Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan: A Barely Addressed Human Rights Crisis

Marriage is founded in the "idea" of love, but it's always been complicated.

It's become even more complex throughout time and cultural shifts. In fact, in Kyrgyzstan, one-third of marriages aren't even consensual. Yes, that means that brides are captured against their own will.

This is turning into human rights crisis for women and girls. According to a Kyz Korgon study, up to half of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan result from bride kidnapping, and one-third of them are non-consensual. More specifically, 11,800 cases of forced abduction of women and girls are reported each year, with more than 2,000 of them having been raped.

Not to mention, Kyrgyzstan's total population is just under 6 million people.

Though the numbers are high for such a small population, little is being done to stop it even though it is technically illegal. That is because perpetrators have found a significant loophole.

A kidnapped bride, who most likely is between the age of 17 and 18, often endures violence and psychological pressure until agreeing to marriage. This "technically" makes the situation consensual, and therefore, law enforcement often dismisses the seriousness of the issue.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) said that it is "deeply concerned that bride kidnapping appears to be socially legitimized and surrounded by a culture of silence and impunity, and that cases of bride kidnapping remain under-reported, as they are considered a private issue that should remain within the family."

In 2013, President Almazbek Atambayev approved legislation that increased the penalty for bride kidnapping to up to 10 years. Prior to that, a man could get a longer prison term for stealing a sheep than for abducting an underage girl for forced marriage, according to News Deeply.

In response, CEDAW recommends that the government develop a "comprehensive strategy to address bride kidnapping that includes effective investigation, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators, as well as remedies and support services for victims."

"Empowering girls and women would be another essential step," says Umutai Dauletova, an expert on policy implications for women with the U.N. Development Program. "We're not very good at sexuality education or addressing domestic violence," she continues. "We need to turn this around."

Dauletova confirms that the government is working with the U.N. Population Fund and U.N. Women on researching more accurate bride kidnapping statistics to release in December.

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