The following is the first of two-part series, outlining the history and current practice of "bride kidnapping," a serious human rights violation against women in Kyrgyzstan.
The phenomenon of bride kidnapping is not endemic to Kyrgyzstan. It is practiced throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Asia. What makes Kyrgyzstan noteworthy is the rising number of cases of bride kidnapping. The practice was outlawed during the Soviet era, and remains illegal under the Kyrgyz criminal code. Conviction carries a prison term of up to seven years. Nevertheless, 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.
In order to understand bride kidnapping it is necessary to consider the social context in which this human rights violation occurs. Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished country of dramatically confused identities. After seventy years of Soviet rule and intense Russification, modern Kyrgyzstan encompasses over fifty-one different ethnic groups. Indeed, ethnic Kyrgyz comprise only a narrow majority of the republic's population, according to the latest, most reliable census data.
Standing at a crossroads between the East and the West, Kyrgyzstan has been subjected to the rule of a host of empires -- from the Mongol to the Soviet. This legacy has complicated contemporary efforts to determine
L.M.Handrahan is director of The Finvola Group, a human rights and gender consultancy and is completing her dissertation, "Understanding Implications and Impacts of Gendered Ethnicity in Consolidating Democracy: The Case Study of Central Asias Kyrgyzstan," at the Gender Institute of The London School of Economics and Political Science. L.M.Handrahan has spent two years living and working on human rights and gender issues in Kyrgyzstan. The author can be reached at L.M.Handrahan@lse.ac.uk for questions or comments.