2001 Frequency

Home Up


Frequency of Non-Consensual Bride Kidnapping
in The Kyrgyz Republic


Russ L, Kleinbach, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Philadelphia University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania PA, 19144

Phone: 215-951-2606
FAX: 215-951-6888

This research was done in the summer of 2001

Published in
International Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol. 8,

Abstract:  Bride 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[1] (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 follows:

·    There 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 bride price.
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 human rights.

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).[2]  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). 

General methodology of this study

            The present study looks at 1322 Kyrgyz marriages, the proportion of these that were the result of kidnappings and the percentage of these kidnap-marriages that were non-consensual, i.e., against the will of the women.  Using primarily the assistance of teachers of English from the Kyrgyz Republic, we were able to collect data in six villages and in two large cities (Bishkek and Osh).[3]  Most of the data was collected by six of these “teacher-surveyors.”  The data came from five of the seven oblasts [provinces] in the country. 

            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 kidnapping.  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 evidence (Consultations with the Poor, 2000/01, pp. 14 & 42) that the practice is becoming common in some areas of Uzbekistan.

            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 out.  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 country. 

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 the Uzbeks, Dungan 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. [4] 

            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). [5]  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.

Works Cited

Amsler, Sarah and Russ Kleinbach. (1999).  Bride kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic. International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 4, 185-216.

Being Stolen. (1995). Kymyz, computers, customs, and other writings: A collection of accessible texts for learners of English in Kyrgyzstan.  Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek International School of Management and Business and the United Nations Development Programme

Bride kidnapping rife in Kyrgyzstan. (2001). Straits Times. May 08.


Consultations with the Poor, (2000/01).  Participatory Poverty Assessment in Uzbekistan for the World Development Report, National Synthesis Report, 'EXPERT' Center for Social Research, Uzbekistan.  http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/voices/reports/national/uzbekist.pdf.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. (1981). General Assembly resolution 34/180, 34 United Nations. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force Sept. 3.  http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/e1cedaw.htm

Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, Normative Acts. (1994).  Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Extra Wife. (1997).  The Economist. November 29, 44.

Fourth World Conference on Women. (1995).  Platform for Action, Violence against women, Strategic objective D.2. Study the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures, Beijing, China. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/violence.htm

Handrahan, L.M.  (2000a).  International human rights law and bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. January 28, posted on EURASIA INSIGHT, July 19, 2001,  http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav012400.shtml 

Handrahan, L.M.  (2000b). Kidnapping brides in Kyrgyzstan: Prescriptive human rights measures.  Human Rights Tribune, March, 7, 1.

Kuehnast, Kathleen. (1998). From pioneers to entrepreneurs: Young women consumerism, and the ‘world picture’ in Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey. 17, 4, 639-654.

Kyrgyz Wedding,   http://www.catsuzbekistan.com/traditions/articlestrad/marriage.html

Lloyd-Roberts, Sue.  (1999a).  Kyrgyz bride theft goes awry.  BBC Worldnews, March 22.

Lloyd-Roberts, Sue.  (1999b).  Plight of Kyrgyzstan brides who are kidnapped, raped, and abandoned.  The Independent (London), 6 March, 18.  

Megoran, Nick. (1997).  Former Soviet Republic - Central Asia Political Discussion List.  CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA  Wed, 5 Nov, 09:29:34 +0000, 


Schoeberlein-Engel, John. (1997).  Former Soviet Republic - Central Asia Political Discussion List CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA    Mon, 3 Nov, 17:51:59. 


United Nations. (1948).  Universal declaration of human rights. Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/b1udhr.htm

Violence against women. (1999). Chapter 5, Women in transition, UNICEF's Monee Project, No. 6, 77-92,    http://eurochild2.gla.ac.uk/Documents/monee/pdf/monee6/chap-5.pdf.

Werner, Cynthia.  (1997).  Marriage, markets, and merchants: Changes in wedding feasts and household consumption in
     patterns in rural Kazakhstan.  Culture & Agriculture, 19 (1/2): 6-13. 




Graph Two



















Appendix A:  Personal Accounts:  Short stories of the people behind the statistics 

      Bishkek, May 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.


      Village # 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.[6]  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.

      The 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.


      Village # 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 blankets.

      In this 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.


      Village # 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 bride.


Contact Information:|
Russ L. Kleinbach, Ph.D.
Philadelphia University
Philadelphia PA,  19144  USA
Phone: 215-951-2606
FAX: 215-951-6888


[1] 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.

[2] “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 2000b).

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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).

[6] 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.

Return to Home page      
These pages are maintained by KleinbachR@PhilaU.edu
Last Updated: 

wpe1.jpg (3926 bytes)