Our Perspectives


Whatever you call it, violence against women is never acceptable

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 Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Along with the beauty of its mountainous landscapes, one of the first things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel phenomenon of bride kidnapping.

This ritual involves ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper. I read a lot of sad stories about this practice coming from different countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as trite justifications based on culture and poor economic conditions. But perhaps the most striking story I’ve heard is the personal account of a young woman I will call Roza.

Roza has been kidnapped twice, first at the age of 19, then at 23. In both cases she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home. It was as though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle. She was the spoils.

The first time, Roza was taken to a nicely set room and offered tea and plov while her potential mother-in-law praised the virtues of her son – “a hard worker and mild person”. Roza stubbornly refused the marriage. Many other female relatives joined the effort, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with shouting and threats.

After a long night, she was eventually allowed to leave. Once home, she had to face her father’s outrage for putting herself and the entire family in this “shameful” situation. According to his advice, she should have accepted the marriage with the kidnapper even though she barely knew him.

The second time Roza was kidnapped there was no tea or plov offered. She was raped.

Now Roza has two children with a husband she chose freely. But her wounds never healed and her trauma often comes back to haunt her.  

Still, Roza believes she was lucky. Most of her school friends were kidnapped at least once. Some agreed, some refused or even committed suicide. Others decided to get married as early as possible to avoid kidnapping. In all cases the best years of their lives were marked by fear of violence.
As a rule of law advisor for UNDP in Kyrgyzstan, as a father and as a human being, I am committed to helping eradicating this brutal ritual. Much has been done through our projects focusing on strengthening legal frameworks and improving access to justice.

Still, it’s not enough. Recent studies reveal that 32 women are kidnapped for marriage every day in Kyrgyzstan. Criminal investigations are rare, with only 1 out of 700 cases prosecuted.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s all commit to work to end this ritual. There are no brides in this picture. There are only kidnappings and rapes, so let’s also stop calling it bride kidnapping!

Women's empowerment Gender equality Sexual and gender-based violence Access to justice Rule of law

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