Uzbekistan: No Love Lost in Karakalpak Bride Thefts
The old practice of abducting women persists despite opposition from Uzbek laws,
Muslim clerics and the forced brides themselves.
Alena Aminova in Nukus (RCA No. 294, 18-Jun-04)
Toreshova doesnít believe in happy marriages. She saw her husband for the
first time at a friendís birthday party by the end of the evening she had been
abducted and forced to become his wife. I didnít know him at all. The only
thing I knew was what my friend told me that he was a market trader, recalled
Gulzabira. ⌠After the party his friends grabbed me and dragged me into a
car. They took me to the home of my future husband, Amanbai. I didnít even
suspect what they were about to do.
32, is a Karakalpak, an ethnic group, which has its own ⌠autonomous
republic in the northern deserts of Uzbekistan. Her prospective husband and his
friends knew very well that Karakalpak social customs would make it well-nigh
impossible for Gulzabira to return home if she was kidnapped, leaving her little
choice but to marry their friend.
these wife-stealing cases, there are many reports of the future husband raping
the abducted woman as a way of making the marriage irreversible. The victim will
then have little chance of marrying anyone else in a tightly-knit community such
as the small town of Chimbay from which Gulzabira comes.
of brides was traditional in Karakalpak society before Soviet rule, because it
saved the man especially those from poor families - from paying the high bride
price known as kalym that is customarily required. The woman or her family would
sometimes acquiesce, because the arrangement was convenient and saved face all
frowned on the practice and did its best to stamp it out, but it has re-emerged
since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991 although the raiding party is more
likely to be in a Lada than on horseback. The tradition is entirely illegal and
is a somewhat distorted version of the old custom since it frequently involves
coercion and rape.
non-government organisations say that nowadays one in five brides in
Karakalpakstan are abducted before marriage, and one in 20 have never previously
met their future husband.
to Klara Utepbergenova, who heads the local organisation Woman and Family, many
young men do not even realise it is a crime, If they knew that forcing a woman
into marriage is punishable under Uzbek law they probably wouldnít use this
method. But Kairat, a captain in the police, indicated that in practice, local
tradition took precedence over the law. Iíve seen girls abducted more than
once, he said. But Iíve never intervened because I know that in most of cases
both sides have agreed to it. And if thatís not the case, they might think you
were complicit [if you intervened] in it.
many cases the girlís parents who may or may not have agreed to the abduction
raise no objections afterwards. Abducted brides often put up resistance but are
generally unable to extricate themselves from the wedding as it is difficult for
young women to challenge accepted traditions.
Zaripova from Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, was abducted by one of her
fellow college students, but unusually refused to stay with him. When she
returned home she tried to have her husband prosecuted, but her parents forced
her to go back to him and get married.
marriage lasted two months. She eventually tried to commit suicide by swallowing
acetic acid and, although she survived, her parents refused to take her back.
She now lives with her brother.
for kidnapping in Karakalpakstan are rare and according to the chief judge at
Nukus city court, Gulnara Bazarbaeva, those who are convicted pay only a small
fine. This type of crime is not classified as very dangerous here, explained
Bazarbaeva. The girl usually consents to the marriage and everything is sorted
out between the families without the authorities intervening. Whatís more,
kidnapping saves the cost of a wedding ceremony.
womenís groups say the economic factor is key to the growth in kidnappings, as
a conventional wedding is increasingly beyond peopleís pockets.
has been hard hit by the shrinking of the Aral Sea and accompanying
environmental problems, and the largely rural population is impoverished even by
Central Asian standards. A full Karakalpak wedding can cost the groom anything
between 1,500 and 5,000 US dollars, a price, which include the kalym and
numerous gifts for the brideís relatives. Marrying a university graduate is
more expensive because of the investment her parents have already made in her
Yermanova seemed to be one of the luckier stolen brides since the kidnapper was
her boyfriend and both families were involved in the arrangement. But things
went wrong when she proved too costly an acquisition for the groomís family. I
dated my boyfriend Aydar for half a year, and my parents insisted that he marry
me as soon as possible by stealing me, she recalled. He did so, but after
bringing me to his parentsí home he sent me back after half an hour. When his
mother found out that I was a fee-paying student she wouldnít let him marry
me. Later I learned that Aydar brought home another bride the same day who had
already finished higher education.
marriages are legalised at the local registry office, often without the
necessary documents or the consent of the bride, who may be pregnant by that
time. When Karakalpaks marry, they normally perform the Muslim marriage rite as
well as the obligatory official ceremony.
Abdiev, a representative of the official Muslim body for Karakalpakstan, is
critical of bride-stealing, which is not sanctioned by Islam. He explained,
People are committing a great sin when they steal a girl, because after the
kidnapping the couple lives for some time without the ďnikohĒ or sharia
blessing. It is a great sin, which the two families try to ignore by calling it
working on womenís rights in the region see little hope for change because
neither the law nor religion seem able to challenge the tradition.
Toreshova eventually managed to leave her husband, and now takes care to warn
her younger sister to watch out for kidnappers and avoid a similar fate.
Aminova is an IWPR contributor in Karakalpakstan
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