One official estimates
that up to 8,000 Kyrgyz girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage
annually. Few statistics on bride kidnapping are available, 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.
Like many kidnapped brides, Totugul - who hails from a small village
outside of Karakol in eastern Kyrgyzstan and asked her last name not be
printed - had a religious ceremony, or nikaah, to sanction the union.
But her marriage was never registered with the state. That left her in a
position that many other Central Asian women face;
she had limited legal options to seek child support after her husband
left her. "My marriage was not registered and no one will help me. Our
[village] women's committee has talked to many government officials but,
because our marriages are unregistered, we [bride kidnapping victims]
don't have rights," she said.
Few bride kidnappings are reported to authorities, says Kamil Ruziev,
a human rights lawyer with the Karakol-based NGO Vantus. "Friends of
the brides come to our office. The brides can't come themselves because
they are locked up in a house. The friends or family try to call the
police, but the police can't get involved unless the bride asks for
help, which she won't be able to do," Ruziev told EurasiaNet.org.
In addition to the legal limitations, Ruziev attributes the
underreporting of kidnapping cases to government officials' implicit
approval of the practice.
"The police are loyal to the practice of bride kidnapping. I have
asked government authorities for help and, when I protested against the
continuation of this practice, they laughed at me and said that bride
kidnapping is tradition," he explained. "No one follows the law, not
even the local authorities."
A human rights advocate working with a women's shelter in Talas says a
lack of professionalism on the part local officials and police is a big
part of the problem. "We have trained the police on how to fill out
their own internal forms when women want to file complaints. They do not
know the laws and they are corrupt. They are not only proponents of
bride kidnapping, but they sometimes initiate it," said the advocate,
who asked to remain anonymous because the shelter works directly with
Talas, an isolated region in northwestern Kyrgyzstan, is believed to
have one of the highest bride kidnapping rates in the country. One of
the few studies that exist found that, in Karakol, 45 percent of women
married in 2010 and 2011 had been non-consensually kidnapped.
As a result of the pressure from the female relatives of the
kidnapper, and often pressure from her own family to accept the proposal
for the sake of the family's reputation, most women who are abducted
eventually consent to marriage. After the woman agrees, it is unlikely
that she will report the kidnapping, as that would require her to press
charges against her husband and in-laws, with whom she often, by this