*All names of victims have been changed in order to protect their identities
|Photo courtesy of Open Line|
In 2009, on her way home from university, Vulkan was abducted by a man who wanted her for his wife and imprisoned in his house. When she tried to escape, a female relative of the “groom” threatened that she would be cursed if she dared step over the threshold to leave. Vulkan now reluctantly lives with her abductor as his wife, having been forced to give up university and any thought of a job, and is determined never to allow any sons she may have to kidnap a bride.
There are an estimated 11,500-16,500 girls kidnapped to become brides every year in Kyrgyzstan. Research on bride kidnapping carried out in 2010 by women’s NGO Public Foundation Open Line found that over 50% of the 268 women interviewed had never seen their kidnapper prior to the abduction and that 81% of kidnappings ended in marriage. 74.2% of the women surveyed stated that pressure, including threats and violence, was exerted on them by the kidnapper and his family to force them to stay. 23% of women revealed that they had been raped before marriage. One respondent was determined to report the kidnapping to the police after escaping, but was abducted again and raped by the kidnapper, which forced her to accept the marriage.
Culturally, the stigma attached to an unmarried girl spending a night with a man (whether or not there is rape) is too much for both victims of bride kidnapping and their parents, and many reluctantly agree to the marriage. Ainura, kidnapped in 2010, was told by her mother “you must stay here otherwise you dishonor me and yourself.” Some parents agree to accept money and gifts from the kidnapper in exchange for a promise not to go to the police. For some victims, the kidnapping and subsequent forced marriage is too much to bear. Tragically, in 2010, two young women committed suicide in Issyk-Kul Province after being kidnapped and forced into marriage.
Aziza’s husband succeeded in his third attempt to kidnap her. He regularly raped and beat her and prevented her from leaving the house or seeing her family. Ready to commit suicide, she finally managed to escape only to be found by her husband who publicly beat her and left her naked in the street, threatening to sell her into slavery. Aziza currently lives with her mother and brother.
Bride kidnapping is a form of violence against women. It violates women and girls’ rights to bodily integrity, freedom of movement and freedom from violence. It leads to forced marriage and often repeated rape, servitude and denial of educational and other opportunities.
Article 13 (4) of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution guarantees that “men and women have equal rights and freedoms and equal opportunities for their realization” and under the Kyrgyz Criminal Code, it is an offense to force a woman into marriage or to kidnap a woman for a marriage against her will. Such crimes can result in up to five years’ imprisonment. However, criminal justice agencies, including the police, prosecutors and judges, often view bride kidnapping as a culturally protected Kyrgyz tradition, and they fail to enforce the law. Women’s rights activists have found that where a complaint is registered with the police, investigating officials have been known to frequently discontinue or delay the process in order to ensure the case does not reach court. Victims have reported that investigators often take bribes from the accused to pressure the victim to withdraw her complaint. Societal pressures and threats from the kidnapper and his family also mean that victims are often too afraid to report a kidnapping. There are no government programs to publicize the law or to provide legal advice to affected women. This is particularly crucial in rural areas where most cases of bride kidnapping occur and where few are aware of or can access their rights.
Kyrgyzstan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997. Article 5(a) of CEDAW calls on State parties to: “modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.” In its general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women, the CEDAW Committee, which reviews government compliance with CEDAW, specifically mentioned forced marriage and rape stating that “The effect of such violence on the physical and mental integrity of women is to deny them the equal enjoyment, exercise and knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In its examination of Kyrgyzstan in 2008, the CEDAW Committee expressed its serious concern at the “continuing existence of bride abduction, despite its prohibition in the law” and “that this practice results in forced marriages, in contradiction to Article 16 of the Convention.”
Under the Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Kyrgyzstan is also a signatory, “no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” The Human Rights Committee, in its general comment No. 28 on equality of rights between men and women, identified women’s right to free and informed consent in marriage as an element of women’s right to equality.
Please write to the Kyrgyz president, calling on him to ensure that cases of bride kidnapping are properly investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and to raise public awareness about the crime of bride kidnapping and the importance of equal rights within society. Request that he strengthen current legislation against bride kidnapping, including accomplice liability for relatives complicit in the kidnapping, and introduce amendments to guarantee protection of victims and provide easy access to medical, social and legal services.
Letters should go to:
JANUARY 28, 2013 UPDATE: The president of Kyrgyzstan, Mr. Almazbek Atambayev, has signed a bill into law to increase the maximum prison sentence for bride kidnapping from three to seven years, and up to 10 years if the kidnapped bride is younger than 17, which is the minimum legal age for marriage. Equality Now welcomes this development, and we thank the many of you who have been supporting this campaign. We will continue to strategize with our partners regarding how to ensure that the law is implemented and that women's rights are properly protected.
DECEMBER 14, 2012 UPDATE:On 13 December 2012, the Kyrgyz Parliament approved a bill aimed at strengthening legislation on bride kidnapping. Equality Now welcomes this development and urges President Almazbek Atambayev to sign the bill so that it can finally become law.
Please continue to write to President Atambayev, asking him to sign the bill and to ensure that cases of bride kidnapping are properly investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We will continue to work with our partners on the ground to successfully implement the law to prevent bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.
NOVEMBER 16, 2012 UPDATE: Equality Now has been informed by the Kyrgyz Public Prosecutor’s office that it has taken steps aimed at strengthening investigations of allegations of bride kidnapping across the country, although details about these measures and their implementation are currently unclear. Furthermore, in January 2012 the Kyrgyz parliament rejected a legislative amendment that would have introduced fines for Islamic clerics who bless unofficially registered marriages, which commonly include those resulting from bride kidnapping.
Another bill was introduced in June 2012 which sought to strengthen the law on bride kidnapping and this bill was adopted at second reading by the Kyrgyz Parliament on 18 October 2012. Upon consultation with local partners, Equality Now sent a letter to the Kyrgyz parliament welcoming this development and urging all members of parliament to take this opportunity to ensure that legislation adequately strengthened, including by amending it to incorporate accomplice liability for those complicit in the kidnapping as well as guaranteed protection of victims and provision of easy access to medical, social and legal services. We also called on members of parliament to ensure that once stronger legislation has been passed, it is duly implemented, and that they do what they can, in their capacity as members of parliament, to ensure that cases are properly investigated and prosecuted and that the government implements awareness raising in the context of a comprehensive prevention strategy. At the same time, we expressed our support for a petition sent to parliament by Kyrgyz women’s groups in support of stronger legislation.
Dear ____ :
I write to you to thank your government for recently strengthening the law against bride kidnapping in support of the call by local groups trying to stop this harmful practice, which violates women and girls’ rights to bodily integrity, freedom of movement and freedom from violence.
I recognise your government has taken other steps also to address this issue and would like to encourage you now to ensure that cases of bride kidnapping are fully investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This is in keeping with Kyrgyzstan’s own Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law and with its international obligations including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There is also strong support among Kyrgyz women for a public awareness campaign on this issue.
I welcome your government’s leadership in moving to protect women from bride kidnapping and urge you to continue your efforts to make bride kidnapping a thing of the past and so end the suffering of thousands of women.