Source: “Tyan’-shan’skie plennitsy”, Novye Izvestia, July 6, 2012.
Translation: Kimberley Huizing | Editing by Safeworld
Annually in Kyrgyzstan, according to the data of local human rights activists, over 15,000 occurrences of bride stealing are registered. Many girls are not only psychologically traumatized for the rest of their lives, in some cases they even perish. But the perpetrators remain unpunished. Novye Izvestia’s correspondent reviewed why it transpired like this.
The city of Karakol is one of Kyrgyzstan's major tourist destinations. It is famous among skiers and snowboarders from former USSR for its ski resort. Yet little do the tourists who travel to this modern town know, that behind the scenes lies another world of old traditions many thought were long gone.
Before me lies a crumpled piece of paper, on which is written by hand:
“If they steal me, forcefully hurry me away, then I’ll write you a note. You’ll understand when you read it: in case I did not want to stay there, I will address you with the word “mama”. If I decide to stay, I will write “enye” (Kyrgyz for “mama”)”.
The author of this message, the 20 year old Nurzay, was stolen by her persistent suitor.
This happened in 2011. But shortly after she was stolen Nurzat took her own life.
“In all, there were three cases of bride stealing in our city which ended in suicide” the head of the local social organisation “Leader”, Banur Abdieva, told Novye Izvestia. Furthermore, all those who drove these girls to commit suicide, remain free.
“The relatives of one girl did file a complaint after our intervention.” says Abdieva. The case was investigated very slowly. We insisted upon them changing investigators. At long last, the case was assigned to a judge. But as it turned out, no one was tried. While the investigators worked out whether to arrest the accused for theft or not, he simply took off and left the country.
Many cases of this kind are concluded in the same way. And this, unfortunately, is not explained solely by the corruption of law enforcement agencies or the decisiveness of the relatives of the groom-captor. Ultimately, the leniency of the law plays its own particular role: according to the country’s criminal code, one can get up to 11 years in jail for stealing domestic cattle; under the article on bride stealing, on the other hand, 3 years in total is given. There has still not been a single case in which someone was held criminally liable under this article.
The main problem, however, is that in Kyrgyz society, this tradition is perceived as lawful, rather than negative, and this is at the root.
The majority of bride stealing occurs in rural places, where almost 80% of the country’s inhabitants live.
Here, people are living to fully patriarchal customs, poverty is the norm of life, and unqualified manual labour is the only way to survive. Normally, those wishing to marry, steal a girl for economic reasons, as paying dowry for many of them is unmanageable, or the vykup for the bride (Russian and Central Asian tradition of giving the bride money at the wedding), the sum of which in some cases ranges from 5 to 30 thousand Kyrgyz som (100 som is near 2 USD).
According to local tradition, in the case of bride stealing, a young man is mostly exempt of the required payment. As the girl, according to tradition, may establish an attraction the first time she sees her new groom, although this rarely happens.
According to the data of the association of Kyrgyz centres, the peak of bride abduction cases occurs in the seasons of labour migrants’ return from Russia & Kazachstan. In this time, the young men marry in an urgent fashion, to secure a carefree life for their elderly parents, while they have money. Sometimes the money is not sufficient for dowry.
“So what to do? They already lived and worked over there, in Russia, for some years. Here they don’t know anyone, and there you have it, they steal someone” Osha resident Damira Shamieva told Novye Izvestia.
The most effective preventive measure against bride abduction is just to solve the financial problem, as Kyrgyz practice demonstrates. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, in the Nookatsk district, the local administration with support of the Aqsaqal (elders) adopted severe restrictions on dowry. In the territories of this district the dowry sum cannot surpass the amount of 600-700 dollar.
Those who break this rule await a fine in proportion to the dowry.
“As yet, we have fined no one. Honestly, we did not set the rule with the goal of collecting fines. “ says Manzura Khodzhaeva, representative of the local people’s commission on weddings.
“We wanted to scare people off with a fine, so that they would not break this law. Our district knows real poverty. Many families get in debt to conduct a wedding. Or it happens like this: the young man works 2-3 years in Novosibirsk (Russia), then he drives home and in 2 to 3 days wastes all his money on a wedding”.
On the commission, they are certain that bride stealing will decrease if parents will not envisage the yield of their daughter in marriage as a means to make a living. Then again many in Kyrgyzstan are certain that bride stealing is a phenomenon that will not be eradicated by any means.
“I too married this way, and my mother,” says Damira Shamieva. “My daughter was also stolen like this, luckily she was taken in by a good family.
She left with them to Irkutsk (Russia). I was afraid to let go of my daughter, she had never been away from me outside Osha.
But what can you do? Such is our fate.”
There are an estimated 11,500-16,500 girls kidnapped to become brides every year in Kyrgyzstan. Research on bride kidnapping carried out in 2010 by women’s NGO Public Foundation Open Line found that over 50% of the 268 women interviewed had never seen their kidnapper prior to the abduction and that 81% of kidnappings ended in marriage.
74.2% of the women surveyed stated that pressure, including threats and violence, was exerted on them by the kidnapper and his family to force them to stay. 23% of women revealed that they had been raped before marriage. One respondent was determined to report the kidnapping to the police after escaping, but was abducted again and raped by the kidnapper, which forced her to accept the marriage.