Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament voted Thursday to increase the punishment for bride-kidnapping from three years to ten years in prison, reported Radio Free Europe.
Some adherents of the practice say that bride-kidnapping is a part of Kyrgyzstan’s cultural history. According to a New York Times report in 2005, the practice of bride-kidnapping has increased in recent years and as many as a third of brides in the Central Asian country are taken against their will.
Human rights activists said that around 12,000 women and girls are kidnapped for marriage each year, according to RFE. Many of those who are abducted are under the age of 18.
A report from the Kyrgyz 24 News Agency on Thursday said that only 1 in 1,500 bride-kidnapping cases are ever brought to court. Data shows that 32 bride-kidnappings take place each day in the country on average.
Supporters of the bill have said that it protects women’s rights. A third reading is needed before the legislation is passed to the president, who will then have the option of signing it.
Critics of bride-kidnapping have said that many of the women who are forced into marriage are denied legal rights and education opportunities, and begin a life of forced into domestic labor, according to RFE.
Last year, a documentary from Vice magazine showed a young Kyrgyz man who lived in the countryside, who, with help from his friends, kidnapped the young woman he had been dating. She later said she had expected to marry him, but not so soon.
In the Vice documentary, a local government official in a small village admitted that “we are breaking the law” for the bride kidnappings. “Here everyone understands this is a tradition and you can’t change it,” he said, adding that he also kidnapped his wife a decade ago.
Vice reported there are two different types of bride kidnappings. There are consensual kidnappings, where the two people know each other and the woman is in general agreement of the marriage, and the other kind are when families abduct women off the street. For those who would intervene, it can be hard to tell the difference, because the consensual bride will usually pretend to put up a fight as well.
In the Times article, the woman who was kidnapped said, “I told him I didn’t want to date anyone. So he decided to kidnap me the next day.” She eventually went along with it and married him.
It can be difficult to break free of the situation. Once the groom’s family has forced her to stay overnight, her virginity will be in question, and it will be hard for her to find another husband.
During a segment of the documentary, the mother of a kidnapped bride shows pictures of her daughter, who was unhappy with the man who kidnapped her. The mother says she tried to take the girl back home the next day, but was pressured into letting him keep her, because that was the custom. She said her daughter endured the marriage for three months before killing herself.
The documentarian interviews a rural family and nearly all of the women were kidnapped by their current husbands on their wedding day, assuring him that the practice is part of Kyrgyzstan’s culture.
Some Kyrgyz men have said that kidnapping their wives is easier than courtship and offering a so-called “bride price,” which includes a sum of cash and possibly a cow, according to the Times article.
Russell Kleinbach, who works with a nongovernmental organization to prevent bride abductions, told Vice: “The main source for Kyrgyz customs is the national epic, Manas. But if you read the entire Manas, nowhere in it does the hero kidnap his wife or even reference the practice.”
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