Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Ala Kachuu - a negative practice of kidnapping girls for forced marriage that still exists in Kyrgyzstan. We have talked with three experts: an NGO representative, a psychologist and a lawyer to understand more about this practice and possible ways to stop it.
Some Statistics
According to UN data, 13.8% of Kyrgyz women under the age of 24 married against their will. The victims of bride kidnapping often stay in these marriages because returning home would bring shame and stigma to the woman and her family.
Head of the Open Line Public Foundation
Munara Beknazarova
Works on achieving gender equality, supports female organizations using principles of CEDAW. Organization was created in 2009.

How did you manage to lobby the law that tightens punishment for bride kidnapping?
We started our activity on prevention of bride kidnapping even before the “Open Line”. The important thing to mention is that Kyrgyzstan has ratified The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997 but bride kidnapping still exists in our country. With my colleagues we worked in different non-governmental organizations, prepared a shadow report about the state actions to end all forms of discrimination against women for the Committee of CEDAW.

The Committee of CEDAW several time made recommendations to the government of Kyrgyzstan to conduct a large-scale research on bride kidnapping and perform more active steps to stop this practice. Even though some people in the government still continued to state that “This is a wonderful tradition, this is love”. Only in 2012 we managed to lobby the law that tighten criminal punishment for bride kidnapping. We created a small performance in the government.

Once the representatives of our organization received a call and we were told that tomorrow this bill will be considered in the third reading and many deputies wanted to vote against tightening the legislation. We met one girl who was kidnapped, she had a young man whom she really loved and she didn't want to live with the person who kidnapped her. She resisted the marriage and didn’t allow the young man to get close to her for 10 days in his house. Afterwards parents came to visit their daughter, they said “You are already kidnapped, you should stay in this family”.

After 10 days as a kidnapped girl, she attempted suicide and fell into a coma. Everyone thought she was just sleeping, when they realized that she was not waking up, they called her parents and gave the girl back. She was in a coma for three months, afterwards she came out of a coma but remained disabled. The girl gave as the permission to document her story and publish it. We created a postcard with her photo and wrote a story on her behalf:
"Dear legislator,
My name is Bakhtagul and I was kidnapped.
I didn't want to stay in the kidnapper’s house, I resisted for 10 days, but when I tried to commit suicide. I survived, but now I am disabled. My kidnapper got married, he has a family and beloved children. I am deprived of it.

Dear legislator, I want to give you my bridal flower, because I will no longer need it. I am disabled, but my kidnapper wasn’t detained and punished. He thinks that he didn’t commit a crime. If you, as a legislator, don't accept this bill, then think about how many of these bridal flowers you can get ”.
This letter was read by a female deputy. It made all the deputies think about the legislation and the majority voted in favor of the bill. This was our first action and we were glad that we had lobbied for the bill. Nowadays girls receive better protection.

Before the adoption of this bill, the punishment was minimal, approximately in the amount of 1-2 thousand soms (about $15-20), or as an administrative punishment with release from the courtroom. Men understood that there was no strict punishment for this crime and they could commit a bride kidnapping.

Is it possible to get justice if you have been kidnapped?

We met a girl who was kidnapped in 2009. This was the first case when the girl herself went to court in 2009. When she started to look for a lawyer, the lawyer told her "You won’t win. Everyone loses such cases”. The girl was so indignant at how the process went. She said: “I’ve found a lawyer, paid him and wanted to be defended by a lawyer in accordance with the law, but the lawyer said in advance that this is a losing court case. I don’t want to remember this case and I don’t want to remember what I felt in the courtroom. The lawyer was sitting and grinning, everyone was self-confident”.

They had a version that the girl was familiar with a kidnapper, she got into the car herself and nobody used violence. She actually lost this case.

Has anything changed since that time?

I think, yes. After the adoption of the new bill that increased the punishment for bride kidnapping, many organizations began to conduct information campaigns, inform and speak on national channels, press conferences, and use visual materials. People began to fear that the prison term is extended and they understand that it is better not to kidnap. Kidnappers avoided any punishment for a long period of time, until there were high-profile cases that attracted a lot of media and public attention such as Burulai's and Aizada’s cases. The progressive young now protest against why the justice system doesn’t react when it is their obligation to protect women from this crime. The kidnapper was sentenced to 20 years in Burulai’s case, several representatives of police were fired and an investigation is underway.

People who have grown up on gender stereotypes work in the justice system
When people begin to demand justice the authorities understand that they can no longer mismanage their job, but nevertheless, the policeman's answer in Aizada's case: “You’ll celebrate a wedding, it’s no big deal” clearly illustrates that people are accustomed to such gender stereotypes in society and have seen such values guiding the legal system.

It is necessary for a person to grasp that once at work you cannot express opinions nor follow procedures contrary to the legal system you operate in. You have specific obligations to protect citizens and you should enforce the laws in place. Many organizations do this kind of work, do training for employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (police). Due to a high turnover of staff, it remains difficult for organizations to advocate for enhanced law enforcement among employees of government institutions.

In contrast to other crimes, gender crimes are not taken seriously. There is no evidence of a crime being committed in the cases that we follow and afterwards it is difficult to prove during the trial, because time has already passed, traces, bruises have already disappeared, and no one has done an examination, there are no records, photographs.

Spring in Bishkek application
A girl: "I am kidnapped!!!" Answers: "So romantic!" or "It is horrible!"
If a girl has been kidnapped where she usually goes: to the police or an NGO?

Bride kidnapping is not usually reported by the victim. Instead she would ask a close relative or friend for help. As a rule, kidnapped girls are up to 23 years old since men are more in favor of very young girls. In our society all decisions are always made by adults, so she can’t do anything herself. She is waiting for her elder relatives to come and stand up for her. If there is an initiative from an older relative, then they report it to the police.

We have a mobile app Spring in Bishkek that has been developed to raise awareness of this issue and to stop the bride kidnapping practice. Many people thanked us for this game, one girl wrote: "Thank you very much for the information, we did everything following instructions of the game and the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs quickly arrived and saved my sister”. The game illustrates how to talk to representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, works as a simulator and gives the girls and/or people close to them an opportunity to try on the role of someone who helps, makes decisions, develops leadership qualities so that a person knows and can take steps accordingly even if there are no older relatives nearby.

This is our family business,
Don’t interfere

How does the process take place? What steps are taken when a girl asks for your help?
The suggested sequence of actions are explained in the game. Girls rarely ask us for help. It usually happens because the person is under stress, the girl thinks that adults in her family will make a decision for her. The victim then brings case materials such as paper files and evidence that the court decision was not in her favour. We review the documents together to identify why the law was not enforced. Either the documents were not collected, or the lawyer was unprofessional, or other legal procedures were not followed.

We had a case when a 13-year-old boy called us and said his sister was kidnapped. I called the police, and their representatives went directly to the place where the incident took place. The mother of a girl had already arrived there, took the girl, and when we arrived she said "This is our family business, don’t interfere, the neighbors will see. We don’t need unnecessary rumors in the village”.

There is no trust in the justice system. There are no fair decisions. Several girls are at risk of dying before the state takes the necessary measures and decisions. Law enforcement work should be carried out all the time and systematically, both at schools and in the media, and everywhere, so that people absorb models of good behavior.

To summarize what is the strategy of work to stop this practice?
To work with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, schools, the education system, work with youth organizations, conduct information campaigns, make videos with positive messages. We made videos "I thank my parents who supported me in difficult times and took me from the kidnapper's house." And every parent immediately thinks: I would do that too!

We should work to break these stereotypes, work separately with men, with religious communities, so that they provide lectures on how to establish a family, that bride kidnapping is not appreciated. People do not trust NGOs as NGOs in the eyes of people are vehicles for Western propaganda, but many people believe in religion. There are a lot of areas to work on, a lot needs to be reviewed and developed.
Psychologist, Director of Public Assosiation Crisis Center Sezim
Biubiusara Ryskulova
Provides legal and psychological services for women/girls and their family members, affected by or vulnerable to gender-based, domestic violence and human trafficking. One of the first crisis centers in the post-Soviet states. Organization has been operating since 2008.

Why don't bride kidnapping victims contact the crisis center to get help?
Girls often come to our center with their children after some time of being married. We had a girl who was staying with her child in our center. She was kidnapped when she was 18 years old and only once had she seen her kidnapper. She stayed in the kidnapper’s house because older relatives from the men's side pressured her. They said if you leave, it will be a shame and you will be unhappy. Moreover, the girl had issues with her mother. Her mother stopped contacting daughter after divorce. Girl decided to stay in the kidnaper’s house because she thought her life would change.

But it turned out that her kidnapper was much older than her and he had a fiancé with whom he just broke up. His fiancé was 26 years old and he decided to marry a younger girl in revenge. After he got married he made up with his ex-fiancé and they got back together as a couple. He began to treat his new wife badly. He scoffed, beat and kicked out his wife. The kidnapped girl felt like the third wheel in this situation. She no longer believed in anything, she said “No one needs me. If only someone would accept me as a second wife”. The girl felt completely lost.

What are the psychological consequences of this negative practice?
When we talk with students and young people about how violence occurs, it turns out that 10-15% of marriages are entered into without consent. Furthermore, what is interesting is that often the word "get married" is replaced by "kidnap". When I ask someone why they kidnapped girls, it turns out that it happened because the girl didn’t want to get married right now or her parents didn’t agree to this marriage. Sometimes a bride kidnapping takes place when there is no money for the wedding, so the couple decides to run away and start living together.

Kidnapping is quite a difficult issue. This is not a tradition. It is more about the obedience and respect of our girls towards adults and letting them make decisions for them. This is such pressure and violence, both physical and psychological. Even if the girl decides to stay in the kidnapper’s house, she is more likely not be ready for it psychologically since she has to start living with a person whom she doesn't even know. If the girl is self-sufficient in a way that she is able to maintain herself without outside aid, then the man becomes even more angry and sometimes becomes an alcoholic or a drug addict.
The word "get married" is often replaced by "kidnap"

How exactly do you work with such girls?
We have a hotline, we provide safe housing, psychologists, psychotherapists, lawyers, we offer counselling in the office on all issues. There was a high-profile case well-known in the media when a girl was kidnapped. Her sister was knowledgeable about the law and she filed a lawsuit. Due to the close-knit community the girls were living in, their parents were worried about the reactions the lawsuit would have on the community and themselves. They asked the daughter to withdraw the lawsuit.

Why Does Bride Kidnapping Occur?

The attitude of society towards women

Men usually consider that if they like someone, they have a right to kidnap that person since they are male and have privileges in the society.
Fear of talking to women

Men are afraid of getting in contact with females, they don't know how to start a conversation, they are scared to say something wrong. It’s much easier for them to kidnap girls.
Girl's reputation

If the family moves from the regions to the city, then the girl must be married off as soon as possible so that her reputation isn’t ruined as in she might be tempted to meet other guys.
Financial situation

When there are six or seven children in the family, girls are not even asked, they are just married off. A girl from a poor family might get kidnapped into a rich family.

Does the upbringing of girls affect how they respond to bride kidnapping?
Of course yes, the environment and upbringing plays a very important role. When I was 17 years old I was kidnapped as well. After I spent half a day in the kidnaper’s house, the adults said "We don't need such a fiancé in our family." Probably I could stand up for myself, this is how I was brought up, I was very independent.

I always tell girls, if they tell you “God will punish you if you leave the house” — don't listen. Like the tradition when in order to leave the kidnaper’s house the girl has to step over an old grandmother lying on the threshold. This often becomes the main reason that girls stay in the family and marry an imposed man. Stepping over an old grandmother is considered as a sign of disrespect to adults. I tell girls - no one will punish you, God will forgive you, they put you in such a position when you are forced to do this. It's not your fault, you can do this and leave.
God will punish you if you leave the house

A lot of stories are heard when a mother persuades a girl to stay in the kidnaper’s house. Is it fear of what society will say?
There is more than one reason, there is also a financial reason as I have already mentioned. On the one hand, parents don’t always manage to arrive on time to take their daughters from the kidnaper’s house. Adult women from the groom’s side have already put a headscarf on the girl, which means that she isn’t a girl anymore, but a woman. If she gets married a second time, she is no longer a girl, even if there was nothing in a sexual way.

On the other hand, there is pressure on mothers too. Relatives began to pressure the girl, forcing her to write a note that no one had forced her. The girl isn’t shown to her mother from the kidnapper’s house, so the mother doesn’t know what is happening with her daughter. Grandmothers, aunts from the man's side surround the girl's mother, start to put pressure on her and persuade her that it will be better for her daughter to stay in the kidnaper’s house. But sometimes mothers take their girl back home and insist on writing a statement to the police.

Does Crisis Center "Sezim" conduct training for other specialists, the police, doctors who work with Ala-Kachuu?
We have a slightly different focus. We have other organizations that are engaged in conducting seminars, but we try to talk about the practice of bride kidnapping as much as possible, sometimes I speak on television. Now we are conducting seminars on violence for medical workers, we tell them how to recognize violence, how to help a woman. We made a guideline for health workers, created business cards with relevant addresses to contact and the phone numbers of hotlines in order to distribute to women. This guideline is in Russian and Kyrgyz languages. We explain and discuss how to deal with violence, how to fill out the Istanbul protocol, and how to communicate with victims.
You are already kidnapped, you should stay in this family"

What is the attitude to men who have kidnapped girls?
No one condemns them unless there is a tragic end as in Burulai’s and Aizada’s cases. There is no such thing that he will become an outcast or something like that. There was a case 15-20 years ago when a guy kidnapped a girl, she resisted and ran away, afterwards he kidnapped another girl and she stayed. Then he kidnapped another one that became his second wife. He boasted to everyone about his behavior. It is also necessary to work with this, it is necessary to show the faces of these people so that they are condemned.

Why, when a car or a living creature is stolen, everyone shouted at the person "thief", but when it comes to a kidnapped girl or woman, then the man is praised and he is a hero?

Do you think the situation has changed for the better?
According to my experience, there are small changes. People became afraid of bride kidnapping. But the changes are not so significant, there is always room for improvement.

I'm against the fact that some studies say that 80% of women in Kyrgyzstan get married through Ala-Kachuu, this is nonsense. It's just that sometimes guys say “kidnapped” instead of “married”. It must be understood that sometimes the kidnapping happens by mutual consent, when a guy and a girl come to that because their parents were against their marriage or for some other reasons. I always say to men, say "married", when you really marry by consent, don’t confuse anyone.
Human rights defender, Director of Public Foundation Positive Dialogue
Muhayo Abduraupova 
Helps women-victims of violence to find support, asylum and justice throughout Kyrgyzstan by providing legal assistance in state bodies and escorting to medical and social institutions.

How does the legal system address cases of bride kidnapping?
The Criminal code that was updated in 2019 addresses the issue of bride kidnapping. Bride kidnapping is a criminal offence punishable by up to 7.5 years in prison if a kidnapped woman is under the age of 18 years old. According to a law, the police must register cases of bride kidnapping if they are reported by anyone who witnessed the act of bride kidnapping. The police are also obliged to proceed with a pre-trial investigation of a reported case in order to find out if a woman had been kidnapped against her will.

Some time ago, I found out about a girl, who was kidnapped and who initially didn't want to stay with her kidnapper. Her parents didn't act upon the situation and persuaded her to stay with the abuser. Personally, I believe that no one has the right to kidnap a woman and marry her. Before a girl consented, she called the police, but no one reacted. Instead they told her to talk to her parents. I rushed to the regional police station, but when I was on my way, I was informed that a girl had agreed to stay with and marry her kidnapper.

I felt bad for the girl, who refused to defend her rights. To be honest, the girl remains a victim, even though she agreed to stay with her kidnapper. Generally, young girls in the south of Kyrgyzstan are dependent on their families and on their male relatives. Kyrgyzstan is multinational, but unfortunately bride kidnapping occurs only in Kyrgyz families.
Is there any punishment for police officers who do not react to these kinds of cases?
Police officers can be held liable or get reprimanded when they do purposefully fail to fulfill their obligations. It is the people, who should file cases against the police, but people fear that the police officers, who have power in the first place, will not be held liable.
Parents realized that the bride kidnapping is a criminal offense. Now, they force their daughters to get married

Has the attitude towards bride kidnapping changed after the enactment of a new law?

When people come to the police station to report bride kidnapping cases, they are questioned by the police for an unreasonably long time and eventually women themselves refuse to file a case. If the police station is located in another district, women are referred to the police station, where the offense took place. Police officers also ask about witnesses and how many witnesses can prove that a woman was actually kidnapped. Thus, the responsibility is laid on the shoulders of a woman, who does not know how to proceed further. It takes at least 3-4 months for the filed cases to be considered by the police and trials might take months as well.

If a woman is accompanied by a lawyer, cases are filed immediately without further questions. For example, when I tell women or girls to file cases by themselves, they usually spend days trying to do so. Eventually, the police refuse their requests to file a case or a complaint. Once I accompany a victim, the application is accepted immediately. Women often don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer since they depend on their families, especially on their male relatives who view such actions as shameful.

The punishment for kidnapping a woman for the purpose of marriage was increased in 2007. Nevertheless, my colleagues in Osh do not lead any related cases. Some girls have recently complained that their parents force them to marry. Some parents physically abuse their daughters on a daily basis and force them to marry a man that they have already chosen. There have been instances when girls were killed after they were kidnapped. The news resonated in the country and parents realized that the bride kidnapping is a criminal offense. Now, they force their daughters to get married.

What can be done in these situations except for a girl or a woman to run away?

I can not say anything about it. There is one crisis center that provides shelter for a short period of time. A victim doesn't have anywhere to go afterwards and she returns home. I think that the government agencies should work with these families and parents. Forced marriage is also a criminal offense punishable by law. Girls never file cases against their parents. This is unreal. Young girls and women are very vulnerable not only in Kyrgyzstan, but in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as well. They depend on their parents, male relatives (fathers, brothers, uncles, etc.). Girls don't have their own voices, they don't have the right of choice, especially those who live in smaller towns. It’s even hard for me. Sometimes I don't know what to advise and I feel sorry for young girls, who find themselves in this kind of situation. I can’t imagine how they feel and what they experience in their environment full of violence.

Are there any positive developments?
There are temporary changes, when cases of violence resonate in the whole country. For example, the case of Aizada, who was killed after she was kidnapped. Once the public attention and debate fades away, everything gets back to where it was before. At the moment I work with 3-4 cases, where women reported cases of violence, but the police remain unresponsive.
One can question whether they live in a state governed by the rule of law, or whether they live in an Islamic state

Graffity in memory of bride kidnapping victim in Bishkek
Are there any positive developments?

There are temporary changes, when cases of violence resonate in the whole country. For example, the case of Aizada, who was killed after she was kidnapped. Once the public attention and debate fades away, everything gets back to where it was before. At the moment I work with 3-4 cases, where women reported cases of violence, but the police remain unresponsive.

What is the reaction of judges once a case makes it to the court?
There was one case when a female judge sentenced a man who kidnapped a girl, but the sentence was very mild. Everyone is entitled to a lawyer in Kyrgyzstan, but the police do not inform the victims about this fact. Women and girls are also unaware about local organizations that can provide legal assistance free of charge.

I work with cases where women are prosecuted for self-defense. Such cases are covered in the media. For example, there was a case when a woman killed her husband in self-defense. Another case concerns a woman, who jumped from the fourth floor with her child in her arms. The mass media do not provide contextual analysis of the cases. Usually women are extremely traumatized after years of violence.

Poligamy is another topic of discussion. When I accompanied a woman to the police station, who wanted to file a complaint, the police refused to accept our application. I think that the police officers are reluctant to accept file complaints because they themselves support violence or polygamy. They say that every man has a lover and they can marry twice or thrice according to Islam. One can question whether they live in a state governed by the rule of law, or whether they live in an Islamic state. The punishment for polygamy is community service and a fine..

Are the students in law schools being taught anything related to gender issues?
Our organization this year started an internship "School of Young Lawyers" on the protection of women's rights. We went to universities in Osh and held informational meetings and talked about women's rights before this internship was due to start. In my opinion, young people have a very low level of education, they do not have critical thinking. They believe that if you are a representative of an NGO, then you support LGBT people. We barely recruited 10-15 students, and when we started the internship, we became even more disappointed. Students do not even know how to use a computer or do not know how to search for information on the internet. Only some of them began to understand the topic, became more interested and understood that we really want to help women at the end of internship. They see what kind of women come to us, listen to their stories themselves and get involved in our work.

The draft of the new criminal code is published on We do not know when it will be released. The new criminal code does not provide anything at all about domestic violence. There is the Code of Offences which includes an article on domestic violence, but the article on domestic violence has been removed in the new criminal code. I think there should be a separate article on domestic violence.

We need to educate our citizens. If they speak and demand their rights, only then will our government pay attention to this topic and take measures towards its reduction. When news comes out in the media, for example, that a woman jumped from the 4th floor, or a woman killed her husband, society only blames the woman as if everything was her own fault anyway. We need to educate and train our youth more to see the series of events leading up to such an action and how to prevent such from happening.
Gyunay Mamedova
Text and site layout 
Mariia Koltsova
Text and site layout 
Victoria Li
We would like to thank Munara Beknazarova, Biubiusara Ryskulova and Muhayo Abduraupova for giving the interviews for our project. Hope for future cooperation!
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