Custom or Tradition

Home Up

Bride Kidnapping.  Benign Custom Or Savage Tradition?

By Burulai Pusurmankulova,

Junior student of the Journalism Department, Jalalabad State University

June 15, 2004 

Voice Of Freedom Initiative Of The Human Rights Working Group 
Facilitated By Freedom House


Bride Kidnapping (ala kachuu in Kyrgyz) in Kyrgyz society is considered an old tradition that recently has been rapidly spreading.  Bride kidnapping is commonly perceived as an ancient national tradition, which is especially popular in remote areas.

“Ala-kachuu is kidnapping of a woman for the purpose of marriage. It includes various activities, from a secret escape with a beloved one,  an organized kidnapping for an agreed marriage to a forced or nonconsensual abduction. Abduction refers to nonconsensual actions, which may include rape and sometimes may even lead to death or suicide. Abduction is usually performed by a young man and his friends, who by deceit or force brings a young woman to the house of his parents or close relatives. A woman is kept in the room, while the kidnapper’s female relatives talk her into wearing a kerchief. If it is necessary they leave her inside for the night, sometimes it ends with a rape and threatening a woman with shame since she is not pure anymore,” –Doctor Russell Kleinbach, Masters Mehrigul Ablezova, and Medina Aitieva, staff members of the American University – Central Asia say in their research. ( 

The results of this research show that “more than one third of ethnic Kyrgyz women were married after a nonconsensual abduction and that this practice of abduction has increased at least over the past half century.”

Neither the authorities nor civil society take any proactive measures to stop to this tradition.   

What do those abducted say? 

Practically all the stories about Bride Kidnapping are similar to each other. Some victims simply throw a veil over their destiny while others stand against the tradition and refuse to stay in a new house.  “Victims” have different fates. It is commonly perceived that a kidnapped bride should stay and accept her destiny.  

Occasionally parents of a kidnapped girl encourage or force her to stay to avoid shame   or judgment of their relatives and neighbors.  In this case the Mullah’s prayer provides a stronger wedding bond than the stamp of the State registration of marriage in a passport.  

Aijamal A., 20, lives in the village of Sokutash in the Jalalabad region.  She said she was abducted for the purpose of marriage in 2000.  At that time she was a little over 16 years old. 

“I was trying to leave.  But they told me to stay, referring to the tradition,” Aijamal said. Usually in such cases when simple words do not help, old women put bread on the threshold and say: “Will you dare to step over? You will never a have normal life after that.” Usually it works. Many girls stay… Aijamal was not an exception.   “Bewildered, I agreed to that marriage.  I am not sure what I feared when I did it.  I lived a year with my husband and then we got divorced.  There was simply no understanding between us.  If he had not kidnapped me back then, I might have found my significant other.  Perhaps, I am to blame for not thinking about my own destiny.  I was so afraid of rumors”. 

Jarkiniy O., 24, of Oogantalaa in the Bazarkorgon region, was happier in her forced marriage.  She met a young man at a small party who kidnapped her two days later.  “I didn’t think of marrying him.  I found out he had his eye set on me.  He decided to marry me, and therefore, kidnapped me.  They took me to his parents’ house.  Although I was protesting, they forced me to stay.  Now our marriage is happy.  My husband cares a lot about our family, and we have kids already”. 

If a girl strongly refuses to stay in the kidnapper’s or his relative’s house, her life will become unbearable, after she returns to her parents.  An unlucky groom and his relatives are ashamed of the fact they failed to keep a girl in their house.  As a result, they will spread rumors about her being depraved.  They may tell everyone they did not let her into their family. 

This is exactly what befell Aigul, 19, of Karakol.  June 6, 2003 will remain etched in her mind for good.  This is when her friend’s brother was trying to abduct her.  “I came to my friend’s place.  I did not know her brother was going to kidnap me.  He was married before and had a child.  Despite my attempts to stay in the car, they dragged me out.  I was weeping the whole day.  The next morning my relatives showed up.  They told me they could not take me back home, because it was dictated by the tradition.  I felt like taking my own life.  I felt like hanging myself.  The young man’s family became livid with my obstinacy.  Right before the consummation my parents came down and took me back home.   

Before that Aigul was dating a young man. And now he does not believe that during the whole week she did not have sex with her kidnapper. Everyone was looking at the girl with reproof.  

What do young people think? 

Many young girls say they are afraid of their cloudy future.  Any stranger who has his eye set on a girl may easily abduct her.  You never know who you may have to spend the rest of your life with. 

Malika Aidaralieva, a student of the Jalalabad State University, says the tradition of bride kidnapping gives her the creeps.  “If I am kidnapped, I don’t think I will agree to get married.  On the other hand, if my parents speak in favor of that marriage, I won’t be able to challenge their decision.  I have this fear of Kyrgyz customs and traditions.” 

Guljan Kaldarbai kyzy, a student from Jalabad, is finishing high school this year.  She is going to continue her education at a university.  Guljan is strongly against the tradition of bride kidnapping.  “I do not understand why young men would kidnap girls.  It is the most heinous thing that a person can do.  It speaks about their bad manners.  If I am kidnapped, I won’t care about this tradition.  I will never consent to get married.” 

Interestingly enough, young men are quite content with this tradition.  Student Akyl Aitmamatov says it is the easiest way to start a family.  “When you get married, you have to go to the girl’s father and bow before him.  In this case, the expenses are tremendous.  Oftentimes, it is the most important reason why young men kidnap girls.  It is both interesting and money saving.  What can a kidnapped girl do?  Of course, she’ll have to stay.” 

Zamir Janybaev from the village of Kyzylbagysh in the Suzak region thinks that you need the girl’s agreement before starting a family.  He also told that he had kidnapped his future wife.  “But we had a mutual agreement on it.  I think it is wrong to kidnap girls otherwise.”  

What does the older generation think? 

Naturally, if a girl does not know someone has his eye set on her, her parents are as unaware of it.  Oftentimes, the abduction of their daughter is truly a bombshell to them.  

Akmataly P., a resident of the Suzak region, narrated what happened to his family.  “My daughter was kidnapped.  What could I do about it?  Scared of gossips, she agreed to get married.  Naturally, I did, too.  But they’d better have married my daughter according to the traditions.” 

Tynym Shabotoeva, a lady from Jalalabad, says that if a girl happens to get to a young man’s house, she has to stay there:  “If she crossed the threshold she has to stay.  Otherwise, they will curse her.  She will be miserable all her life bearing this damnation.” 

Her neighbor Sahiba Hojaeva retorted:  “If you ask me, bride kidnapping is a bad thing.  It is great if young people love one another and consent to get married.  One should start a family based on life circumstances.  I think kidnapping a girl without knowing each other is grim.” 

Dilmurat Ajy Orozov, deputy chief of the Kyrgyz Muslim Association and chief priest of the Jalalabad region, said that the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s testaments talk about how to start a family:  “It says, ask the girl whether she wants it or not.  If she laughs and keeps silent, it means consent.” 

Dilmurat Ajy Orozov also mentioned that bride kidnapping is wrong, but our society is used to it.  “Parents are to blame for the spread of this tradition.  They need to educate their children and tell them that kidnapping has negative effects, too,” the priest said. 

Abdunazar Mamatislamov, a human rights program coordinator with the public foundation Youth Group, says that not only is bride kidnapping uncivilized, but it is also a human rights violation.  “We can clearly see the attitude of men toward women.  And women in this case are not able to protect their rights.”  

What do authoritie s think? 

Nurpazyl Turapov, executive secretary of the Kyzyltuu village council, is confident that bride kidnapping is a shame to Kyrgyzstan.  “No other nation upholds this tradition.  We should feel ashamed.” 

The public official pointed out that after living together for a few years a young family decides to officially register their marriage.  “But sometimes people have several kids, and yet their marriage is not officially registered.” 

Kidnapping is a serious stress to girls, which has a significant impact on their mind.  Lyubov Maksimenko, a psychologist with the regional Center for Reproductive Health Protection, posed this argument.  “A kidnapped girl is perplexed and does not know what to do.  Sometimes such girls seek our assistance, which happens rarely, though.  Over the past five months only two girls visited our center.  They were kidnapped and did not want to stay with another family,” Ms. Maksimenko said.  

Aisuluu Kannazarova, a doctor with the regional AIDS Center, provided a medical background of the issue.  Apart from psychological problems, kidnapping may trigger other negative consequences, sexually transmitted diseases being one of them. 

“There are many young people who have sexually transmitted diseases today.  There are also those who are HIV-infected.  They may cause the spread of these diseases.  I think young people can start a family if they know about each other’s lifestyle and habits.  They should also have a desire to do this, which should be regulated by law,” the doctor said.  

Public Opinion 

The Youth Development staff conducted a survey among the citizens of the Jalalabad region to find out what they think about bride kidnapping. 

Overall, 300 respondents, aged 16-60, were surveyed, including students, teachers, and ordinary villagers. 

Why do young men start a family by kidnapping brides?  Here 27% of all respondents mentioned economic reasons.  They said it helps reduce marriage expenses.  More than 34% of the respondents think that young men steal those girls who do not agree to get married.  And about 25% of the respondents said it is very convenient when you have to marry urgently. 

The next question was, “How often do you hear about bride kidnapping?”  About 50% of the respondents said it happens “very often,” 25% said it happens just “sometimes,” and the rest found it difficult to answer this question.

 35% of all respondents evinced their positive attitude toward this tradition.  The majority (52.3%) said they disapproved of it.   

Psychologists point out that if newlyweds did not know each other before the wedding, their family is very likely to break up.  The majority of the population agrees with this argument.  56% of all respondents think that bride kidnapping is the reason for divorces. 

The respondents also gave other reasons why families break up.  36% of them are confident mutual misunderstanding causes divorces.  This supports the argument that newlyweds did not know the personality of their future spouse.  This happens when a bride is kidnapped and forced to get married.   

Legislative liability 

Kyrgyzstan has ratified a number of international norms, aimed at protection of human rights and development of gender equality. 

According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was ratified by Kyrgyzstan, “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” 

 Bride Kidnapping also violates Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, with accession by Kyrgyzstan in 1997, which says in part, “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... ”  

These actions violate Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which says: “For the purposes of this Declaration, the term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”  

The rights of women are protected not only by international documents but also by local laws. The Kyrgyz Criminal Code provides for liability when a woman is forced to enter into marriage.  This liability ranges from a twenty-thousand-som fine ($455) to 5 years in prison. 

Article 8 of the Kyrgyz Republic Law of March 12, 2003 # 60 addresses “basic guarantees of gender equality,” and states, “Behavior of people based on the norms of common law, traditions, and culture, which contradicts the requirements of this Law, are regarded as barriers to implementation of gender equality.  Common law, traditions, and culture that include elements of gender discrimination are not encouraged.”  

However despite the fact that international norms and local legislation prohibit any violation of freedom, bride kidnapping and forcing women into marriage are widespread in Kyrgyzstan.  In fact, no one is prosecuted based on the aforementioned article of the domestic criminal code. Parallel to this, the number of those held legally responsible for such illegal actions is practically zero.  

How to counteract this tradition 

Murataly Uchkempirov, head of Youth Development, thinks that bride kidnapping is rampant in southern Kyrgyzstan.  “Since this tradition is misinterpreted among young people, it is viewed as a norm.” 

“In the past, young people used to make this step upon mutual agreement, trying to follow their ancient traditions.  Today this custom has elements of cruelty and violence to it.  In most cases, such families are not happy, which leads to their break-up.  Our organization is going to conduct a contest on bride kidnapping prevention amongst high school and university students.  The topics are the following:  The Best Drawing, The Best Story, and The Best Song

Shortly, our organization will start establishing special teams in major centers of the region, consisting of the elders, women, and youth organizations.  Their goal will be to combat bride kidnapping and help young people in family planning.” 

Baktykan Japarova, chief receptionist with Spravedlivost, thinks that bride kidnapping is a highly relevant issue for the Kyrgyz youth:  “It is them [the youth] who should deal with this issue and fight for their future.” 

“Our society is not taking any measures to prevent bride kidnapping.  Don’t we have different youth campaigns against drugs, AIDS, and other social problems?  Why not initiate a campaign against bride kidnapping?  But I think it does not happen, because our youth is so inactive and indifferent toward this issue,” Ms. Japarova said. 

She also pointed out that both the government and our society should pay a great deal of attention to this issue and work towards a strict rule of human rights and freedoms.  “Consequently, we should become a little more civilized.”  


Certainly, starting a family is a bright and remarkable event, but oftentimes marriages are not registered.  Frequently, girls have to sacrifice their happiness, and often the violation of their rights, which are ensured by the state and are to be respected and protected.  Many such marriages break up in the future. 

The Kyrgyz legislation provides for criminal liability for bride kidnapping.  However, the tradition is flourishing in our society, and law enforcement bodies assert there are no such cases at all.  Neither preventative nor informational activities are conducted among the population by officials. The government’s measures are confined to public statements. Only non-governmental and international organizations have taken the initiative of conducting prevention activities.


The names of some people have been changed to protect their identity. 

Edited by Ulugbek Babakulov, Freedom House Media Officer 

Translated from Russian into English by Freedom House Program Assistant, Alexander Gryshchuk & Elena Surkina 


Freedom House Human Rights Defender Support Project is financed by the United States Agency for International Development


Return to Home page      
These pages are maintained by
Last Updated: 

wpe1.jpg (3926 bytes)