains the problem of enforcing it.
“Law enforcement agencies do not adequately respond to bride kidnapping situations and they often use moralistic, sexist attitude towards both women who were bride kidnapped and women human rights defenders who are defending them,” said Saadat, who is an advocate with the Bishkek Feminist Initiatives (BFI) and asked to be identified by her first name only. BFI runs community house and feminist education projects, anti-violence and sexual rights advocacy campaigns and promotes the rights of women human rights defenders.