Over the past year, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan have directed increasing attention at bride kidnapping. Though illegal, and notoriously difficult to quantify, the practice is thought to be widespread, especially in rural areas.
Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun, who says legislators are little interested in the issue, announced today that up to 8,000 Kyrgyz girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage annually.
Few statistics on bride kidnapping are available, and it’s unclear how Akun did his research, but one study last year found that 45 percent of women married in the eastern town of Karakol in 2010 and 2011 had been non-consensually kidnapped.
As Azita Ranjbar reported last week, many of the girls are pressured into marriage and have little recourse to justice.
Although bride kidnapping is illegal under Article 155 of Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code, prosecutions are almost unheard of. The state can intervene only if a complaint is filed directly by the victim. But, in many bride-kidnapping cases, the woman is isolated within the home of the abductor, and must overcome daunting obstacles to contact her relatives or the police. Even if her family is aware that she has been kidnapped, they are usually powerless to press charges against the abductor on behalf of the woman. In conservative villages, opposing a bride kidnapping can also bring the family shame.
Moreover, many victims have few legal rights because local religious leaders, rather than the state, certify their marriage ceremonies. Without a government-issued marriage certificate, the courts can do little to protect a woman and her children should she try to leave her husband.
But legislators have shown little interest in a bill that would offer bridenapping victims some legal rights, EurasiaNet.org’s Chris Rickleton reported earlier this year.
Legislation designed to discourage the controversial practice of bride kidnapping fizzled recently in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament. The bill lost support because a key provision could also be used to crack down on the ostensibly illegal, yet quietly tolerated practice of polygamy, according to a member of parliament.
The bill would have authorized fines for Islamic clerics who bless marriages that are not already registered with the state. Mullahs play an important social role in villages by providing a religious veneer to customs that the state deems taboo, especially bride kidnapping, a traditional practice that survived the Soviet era and has continued in independent Kyrgyzstan.
Polygamy is “believed to be common among men who can afford to have more than one wife,” Rickleton wrote. MPs – who are 78 percent male and, it appears, economically better off than most Kyrgyz – overwhelmingly rejected the bill in January.