Each year an estimated 11,500 to 16,500 girls are forcibly abducted to become brides in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. Though under the Kyrgyz Criminal Code it is an offense--punishable by imprisonment--to kidnap a woman for a marriage against her will or to force a woman into marriage, criminal justice agencies, including the police, prosecutors and judges, often view bride kidnapping as a culturally-protected tradition and fail to enforce the law. Tragically, just last year, two young women committed suicide in the Issyk-Kul Province after their abductions and forced marriages. Equality Now has been working with local groups on this issue and today released a public Action  calling for the Kyrgyz government to properly investigate and prosecute kidnappers to the fullest extent of the law and to introduce amendments guaranteeing victim protection and provisions for easy access to medical, social and legal services.
“Bride kidnapping is a form of violence against women and a human rights violation that leads to forced marriage and often repeated rape, servitude and denial of educational and other opportunities,” says Anber Raz, Equality Now Program Officer for Sexual Violence and Trafficking. In Kyrgyzstan the cultural stigma attached to an unmarried girl spending a night with a man (whether or not rape occurs) is too much for both the kidnapped victims and their parents to bear. One woman, kidnapped in 2010, was told by her mother “you must stay here otherwise you dishonor me and yourself.” Some parents even agree to accept money and gifts from the kidnapper in exchange for a promise not to go to the police. And, as illustrated previously, victims of these forced and frequently abusive marriages have been known to take their own lives.
In 2010, research by women’s NGO Public Foundation Open Line found that more than 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 re-abducted and raped by the kidnapper, which forced her to accept the marriage.
Kyrgyzstan, which has been in the news recently, has a decades-long history of political turmoil. Last week Monday, former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev was elected President and Nursuna Memecan, Head of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly delegation, stated, “I hope this election will be a step towards breaking the vicious cycle of corruption, lack of implementation of the rule of law and ethnic tensions. We call on all political actors to continue doing their utmost for the stability of the country by protecting the human rights of all its citizens and respecting democratic standards." Equality under the law is guaranteed by the Kyrgyz Constitution and its government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes a prohibition against forced marriage. The country also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997. Therefore, both by international and national law, the Kyrgyz government is required to protect all its citizens equally.