Russell Kleinbach, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Philadelphia
Gazbubu Babaiarova, MBA, Coordinator of the Bride-Kidnapping Project, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Nuraiym Orozobekova, BA, Educational Project Assistant, CEATM/ACCELS (USAID),
Abstract: Educational materials on non-consensual bride kidnapping were developed and presented in more than 150 seminars in schools and communities in Kyrgyzstan from 2003 to 2008. But the effectiveness of these materials in reducing non-consensual bride kidnapping had never been verified. A longitudinal study (2008-2009) in 10 small villages representing the 7 oblasts (provinces) of Kyrgyzstan provides evidence that the distribution of educational materials to all village homes, and community seminars can reduce the rate of non-consensual bride kidnapping (kyz-ala kachuu) from over 50% to under 30% of marriages in one year. The results suggest the usefulness of funding a much larger project that will, for example, distribute educational materials on non-consensual bride kidnapping to all homes and secondary schools in the country.
Kidnapping is common and can be deadly when a girl is killed or commits suicide as the result of the process. In a village of Bazar-Korgon Rayon of Jalalabat oblast, one girl committed suicide in August, 2007 because of her kidnapping. She was kidnapped. She escaped saying that she was not a virgin. Afterwards everyone in the village spread the rumors about her not being a virgin. Her grandmother (her mom had passed away) cursed and yelled at her saying that she had to marry that man or else nobody else would marry her (basically, she meant that they would not let her have other options). After having these hardships this girl went to the barn of their neighbor and hung herself with the note in her pocket: "tell my dad I am still a virgin; I hope I am leaving for a peaceful place." Even though she is dead people in this village have not stop gossiping about her, saying that she was sick psychologically and truly she wasn't a virgin.
Another suicide happened in the same village in the fall of 2008 because of a kidnapping. This time a woman who committed suicide was the relative of a kidnapped girl. The woman committed suicide, following psychological pressure from her sisters and aunts, because she was responsible for the girl’s kidnapping. The sisters and aunts blamed the woman for cheating the girl and helping kidnappers to kidnap her, separating her from her boy-friend. The girl wouldn’t live in the kidnapper’s home and left after only three days. Feeling guilty the woman drank vinegar (Vinegar in USA is cc 5% acidity, in Kyrgyzstan it is cc 80% acidity). After a while the girl’s boy-friend came and took her for marriage without caring that she was kidnapped. But unfortunately, the woman who aided in the kidnapping died.
However, it is important to note that there is no cultural obligation to kidnap a bride. If young men and their families marry by the “traditional” way of the marriage, being initiated and arranged by the families and/or couple, with the consent of all parties to the marriage, there is no social criticism for not kidnapping. This absence of a cultural expectation to kidnap makes it easier to prevent kidnapping than if there was a traditional norm that young men ought to kidnap their brides.
As part of his Fulbright program Kleinbach (2003-2005), and Kyrgyz collaborators (2005-2008) conducted more than 150 seminars on bride kidnapping for students and community members in all 7 oblasts (provinces) of Kyrgyzstan. These seminars presented the statistical data from earlier research, a documentary film by Petr Lom of actual kidnappings, and educational materials developed in collaboration with Kyrgyz colleagues and Winrock International.
The task of the current study is a longitudinal study launched during the summer of 2008 and completed in the summer of 2009 to determine whether or not the educational efforts and materials that have been used on a small scale in villages and schools can reliably be used in a much larger national effort to reduce the practice of non-consensual bride kidnapping throughout Kyrgyzstan.
If it can be demonstrated that the materials are effective, then a case can be made for requesting major funding from national and international agencies to distribute the materials very broadly throughout the country.
The research project identified and surveyed (summer, 2008), one or two small villages of 150-350 families in each of the seven oblasts (provinces) of Kyrgyzstan. In each village the researchers contacted local government leaders and/or the director of the local school to inform them of the project and gain approval for the research and for the use of the local school or community building for the presentation of a seminar and film on bride kidnapping. The researchers then went house to house and asked for information on any marriages in the last 12 months in this house or other families in the village, so that these brides could be interviewed using the questionnaire developed in 1999 and used on two additional studies in the country (Kleinbach 2003, Kleinbach et al. 2005). Members of the research team interviewed women married in the previous year and present in the village at the time of the survey, to determine the current frequency of non-consensual kidnapping. Some women filled in the questionnaire themselves and others preferred to answer the questions orally and have the researcher fill in the questionnaire.
The researchers gave each home in the village a copy of the bride kidnapping informational brochure and copies of the pledge of resistance to being kidnapped for females, and to kidnapping for males (see appendices). The brochures also contained an announcement of the informational seminar to be held in the village school. In the last four villages each home also received an anti-kidnapping calendar.
Usually in the afternoon of the second day of canvassing the village, the researchers presented an educational seminar, using the Petr Lom documentary film of actual kidnappings and a power point presentation of previous research on bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.
One year later, in the summer of 2009, the researchers returned to these villages and again going house to house, interviewed women married in the intervening year to learn the frequency of non-consensual kidnapping following the 2008 educational effort. The 2009 survey also asked questions to document how, if at all, the kidnapping educational materials influenced behavior in the village during the intervening year. In 2009 the researchers also took systematic notes from family members, neighbors and some village officials on marriages and/or kidnappings in the village where the brides were not available for interviewing. As noted below, these secondary accounts provided additional useful information on changing attitudes and practices regarding kidnapping.
The 2009 results (see appendix) show that in the intervening year, in the 10 villages there were 240 reported marriages. Researchers interviewed 71(30%) of the 240 brides. Nineteen (27% of those interviewed) were married by non-consensual kidnapping. This is a 47% decrease from the 51% reported in 2008. Sixteen (22 % of those interviewed) were married by consensual kidnapping, representing a 23% increase over the 17% reported in 2008. Thirty-five (49% of those interviewed) were married by traditional customs. This is a 35% increase in traditional marriages over the 32% reported in 2008. Most significant is the decrease in non-consensual kidnapping but also notable is the increase in consensual kidnapping.
There was also one interview with a young woman who was kidnapped and refused to stay, however she may yet be forced by her grandparents to return and marry the man. Nurgul (not her real name) is 18 years old and was kidnapped in March, 2009 in a village in Osh oblast but refused to stay with the man and his family. Now she is living with her grandparents and doesn’t want to go back to the man’s house. When Nurgul was kidnapped she was studying at school. She graduated this year and saying that she has plans to study at the university. The problems are that Nurgul’s parents live in Moscow, they did not know about her situation and when they learned, her parents decided that she needs to return and get married to that man. Her grandparents also want her to go to his family because the people from the village and the society will judge them if she refuses. Nurgul wants to go to court for protection but is afraid of the people gossiping and she doesn’t have money. The man who kidnapped her is 30 years old and is forcing her to marry her without her consent. They talked and when Nurgul told him that she is not going to live with him, he didn’t even listen to her and said she would be cursed her whole her life if she refused. According to Nurgul, nobody is supporting her, so she does not know what to do as she has no money and really needs help. She gave the interviewer her name and cell phone number. The interviewer later called a contact in Bishkek, who then called Nurgul and spoke with her. When researchers again tried to contact her, her phone had been turned off. A women’s protection group in Osh might be able to assist Nurgul if they can contact her and she is willing to continue to resist.
Many of the people who spoke with the researchers remember seeing the educational materials and/or still had the materials in their homes. Brochures and pledges were distributed to approximately half the homes in the villages. These were homes where people had not seen or no longer had copies of the materials.
The fact that in these villages there was an average decrease of 47% in reported non-consensual marriages, and that in only 2 of 7 oblasts did the non-consent rate remain relatively constant, is good evidence that the educational materials had a positive influence in reducing non-consensual kidnappings.
The 51 consensually married brides (traditionally arranged and consensual kidnappings) reported that 35% saw the brochure, 27% saw the pledges, and 31% saw the film. These women reported that 31% of their husbands saw the brochures, 25% saw the pledges, and 24% saw the film. Of this group, 24% said their husbands were influenced by the materials to not kidnap, 16% said they were influenced to not stay if kidnapped, and 8% reported their parents were positively influenced by the materials.
The 19 non-consensually married brides reported that 21% saw the brochure, 16% saw the pledges, and none saw the film. These women reported that 21% of their husbands saw the brochure and pledges, but none had seen the film, and that neither they, their husbands nor their parents were influenced by the materials.
The increase in consensual marriage is spread between traditional marriage and consensual kidnapping. In some cases the marriage had already been arranged and the kidnapping took place one or more days before the arranged marriage party. According to villagers, sometimes an engagement happens in the spring or summer and the families arrange the wedding party for the fall, the season of harvest. But a kidnapping may occur not long after the engagement because couples do not want to wait months, so they get married by kidnapping quickly and have wedding party much later.
Perhaps the increase in consensual kidnappings is a way of combining the “tradition” of an arranged marriage with the “fashion” of kidnapping. The increase in consensual kidnappings may also stem from the practice that once a girl is engaged, her family frequently restricts her movement and public contact with other men and/or protects her from kidnapping by another man, thus the public activity, to which she is accustomed, may be severely restricted for several months. It would be a big shame to her family if the engaged girl “behaved badly”, i.e., if people saw her with other boys, or other families came to ask for her hand without knowing of her engagement. If she is consensually kidnapped, the couple will be “married,” and her public activities restored weeks or months before the official wedding party.
When asked why they were kidnapped, of the 16 consensually kidnapped brides, 3 had refused a marriage proposal, 3 said the man thought she might refuse a proposal, 8 were kidnapped to prevent her from marrying another man (often a fear of others kidnapping her), 1 because the parents of the man might not agree, 1 because the parents of the woman might not agree, and only 1 because “it is a good traditional way for getting a bride.” All these marriages were considered consensual because the woman was in love with the man and/or she consented to the kidnapping. The reasons given by 20 women for non-consensual kidnappings were; 1 woman had refused a marriage proposal, 3 might refuse a marriage proposal, 2 men were unable to pay the kalym (bride price), 6 to prevent the woman from marrying another man, and 5 did not know the reason. Significantly there is very little affirmation any longer on questionnaires and in secondary reports to kidnapping being a Kyrgyz “tradition.” As recently as 2004, 38% of respondents claimed “it is a good traditional way for getting a bride” (Kleinbach et al. 2005, p 196).
Researchers also recorded 169 secondary accounts of marriages of women who were not available to be interviewed. These reports were much more positive, i.e., 116 (69%) traditional marriages, 32 (19%) consensual kidnappings, 10 (6%) non-consensual kidnap marriages, and 11 (6%) kidnappings where the young women refused to stay or were taken home by their parents. It is likely that these reports are less reliable than actual interviews but none-the-less show some interesting changes from reporting in 2008. In 2009, for example, with one interview and 11 secondary accounts, there were 12 reported cases of non-consensual kidnappings that were not successful, i.e., the woman refused to stay and/or the parents came and took her home. There were none reported in 2008. One of the reported refusals included the kidnapping family paying money to the kidnapped girl’s family to prevent them from going to court.
In 2008 it was common for villagers to refer to kidnapping as “tradition.” In 2009 many villagers said that there is now a trend away from kidnapping and a return to the Kyrgyz “traditional” way of the marriage being initiated and arranged by the families and/or couple, with consent of all parties to the marriage. In a few instances, kidnapping was referred to as a passing “fashion.” In only one interview did the bride report her marriage was arranged by the parents and non-consensual.
In 2008 it was common to hear that kidnapping was less expensive, but in 2009, for the first time, several villagers said kidnapping was more expensive because of the fear of legal costs or that if the bride left sometime after the marriage, the man’s family could loose the money spent on the wedding and/or bride price.
Additional Test Village, July, 2009
The result is that the test village selected was not a good choice for sampling a village not influenced by the educational materials, as it is too close to Jalalabat where the educational materials have been available at Jalalabat State University, and perhaps other sources. It is also possible that another kidnapping educational project had distributed the educational materials at the high school. If the two influenced interviews are included, then perhaps the village can be used for further evidence that the educational materials are a positive influence, as the rates would be 4 (44%) traditional, 2 (22%) consensual kidnappings and 3 (33%) non-consensual kidnappings in a village somewhat influenced by the materials. As noted above, the village somewhat further from Jalalabat had a non-consensual kidnapping rate of 67% in 2008 but one year after distribution of the educational program the non-consent rate is down to 30%.
Significance of this Project
The significance of this project is underscored by the fact that international agencies such as Human Rights Watch (2006), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have linked non-consensual bride kidnapping with domestic violence and human trafficking, and are urging NGOs and Kyrgyz law enforcement officials to address the problem.
Non-profit organizations suggest Kyrgyz authorities to fight against bride kidnapping. The proposal was voiced at the round table on fight against human trafficking in Central Asia: state policy, dynamics and prospects held in Bishkek today. "We appreciate cooperation with the Kyrgyz authorities in human trafficking. Kyrgyzstan has joined a number of agreements in this dimension. At the earliest possible time, particular attention is to be paid not only to the supplier-states, but also countries in which slave-trade is widely spread. We are going to fight not only sex enslavement, but also kidnapping of women, as a way of marriage proposal, and child panhandling. We believe it is crucial to develop relationships with the non-profit sector and law enforcement bodies to raise chances for effective outcomes," the OSCE message reads. "It is a delicate question, which is under discussion for many years. I know that bride kidnapping is a Kyrgyz national custom and has a positive side as well. However in the ancient times women were treated more deferentially," Markus Muller the Head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek said. (Times 2007)
Lilly Salimjanova (co-author of Kleinbach & Salimjanova, 2007), as part of a Forum of Women's NGOs, using data from the 2008 part of this study, testified in Geneva at the fall, 2008 meeting of the Committee on the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (Forum of Women's NGOs, 19). The concluding recommendations of the Committee’s forty-second session (November, 2008) on Kyrgyzstan, included the following:
20. In line with its previous concluding observations, the Committee recommends that an extensive, public awareness-raising campaign* against violence in the family be launched nationwide. . . . .
21. The Committee remains seriously concerned at the continuing existence of bride abduction* despite its prohibition in the law and notes that this matter was, also highlighted in its previous concluding observations. It is also concerned that this practice results in forced marriages, in contradiction to article 16 of the Convention. . . . .
22. The Committee recommends immediate action by the State party to ensure the full respect of the laws penalizing bride abduction,* forced marriage, and polygamy. In particular, the Committee urges the State party to take appropriate measures in order to have all cases involving these phenomena recorded, investigated, and prosecuted, even in the absence of a formal complaint. The Committee also recommends that the State party take urgent and effective measures, including the training of the judiciary and law enforcement officials and constant and large public awareness-raising campaigns, to eliminate these practices. The role of the media must be of crucial importance in this respect. The State party is also invited to conduct research on the causes for the existence and reinforcement of these phenomena, in order to better understand what would be the most adequate measures for their eradication.* (Concluding observations,*emphasis added)
On November 25, 2008, the Permanent UN Coordinator in Kyrgyzstan Neal Walker announced the beginning of an annual 16-day campaign against gender violence, including forced marriage through bride kidnapping, in Kyrgyzstan (Kutueva 2008a, Kutueva 2008b).
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