Frequency of Non-Consensual Bride Kidnapping
in The Kyrgyz Republic
Russ L, Kleinbach, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania PA, 19144
This research was
done in the summer of 2001
International Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol. 8, 2003
kidnapping (ala kachuu) in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) is the act of
abducting a woman to marry her and includes actions ranging from consensual
marriage to kidnapping, rape and forced marriage. This paper is based on a
survey of 1322 marriages and provides evidence that as many as one-half of
ethnic Kyrgyz marriages were the result of kidnappings, and that as many as
two-thirds of these kidnap-marriages were non-consensual (against the will of
the women). This sample suggests that approximately one-third of ethnic Kyrgyz
women may be married against their will as a result of bride kidnapping.
Introduction: Non-consensual bride kidnapping is common and probably increasing
Bride kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic
(ala kachuu in Kyrgyz) is the act of abducting a woman to marry her and
includes a variety of actions ranging from consensual marriage to kidnapping and
rape. Typically a bride kidnapping involves a young man and his friends taking
a young woman by force or deception to the home of his parents or a near
relative. She is held in a room and his female relatives convince her to put on
the marriage scarf. If necessary she is kept over night and is thus threatened
by the shame of no longer being a pure woman. When she agrees, all relatives
are notified and a marriage celebration takes place in the following few days.
The Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) is a former Soviet Republic in central Asia.
It is a mountainous country approximately the size of Minnesota, with
approximately 58% of its 4.7 million people being ethnic Kyrgyz. While bride
kidnapping does occur occasionally among other ethnic groups, this research has
focused primarily on the ethnic Kyrgyz.
In 1999 Sarah Amsler and I published a study describing the practice of bride
kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic.
The results of that research which was based on 225 cases can be summarized as
is very little consensus among the population as to its causes or legitimacy.
Understandings of bride kidnapping are often gender specific, i.e., there is a
notable difference between the male and female responses as to how and why
kidnappings take place.
Approximately 25% of current kidnappings are consensual, although the two-thirds
of the respondents who were female said 14% were consensual, whereas the
one-third male respondents said 44% were consensual.
Bride kidnapping is almost exclusively an ethnic Kyrgyz practice in the Kyrgyz
Republic, although as will pointed out below, it is more common than first
thought among other ethnic groups.
Approximately 19% of kidnapped women do not know their kidnappers.
Approximately 54% of the men loved the women they kidnapped and 28% of women
loved the men who kidnapped them.
Approximately 17% of kidnappings do not result in marriage, because either the
woman or her family stopped the marriage.
The most common reasons given for why a woman was kidnapped included a) the
parents of the woman might not agree to the marriage, b) to prevent the woman
from marrying another man, c) it is a good traditional way to get a bride, d)
the woman might refuse a marriage proposal, and e) the man was unable to pay the
Although bride kidnapping is illegal in the Kyrgyz Republic (Criminal Code,
1994), there is little or no evidence that laws against it are actively
enforced. This raises serious questions concerning the violation of women’s
There is additional published material describing the practice (“Being Stolen,”
1995; Handrahan, 2000a, 2000b; Lloyd-Roberts, 1999a, 1999b; “Bride kidnapping
rife,” 2001) but none documenting its frequency. L.M. Handrahan writes that
“kidnapping has surged since Kyrgyzstan declared independence in 1991, largely
because it is seen as a positive Kyrgyz cultural identity marker that was denied
the Kyrgyz by Soviet rule” (2000a), and “has become rampant” (2000b), and a
recent article in The Straits Times, is titled “Bride kidnapping rife in
Kyrgyzstan” (2001). Kathleen Kuehnast refers to “the public revival of
bride-stealing,” in a paper that discusses the contradictions facing Kyrgyz
women in this period of capitalist freedoms, resurgent Islam and national
traditions (1998, p. 642). A chapter on “Violence Against Women,” states that
it has been “revived since independence, may be used to excuse and justify
violence against women,” and is “reportedly increasing” (1999, p. 79). The
Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) calls for increased empirical data on
violence against women. This study attempts to provide such empirical data.
Cynthia Werner asserted that in the past few decades, approximately 80% of
marriages in a rural region of southern Kazakhstan were by kidnapping (1997, p.
6). Estimates as to the frequency of kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic
appear occasionally in conversation or on list-serve discussions (Schoeberlein-Engel,
1997), and one source writes that “some estimates suggest one in five marriages
among ethnic Kyrgyz involves bride stealing, though it is not always
involuntary” (Violence, 1999, p. 79). One can also find suggestions that
it is more common in one area of the country or another, more common in the
villages than the cities (“Extra Wife,” 1997), and more consensual in the cities
than the villages (Handrahan 2000b; Megoran, 1997). L.M. Handrahan in her
essays argues convincingly that the practice is increasing and theorizes as to
the political-economic and cultural reasons why it is increasing (2000a, 2000b).
She goes on to say, “While there are no published statistics on the number of
women kidnapped as brides, a 1999 survey conducted by the author throughout the
country provided evidence to support the thesis that bride kidnapping has become
endemic. An estimated one out of ten respondents named bride kidnapping as their
tradition of choice -- that which distinguished Kyrgyz culture” (2000b).
Two questionnaires were developed, one to be used in a village or
part of a village, the other to be used with high school students. Each sought
to provide information about a) the person filling out the questionnaire, b) the
ethnicity of the respondent’s family, c) the number of married women in the
respondent’s family, and d) the number of those women who had been
bride-kidnapped. In addition the questionnaires asked the age of each kidnapped
woman, the date of the kidnapping and whether or not a) she knew the man who
kidnapped her, b) she wanted to be kidnapped, c) she helped plan the kidnapping,
and d) the kidnapping resulted in marriage. In the spring of 2001 these
teacher-surveyors and two other Kyrgyz colleagues collected data in their
respective villages and cities, and in June I traveled to each location to
collect the questionnaires and individual stories, and to meet with local people
interested in the research. Several individual stories reported by individual
women are included in Appendix A at the end of this paper.
Varied methods and results
Village # 1, in newly formed Batken Oblast in the south, is a small
village (cc 5,000) made up of seven sub-villages. The teacher-surveyor there
trained some of his students to go house to house with the questionnaires to all
homes of one sub-village and in small bordering sections of the two other
sub-villages. Not all families agreed to fill out the questionnaires; some had
reservations about giving information for an American professor. The
teacher-surveyor suggested there might have been some under-reporting, although
this seems unlikely as they reported 73% of the 128 marriages were the result of
kidnapping. This is a high figure in the context of the overall results of this
study. However, in this village only 37% of 60 kidnap-marriages on which we
have data were non-consensual. Thus while this village’s data gave the highest
percentage of kidnap-marriages, it also had the lowest percentage of
kidnap-marriages that were non-consensual. A projection of these figures
suggests that approximately 27% of the women in this community were married
against their will as a result of kidnapping. The teacher-surveyor believes it
is a growing practice among younger people, e.g., he opposes kidnapping and had
not kidnapped his wife, but his eldest son and his son’s friend each kidnapped a
wife just a year earlier while both they and the young women were university
students in Osh. The son and the young woman he kidnapped had dated but she did
not want or help plan the kidnapping.
Village # 2, in Jalal Abad Oblast in the south, is a somewhat larger
village (30,000). The teacher-surveyor here had questionnaires filled out by
all the students in three of her upper level high-school English classes, all of
the adult students in one of her evening English classes, and all the high
school teachers present in her school on a given day. Combining this data,
which did not vary significantly by group, 64% of 244 marriages were the result
of kidnapping. Sixty-five percent of the 107 kidnap-marriages on which we have
data were non-consensual. This gives a relatively high projection of 42% of the
women in the village being married against their will as a result of
While I was in this village the teacher-surveyor arranged opportunities for me
to meet groups of students and teachers in two different high schools.
Of the 49 students attending these meetings, 49% of their mothers had been
married by kidnapping. My host teacher-surveyor here was not kidnapped but her
three brothers kidnapped wives, and three of her five sisters were kidnapped.
This village is in the south and close to Uzbekistan. The consensus here is
that although kidnapping is common among the Kyrgyz population, there is little
or no bride kidnapping among the 40% Uzbek population. However, there is some
with the Poor, 2000/01, pp. 14 & 42) that
the practice is becoming common in some areas of
Osh, the second largest city in the country is also in the south
(Osh Oblast). Here data was collected from several university classes and the
adults in a Christian group. Data was also collected by an Uzbek
teacher-surveyor who teaches in an Uzbek school and did not have access to
Kyrgyz students so he had his questionnaires filled out by medical people in the
hospital where his wife works, and by asking people he approached on the
street. Interestingly, he witnessed a drive-by kidnapping while asking people
to fill out his questionnaires. Collectively the Osh data show 51% of 553
marriages were the result of kidnapping, and 67% of the 217 kidnap-marriages on
which we have data were non-consensual. This gives a projection of 34% of the
Osh women being married against their will as a result of kidnapping.
Village # 3, in Naryn Oblast in the center/north, has about 15,000
people and is the poorest of the regions on which I have data. The
teacher-surveyor was able to get only a limited number of questionnaires filled
From this set of questionnaires I cannot estimate frequency because for some
reason many people did not fill out the frequency portion of the
questionnaires. However, from the data and conversations with several people in
the village, I believe it has been common for many years and is still frequent.
This is evident by the dates of the reported cases (61% took place before 1990)
and the frequency of more than one case per household. There were 45
kidnappings reported on the 27 questionnaires and only three questionnaires
reported no kidnappings among married women in their families. One unusual
aspect of the data from this village is that one-third of the reported
kidnappings did not result in marriages. Usually that figure is closer to 17%.
These questionnaires did provide consent/non-consent data on 35
kidnap-marriages, 71% of them were non-consensual.
Village # 4, in Chuy Oblast in the north, is somewhat larger than Village # 3
with a population of approximately 65,000. The teacher-surveyor collected data
from two English classes. The data from
these classes show 63% of 96 Kyrgyz marriages were the result of kidnapping and
75% of the 51 kidnap-marriages on which we have consent data were
non-consensual. This suggests that 47% of the Kyrgyz women in this community
were married against their will as a result of kidnapping.
Village # 5 in Issyk-Kul Oblast in the northeast is a small village
of approximately 4,500. The teacher-surveyor in this village had 95 women she
knew fill out the questionnaires. All of them had been kidnapped. These
questionnaires provide good information on level of consent but no useful data
on frequency. A very high 84% of these 95 kidnap-marriages were non-consensual.
While in the village I met with six of the women teachers in the local school.
I learned that four of the six had been kidnapped. When I asked about their
mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law and daughters I learned that
approximately two-thirds of those women were married by kidnapping. This group
seemed to be representative of frequency found in other communities in the
Village # 6 is another small village of approximately 300 families in Issyk-Kul
Oblast in the north. Here a Kyrgyz friend whose relatives live there went door
to door and gathered data on marriages in 100 Kyrgyz households, most of the
homes on one side of the village.
Many respondents were women who gave information on themselves.
They reported 168 marriages of which only 46 (27%) were by kidnapping, all but
two of which resulted in marriage. Only 59% percent of these kidnap marriages
were non-consensual. This suggests that only 16% of the Kyrgyz women in this
community were married against their will as a result of kidnapping.
These low numbers may be accounted for by the fact that some of the families
refused to give any data. The young man who collected the data believes that
since some of the women did not know him they were afraid that he was from the
police and that he would bother them in the future if they admitted doing what
is officially illegal.
The village is somewhat smaller but only a
few hours drive away from Village # 5, yet it appears to have a much lower
percentage of women kidnapped for marriage. Further study of Villages #5 and #6
is needed to get a more accurate frequency count in this region.
Bishkek is the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic and is located and in
the north. It is the largest city with a population of approximately 800,000.
A student at the American University in Kyrgyzstan surveyed the graduating class
of 67 students and got 57 of them to fill out questionnaires. However, more
than half of these students were not ethnic Kyrgyz. The 19 Kyrgyz students
filling out questionnaires reported 133 marriages in their families and only 28
kidnappings or only a 21% kidnappings to marriage ratio. This is the lowest
frequency of any set of questionnaires. It is unclear whether this reflects the
urban setting, the character of families that send their children to the only
English language university in the country, and/or other factors. Of the 17 of
these marriages on which we have consent data, 59% were non-consensual, giving a
projected low of only 12% of the Kyrgyz women in this community being married
against their will as a result of kidnapping. However given the size of the
city the results are too limited to project frequency for the city. A larger
and more diverse sampling of the capital’s population is needed.
In summary, I believe the variation in data collection methods from
village to village has both negative and positive implications. Had all the
data been collected in the same way the results would have been more reliable,
and variations in results could have been attributed to region of the country,
size of the village or some variable other than the method of collection. On
the other hand, given the results are achieved with different methods we can be
more confident the results generally reflect a significantly high level of
non-consensual kidnapping throughout the country.
The data collected to date (including the consent data from our 1999 study)
suggest that as many as one-half (50% of 1322 marriages) of ethnic Kyrgyz
marriages are the result of kidnappings, and that as many as two-thirds of these
kidnap-marriages (67% of 878 on which we have consent data) were
non-consensual. By combining these two factors we can conclude that as many as
one-third (34%) of ethnic Kyrgyz women are married against their will as a
result of bride kidnapping (see Table One).
Kidnapping by date and level of consent
There is a general consensus in the literature (“Bride kidnapping
rife,” 2001; Handrahan, 2000b; Kuehnast, 1998) and among the many people with
whom I discussed it in the villages, that bride kidnapping is on the increase.
Handrahan argues strongly that it has increased primarily in the last decade as
a result of independence and the resulting economic and social turmoil. Some
Kyrgyz with whom I spoke think the increase began as much as thirty years ago.
We have date (the year of the kidnapping) and consent data on 806
kidnap-marriages. Of these, 65% took place since 1990. This would suggest a
significant increase over previous decades. However, these figures exaggerate
the rate of increase. First, since most of the questionnaires had room to
describe in detail only two kidnappings, it is likely that details would be
given on the most recent kidnappings about which memories were the clearest.
Second, many of the questionnaires were filled out by university and high school
students who would be less likely to know the details of kidnappings that took
place more than ten years ago.
Whether or not there has been a dramatic increase since independence, the
evidence supports it being quite common during the Soviet-period and the
likelihood that it is increasing.
There are at least two contrasting theories as to the function of
kidnapping and its apparent increase. First, consensual bride kidnapping is
increasing as a way for more young couples to exercise independence from
arranged marriages and high bride prices established by parents. Second, it is
part of the reestablishment of a male dominant Kyrgyz identity in a period of
political-economic and social turmoil. If the former were the case, we would
expect to see a significant increase in the percentage of kidnap-marriages that
are consensual. While there does appear to be a gradual rise in level of
consensual kidnappings from a rate of 27% rate in the eighties to about 34% in
the last half of the 1990’s, this figure is still below the 39% consent rate for
kidnap-marriages prior to 1980 (see Graph Two).
With the exception of Village # 1 in the south, where there is a high level of
consent, there seems to be insufficient evidence to support the independent
young couple theory, except for those one-third of the cases that appear to be
consensual. On the other hand, two-thirds of the cases are
non-consensual, so any increase in
the practice would appear to represent a decrease in the status and rights of
women, and seems to support the theory that bride kidnapping, indeed, may be a
case where, “women find themselves caught in the struggle defined by the men of
Kyrgyzstan as to what it means to be Kyrgyz” (Handrahan, 2000b).
In May 2001, I presented a lecture on the status of my current research on the
subject to a group of ethnology and sociology students and faculty at the
American University in Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek. A Kyrgyz Ethnology professor
explained that “ala kachuu,” needs to be addressed from an ethno-linguistic
approach. In Kyrgyz the term does not translate into “kidnapping,” and has no
such negative connotation. Originally the concept denotes, “to escape” and that
a young couple in love could escape the traditional control of parents, an
arranged marriage or required bride price. Thus in its original form it was a
progressive action affirming love and freedom from traditional constraints.
After he finished speaking, a young woman student said forcefully that “ala
kachuu,” is two words, i.e., one does mean to escape, but the other means to
take something that does not belong to you, and that together it means to escape
with that which does not belong to you. After her impassioned statement, the
majority of the women in the room applauded. The applause was indicative of the
attitude of most Kyrgyz women with whom I discussed this issue. Whatever the
cause, to the degree that it continues and is increasing, it seems obviously
harmful to women’s equality and civil rights.
North-south differences do not seem to be significant, particularly
if the Bishkek sample is too small to be representative of the northern capital
city. The evidence suggests that kidnapping may be more frequent in the south
but that it is also somewhat more consensual, so the effect on women’s rights is
not significantly different. However, in the northern part of the country there
does seem to be significantly more kidnapping among other ethnic groups, notably
and Kazaks. For the Kazaks this is not surprising as kidnapping is also common
in Kazakhstan (Werner, 1997). In two northern villages where non-Kyrgyz
students filled out questionnaires, 23 Uzbek students reported 30 marriages and
13 kidnappings, all but one of which resulted in a marriage. This is a
reasonably high ratio (43%) of kidnappings to marriages. Of the 12
kidnap-marriages, the typical 33% were consensual. Nine Dungan students in one
village reported 15 marriages and two kidnappings, one of which was consensual.
I also learned of one Tatar and one Uigur kidnap-marriage. The dates of these
kidnap-marriages were also similar to the other data discussed here, i.e., a few
in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but most since 1990. I tentatively conclude from
this data and the observations I made in the villages that in the north the more
dominant Kyrgyz culture has influenced the behavior of the longtime resident
minority populations and thus some of them have picked up the practice of
kidnapping brides. On the other hand, I suspect that in the south with the
larger Uzbek population (Uzbeks make up approximately 14% of the country’s
population), the Uzbek culture has tempered the Kyrgyz practice to make it more
consensual. These questions clearly deserve more study.
Combining the data of our 1999
study and that collected for this study provides information on 1322 marriages
from eight communities in the
Kyrgyz Republic. The data varies somewhat from community to community but
provides clear evidence that as many as one-half of ethnic Kyrgyz marriages were
the result of kidnappings, and that as many as two-thirds of these marriages
were non-consensual. If true, this means that as many as one-third of ethnic
Kyrgyz women were married against their will as a result of bride kidnapping.
North-south differences do not seem to be significant, although
kidnapping may be a little more frequent in the south where it also may be
somewhat more consensual. In the northern part of the country, however, there
does seem to be significantly more kidnapping among other ethnic groups, notably
the Uzbeks, Dungan and Kazaks. These issues deserve more study and require the
collection of systematic data in the future.
The evidence also suggests that the practice is increasing but this
is a tentative conclusion since the methods used in this study do not
effectively address this question, which also deserves more study.
The results of this study raise serious questions about the impact of bride
kidnapping on the rights of women in the Kyrgyz Republic, particularly those
related to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which
asserts that “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent
of the intending spouses” (United Nations, 1948). It also violates Article 16
of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (Convention, 1981).
The evidence presented here that indicates as many as one-third of ethnic Kyrgyz
women have their fundamental human rights violated by kidnap-marriage should
give support to educators, representatives of the media, social action groups
and individuals in the Kyrgyz Republic who wish to work for gender equality in
their country. Hopefully it will also give support to individual women who want
legitimation in resisting an unwanted kidnap-marriage, and to individual men to
resist the supposed license of tradition and/or social pressure of friends and
family to kidnap a woman against her will.
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Personal Accounts: Short stories of the people behind the statistics
20, 2001: Shortly after arriving in the Kyrgyz Republic, CJ (my wife) and I met
for tea with a biology researcher who would be working with CJ on her research.
The woman’s 60 year old mother was there and as soon as the conversation turned
to my research, she held up her fist and forearm defiantly showing off the scar
on the back of her fist and wrist. The scar was from an injury she received 40
years earlier breaking a car window to escape a kidnapping. She had dated a
handsome young man for a year, and then he kidnapped her. When she was in the
car and realized what was happening she broke the window and escaped. She was
very mad at him and didn’t talk with him for a long time but then he apologized,
she forgave him and a year later they were married. However, as he was a
good-looking man he used his good looks to help several of his friends kidnap
wives. The women who were kidnapped with his help thought they were being
kidnapped to marry him so they did not resist, fight, cry and yell so much.
They did not realize until after they had accepted the marriage scarves
(allowing the marriage scarf to be tied around her head is the traditional way a
woman agrees to a marriage) and came out for the weddings that they were
marrying other, less desirable men.
4: A 46-year-old Kyrgyz woman told me her story. At approximate one year of
age she had been given to the eldest sister of her mother to be raised because
the elder sister had no children.
She was raised in the village while the rest of her ‘family,’ lived in Bishkek.
She was a good student and after high school went to study in Bishkek. The
parents of a young man from the village told him to go to Bishkek, watch her and
kidnap her. The young man was two years older, had gone to high school with her,
and his father had been one of her teachers. In the village, the family had
heard that two other young men wanted to marry her, so he had to kidnap her
first. At the time, she was living in Bishkek with an older bother and was
kidnapped by the young man and his friends when she took a train back to the
village to visit her ‘parent/aunt.’ He had called the brother’s home to ask
about her and had found out what train she was on. He then took the same train
but sat in a different car. When the train arrived in the village he had his
friends waiting and pretending to be a taxi (most taxis in the country are
private cars w/o any markings), they took her to his parents’ home. On the way
she realized they were going the wrong way and she was told that they were
dropping someone else off first. She only realized what was happening when they
arrived at the man’s home and all the women relatives of the man were waiting to
take her out of the car. Her grandfather was a bearded village elder. He was
at the home and when she wanted to leave, he said, “if you go, you must go over
me, and if you do then you will be unhappy” (you will be cursed with bad luck).
She wanted to leave but couldn’t without going over her grandfather. Behind the
curtain in a separate room she was covered with a kerchief. She cried but
decided not to act against her grandfather. The next day all the people came to
see her face; she bowed three times and then they gave money to the women
relatives sitting around and sweets to the children. Throwing sweets to the
children brings sweet life and blessings to the new couple. When relatives
came, they put a new kerchief on her head, taking off the previous one. In the
end only the mother-in-law’s kerchief was left and it was the largest. The
others were collected and put in the bride’s trunk/wardrobe. There was the
killing of a sheep and a feast with much eating and drinking. Three newly
married young women from among her relatives and three from his side were
organized to stay with her and to prepare a special room. They bore witness from
outside until morning and showed the bloody sheet to the mother-in-law to prove
she was still a virgin. For this good news the mother-in-law went to her
husband and they give money to the witnesses. That was 1972. This woman and her
husband have eight married sisters, two of whom were kidnapped (one in 1979 and
the other in 1992). They have two married daughters, one of whom was kidnapped
and married in 1993 to a man she did not know.
daughter’s story: After finishing college the daughter worked as an accountant
at the same hospital as her father. One Friday she did not return home. They
waited and worried, as she was not with any of her friends. The next day they
went to the hospital to ask but people there did not know anything. For three
days they knew nothing and didn’t think it could be a bride kidnapping. Finally
the mother learned of a man at the hospital who had been interested in her
daughter. She went to the hospital boss who told her he had quit the previous
week. When they checked the register, his surname had been removed. After some
time they found a nurse who was the man’s friend so they got his home address.
The man’s family didn’t know anything either but after some inquiring his
parents found that the man had kept the daughter prisoner at the home of the
man’s sister. So the man’s parents went to the young woman’s parents with some
gifts. The man’s mother said the young woman did not want to stay, that she
wanted to go home, and that the young man had not touched her, just kept her
prisoner. The daughter’s mother wanted to bring her home but the father didn’t
because of the shame of her having been with him for three days. An elder
brother had studied with the kidnapper and testified that he was a good guy and
not to worry. The man’s family did not pay a bride price but did give a big
wedding and the daughter’s family gave a dowry (clothing, blankets, furniture,
etc) for the new couple.
5: This is a small village but one of the old men of the village has converted
a good-sized storefront into a museum. When he learned of my research he loaned
me a book on Kyrgyz customs. Interestingly there was nothing in it on ‘ala
kachuu.’ However he did explain the traditionally appropriate marriage
process. A similar description can also be found on the web in a page titled
simply, “Kyrgyz Wedding.” If a young man is interested in a young woman or if
they are interested in each other, he should go to his father (or elder brother
if his parents are dead) who will discuss it with his mother and other elder
relatives as appropriate. If they agree with the choice, the father or parents
go to the father or parents of the young woman. If they agree, they may, if
progressive parents, discuss this with the young woman. If all agree then the
parents negotiate the bride price (kalym) and the marriage takes place.
The bride-price goes from the family of the man to the parents of the woman, and
the dowry (sep) goes from the parents of the woman to the couple to set
up their home. The bride price is usually of more value than the dowry. In
every home I visited where there were unmarried daughters there is a room with
an equal number of big trunks topped with a growing stack of traditional
village my host arranged a drive to the mountains. This time the driver was my
host’s husband’s younger brother who brought his wife along. Over vodka and
cookies, sitting on a blanket in a mountain summer pasture we discussed their
kidnapping. The young man had been the youngest son, living with his parents
(as was his responsibility). When they died the house was empty, so he had to
marry. The young woman had finished her university education and now there was
nothing for her to do but marry and have a family. They dated, went places a
few times, saw each other and seemed to like each other. The married women on
his side planned the kidnapping with him. They tricked her into going to his
home. At first when she arrived she refused but “Kyrgyz girls are shy and
cannot or will not say yes or that she loves him.” During this discussion of
her kidnapping, the young wife blushed, smiled and covered her face with her
hand. Her husband and sister-in-law insisted on answering all the questions I
asked her. Her sister-in-law said, “It is shameful for women to say ‘yes,’ or
‘I love you.’” Earlier he had asked her to marry him and she had said, “no.”
Village # 6:
My hosts hired a driver to take us to see the mountains. The driver told the
story of his wife’s sister (they are Uzbeks). She was 19 and walking on the
street when she was taken into a car by a man she knew slightly. He kept her
overnight and the next day his parents went to her parents. They objected and
went to take her home but because of the shame of not marrying the man in whose
home she had spent a night, she agreed to the marriage. They now have two
children. The driver’s father also kidnapped his mother in 1955. The parents of
his mother had arranged her marriage to a wealthier man but his father who was
in the military stationed in Moscow, kidnapped her and took her there. The
driver did not know how well they knew each other before the kidnapping but his
mother did not agree with the kidnapping.
1: There was a 27 year-old man who could not find a wife. He and several of
his friends were drinking heavily one evening and they told him that they would
kidnap a wife for him. The only thing he needed to do was pick out the girl.
He picked out a neighbor girl. They waited for her on the street and grabbed
her. According to tradition they should have taken her directly to his home,
but since they were close neighbors they forced her to go to his sister’s home
that was farther away. As they were drunk and felt ashamed to go to the
sister’s front door, they went through a back window that had bars with sharp
points that cut the girl’s back quite badly. However the men did not realize
this and they just locked her in a room and went to do more drinking. Someone
finally found her and got her medical attention. She survived and the parents
went to the police. The men paid a fine but later the parents agreed and the
couple married. They now have a son. There is a Kyrgyz saying, “Once you throw
a stone it finds its place.”
A group of
teachers in this village also told of a girl who was kidnapped and the parents
were angry, so they took the girl back and went to the courts to prosecute the
men. Three men went to jail for two or three years. The girl never married.
This is the only case I have heard of where men were jailed for kidnapping a
Russ L. Kleinbach, Ph.D.
Philadelphia PA, 19144 USA
Kyrgyz Republic/Kyrgyzstan is situated geographically between China,
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Once an autonomous Soviet republic,
Kyrgyzstan became an independent state on August 31, 1991 and is now
considered to be a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),
along with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
“From poverty to violence, the situation in which women in Kyrgyzstan
conduct their daily lives is increasingly dismal. The UNDP's 1999 Transition
Report notes that a major cost of "transition" has been rising gender
inequality and an increased threat to female personal security, including
domestic violence. In addition to economic/physical hardships, women find
themselves caught in the struggle defined by the men of Kyrgyzstan as to
what it means to be Kyrgyz. . . . . Of all the violations committed against
women in the current nation-building process, bride kidnapping is the
primary assault. It is a violation that "de-legitimizes" women as human
beings and persistently undermines their human rights and their social
development through their entire lives. Since Kyrgyzstan declared
independence in 1991, the ancient practice of bride kidnapping, outlawed
during Soviet rule, has been on the ascent largely because it is seen as a
positive Kyrgyz cultural identity marker long denied by the Russians.” (Handrahan
I wish to acknowledge and express my appreciation to the many people in
Kyrgyzstan who assisted me, especially Burulsun Aminova, Kaiyr Baidolotova,
Abdukadir Djuraev, Salima Gaipova, Irina Krivtsunova, Umarali Pirmatov,
Fatima Sartbaeva, and Aibek Shaakerimov
for their assistance in collecting data, to
Deborah Abowitz and William Brown for their assistance as readers, and
especially to Victoria Shegai for her assistance in collecting data and
interpreting for me as I traveled collecting data and personal accounts.
In the 1999 study Amsler and Kleinbach concluded the approximately 25% of
the kidnappings were consensual. In the current study we conclude that
approximately 31% or 1/3 of kidnap-marriages are consensual. The apparent
difference comes from a shift in focus from consent for the kidnapping to
consent of kidnap-marriage. When the approximately 17% of kidnapped women
who do not marry the kidnapper are removed from the pool, the percentage of
those in agreement goes up.
Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women, states that "states parties shall take all
appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all
matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall
ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: (a) The same right to enter
into marriage; (b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter
into marriage only with their free and full consent” (Convention 1981, 7).
Another interesting custom in Kyrgyzstan is for the first-born child to be
given to one of the sets of grand parents to be raised as their own.