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Bride Kidnappers in Kyrgyzstan to Face Harsher Penalties

The Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic is very clear on its position regarding forced marriage. Article 36, Point 5 of the Constitution states: “No marriage may be entered into without voluntary and mutual consent of the couple”.

Nevertheless, bride-kidnapping, or ala kachuu, is still widely practiced as a ‘tradition’ in the villages and provincial towns of Kyrgyzstan.

The Bishkek-based Center for Women estimates [ru] that some 11,800 girls are abducted in the country annually, with around 2,000 of them suffering rape in the process. Most of the kidnappings go unpunished. Only one out of 700 subjected to abduction files a lawsuit against the kidnappers, although the country's criminal code makes [ru] forceful bride-kidnapping punishable by three years in jail.

Most weddings in Kyrgyzstan, like the one on this picture, are not very different from weddings elsewhere in the world. However, thousands of men, mostly in rural areas, follow an ancient tradition by kidnapping a girl they want to marry. Image by Flickr use Evgeni Zotov, uploaded July 28, 2010 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Campaigns against ala kachuu

Women's organizations in Kyrgyzstan have recently been very active in campaigning against bride-kidnapping practices, as was reported by Global Voices earlier. Later in the same summer the article was written, the Association of Crises Centers and Youth Peer Education Network “Y-PEER” continued [ru] the campaign by performing short sketches on why bride-kidnapping should be fought against. Male participants of the campaign were encouraged to sign a pledge to respect women's rights and not to engage in the illegal practice.

Another campaign launched this fall seeks to convince Kyrgyzstan's MPs to introduce harsher penalties for bride-kidnapping. Activists involved in this campaign believe that three years in jail is not a tough enough punishment for someone abducting a girl and forcing her into marriage, while, in comparison, a person stealing a sheep can spend up to 11 years in prison.

MP Kozhobek Ryspaev, something of a hate figure for anti-bride kidnapping campaigners explained [ru] the difference between the two crimes by joking distastefully:

Но ведь скот съедают, а женщин — нет.

Well, livestock is eaten, and women are not.

The latest campaign was triggered by an event that occurred in June 2012 in a small village in Issyk-Kul Province, where a man kidnapped [ru] and raped a young girl. Although the girl's parents found her and took her out of the “groom's” house the same day, the girl soon committed a suicide. On October 1, a local court sentenced the girl's kidnapper to six years in prison in what has become the first criminal case [ru] brought against a bride kidnapper in Kyrgyzstan since its independence.

Debates in parliament

On October 18, under the pressure from activists, the country's parliament passed [ru] a bill making the practice of bride kidnapping punishable by seven years in jail. This was preceded by vigorous debates between MPs.

For instance, MP Irina Karamushkina (Social Democratic Party) argued [ru]:

Умыкание невест, либо кража невесты — это в полном смысле слова кража человека, это похищение человека. Я понимаю, что есть такая традиция, очень такая старая традиция, ее применяют. Но традиция тогда станет традицией, когда обе стороны согласны.

Bride kidnapping is literally a kidnapping of a person, an abduction. I understand that there is such a tradition, a very old tradition, which is still practiced. However, tradition can only become a tradition when both parties agree to it.

MP Kozhobek Ryspaev, however, disagreed [ru], as quoted by blogger Ulukbek Babakulov:

Ужесточение наказания за кражу невесты может привести к тому, что мы пересажаем всех мужчин в Кыргызстане.

Introducing harsher penalties for bride kidnapping may result in imprisoning all of the men in Kyrgyzstan.

Ryspaev's parliamentary colleague Dastan Bekeshev, insisted [ru] on toughening the punishment, suggesting that this would prevent many suicides:

На практике нередки случаи суицида среди девушек. Их родители не знают, как наказать виновных, и иногда готовы даже на самосуд. А потому ужесточение ответственности просто необходимо.

In practice it is not infrequent that girls [subjected to kidnapping and forced marriage] commit suicide. Their parents don't know how to punish the perpetrators, and sometimes they are even ready to lynch the kidnappers. Therefore, tougher punishment is crucial.

MP Shirin Aitmatova supported [ru] her colleague:

Я к этому положительно отношусь. Я думаю, что это правильно.

I have a positive attitude towards this. I think it's right.

Gender issues, such as bride kidnapping, are coming to the forefront in Kyrgyz society thanks to tireless civic activism. In this campaign, designed by the Bishkek Feminists civic group, advocates argue for an increase in the quota of women in the parliament. The translation from Kyrgyz reads: “Woman, your place is in THIS house.”

Ironically though, less than a week later, Aitmatova's parliamentary assistant kidnapped [ru] a TV journalist, whom he had dated in the past, in order to marry her.

Moreover, as Ulugbek Babakulov reminded [ru] readers of his blog:

Но, к сожалению, трезвомыслящих парламентариев в ЖК меньшинство и, как показывает практика, их голос часто тонет в гуле голосов гораздо менее достойных народоизбранников

Unfortunately, sober-minded parliamentarians are a minority in the [Kyrgyz Parliament], and practice has shown that their voices is often impossible to hear in the roar of voices of much less worthy popular representatives

As part of the sustained civic campaign against bride-kidnapping, a bike ride was also organized [ru] in Bishkek on October 28, under the slogan: “Cycling and I are against violence”.

N.B At the risk of giving over the impression that all female Kyrgyz TV personalities suffer kidnapping at least once during their lives (they don't), Global Voices will round up reactions to the mock abduction” of a separate female TV presenter by tabloid journalists next week.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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