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Despite laws, few cases reported and police fail to act
By Jamila Sujud and Rashid Musayev
KARAKALPAKSTAN, Uzbekistan – Nadyra Torekulova thought nothing was amiss one day some 10 years ago when she accepted a ride home from a young man who had proposed marriage to her.
“He had come to woo me, but he had an abrasive personality and I refused. One day, when I was returning home from work, he and his friends approached me and, under the guise of giving me a ride home, he invited me into the car. That’s how I was kidnapped”, said Torekulova, now 28.
“Returning [home] would have been a disgrace; I had to stay”, said Torekulova. “In his home there was always a fight. ... We lived together for nine months. I left for my home four times and came back. The fifth time I left for good”.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the old tradition of bride-napping has returned to parts of Central Asia. And despite progressive legislation, forcing women into marriage often goes unpunished.
Kidnapping for marriage has been reported in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but according to knowledgeable sources does not seem to occur in Tajikistan. An expert from Tajikistan who wished to remain anonymous, said bride-stealing there occurs primarily among traditionally nomadic peoples.
Marfua Tokhtakhajayeva, an Uzbek researcher of gender issues, said several reasons explain the revival of the tradition.
“The cost of a wedding is high. Often the groom has no money, and the bride’s dowry isn’t enough. … Alcoholism and drug addiction; If the parents of the girl find out the boy takes drugs, they will not agree to the wedding. The future groom agrees with his friends to steal the bride. … A difference in educational level may become a reason to bride-nap. Educated families want to intermarry with similar families and, as a rule, if the groom is not educated, they will refuse him”.
In Uzbekistan, the tradition of abducting women for marriage mostly occurs in Karakalpakstan. Such marriages are not officially registered at the ZAGS (Civil Registry).
The Kazakh criminal code provides for five to eight years in prison for bride-napping.
Victoriya Saveleva, a consultant with the Association of Mass Media (Assotsiatsiya SMI) in Taraz, Kazakhstan, admitted that bride-kidnapping happens. But she believes such cases occur if the bride desires it.
But that wasn’t the experience of 17-year-old Asel. On her way home one day, the Kazakh woman was abducted. Her abductors sent a note to her home: “Your daughter will be my wife. Tomorrow, your in-laws will arrive. Meet them”.
Asel said that she resisted, but they continuously psychologically pressured her.
“I felt humiliation, anger, resentment and, finally, resignation to my fate... What could I do”, Asel asked. “Probably, I could only commit suicide, but that is not a way out”.
Ruslan, 31, who lives in suburban Almaty, said that in rural areas not only Kazakhs, but also Caucasians living in compact groups in Kazakhstan, often resort to such methods.
“Before they ‘steal’ the bride, ‘candidates’ for the title of future husband very carefully study the girl and her family”, said Ruslan.
Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs officials said law enforcement agencies have not received complaints of bride-napping. “Apparently, people are afraid of the publicity”, said the source, “or the problem is being peacefully solved by both sides”.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), bride-napping in Kyrgyzstan continues to be an unresolved problem.
In a report titled: “Reconciled to Violence: State Failure to Stop Domestic Abuse and Abduction of Women in Kyrgyzstan”, HRW concludes that “even in the presence of progressive legislation in Kyrgyzstan, law enforcement agencies fail to enforce it. As a result, women continue to be exposed to danger and remain without legal protection”.
A representative of the Bishkek police, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “Abducted girls and their families rarely call the police. It is considered a disgrace if the stolen girl returns home. Rumours can spread that her husband returned her himself because she was impure. Even if we receive complaints from stolen women, the cases practically never make it to the courts. Typically, the girl’s parents convince her to come to terms with it”.