Kazakhstan’s parliament was the scene of heated debates about bride kidnapping on January 23. One outraged lawmaker urged the death penalty for the crime; another vehemently defended the abduction and forced marriage of young women as a national tradition.
“For kidnapping a person for one hour, for a minute, for a whole life – there should be [execution by] shooting,” MP Kamal Burkhanov told parliament as it discussed a new draft of the Criminal Code.
“The main thing here is the infringement of basic human rights -- the kidnapping of a person and their detention,” Burkhanov said in remarks quoted by Tengri News. “It doesn’t matter to what end – for exploitation, for violence, for marriage, for something else. A basic human right has been infringed, and for this the toughest punishment should be introduced.”
Another male parliamentarian, Kairbek Suleymenov, pointedly disagreed, defending the practice as “our national tradition.” (National traditions are a mantra for Suleymenov, who last year urged “mechanisms” against gay marriage – which does not exist in Kazakhstan – as “alien to Kazakhstani psychology” and “traditions.”)
Suleymenov said he was not “justifying” bride kidnapping but claimed, without citing a source, that 90 percent of kidnapped women wish to be abducted.
No reliable figures exist for the number of women who fall victim to bride kidnapping each year in Kazakhstan, but a 2011 paper by the Wilson Center think-tank stated that “the rise of non-consensual bride kidnapping is an increasing problem in the southern regions.”
“Paradoxically, young women who are kidnapped against their will stay in these marriages to avoid the shame and stigma of returning home,” the paper added.
Supporters emphasize the consensual nature of some kidnappings, which are staged to allow the groom’s family to avoid expensive dowries or to allow a couple whose families are resisting the match to marry. But a horrifying video that surfaced last year demonstrated what can happen to women when it is not consensual, showing a distraught kidnapped woman being physically abused by female family members of the prospective groom to force her to agree to the marriage.
Parliamentarian Svetlana Romanovskaya agreed that tougher measures are needed for bride kidnapping (which is currently proscribed by laws against abduction), citing the example of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which increased penalties last year.
Deputy Prosecutor General Iogan Merkel, presenting the draft Criminal Code, agreed that more discussion was needed – but the chance of bridenappers being executing is slim. Kazakhstan abolished the death penalty in 2007 for all crimes except serious acts of terrorism and some crimes committed during war.