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Kidnapping for marriage (ala kachuu) in a Kyrgyz village


Abstract and Figures

Ala kachuu is the act of abducting a woman to marry her. It includes a variety of actions ranging from elopement or staged abduction for consensual marriage to violent non-consensual kidnapping. 'Kidnapping' refers to the non-consensual variety, which typically involves a young man and his friends taking a young woman by deception or force to the home of his parents or a near relative. She is held in a room until his female relatives convince her to put on the marriage scarf. If necessary she is kept over night and sometimes raped, and is thus threatened by the shame of no longer being a pure woman. This research provides evidence that more than a third of ethnic Kyrgyz women have been married by non-consensual kidnapping, and that the practice has been increasing for at least the last half century. The paper describes all forms of ala kachuu and raises ethical concerns about non-consensual kidnapping.
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Kidnapping for marriage (ala kachuu)
in a Kyrgyz village
Ala kachuu is the act of abducting a woman to marry her. It includes a variety of
actions ranging from elopement or staged abduction for consensual marriage to
violent non-consensual kidnapping. ‘Kidnapping’ refers to the non-consensual
variety, which typically involves a young man and his friends taking a young
woman by deception or force to the home of his parents or a near relative. She
is held in a room until his female relatives convince her to put on the marriage
scarf. If necessary she is kept over night and sometimes raped, and is thus
threatened by the shame of no longer being a pure woman. This research provides
evidence that more than a third of ethnic Kyrgyz women have been married by
non-consensual kidnapping, and that the practice has been increasing for at least
the last half century. The paper describes all forms of ala kachuu and raises
ethical concerns about non-consensual kidnapping.
Ala kachuu for some time has been widely accepted in the published literature as
a Kyrgyz traditional practice.
There is, however, no consensus among Kyrgyz
people as to whether or not ala kachuu should be considered a ‘Kyrgyz tradition’.
Conversations with both older people and youth, and a recent discussion section
of a local newspaper in Kyrgyz claim that it is not a tradition.
Part of the
difficulty is with translating ala kachuu into Russian and English as bride ‘kid-
napping’. In Kyrgyz, ala kachuu is two words literally meaning ‘to take and
run away’.
In 1938, Fannina Halle described the practice and claimed that instances of
bride kidnapping in Central Asia were simply ‘symbolic relics’ of a more preva-
lent and violent practice.
Toursunof and Abdyldaeva write that ala kachuu as a
practice may have its roots in a custom that ‘can be traced back to ancient
Kyrgyz history, when Kyrgyz males kidnapped marriageable young women
from neighboring tribes in order to wipe out enemies and increase their own
clans. ... A woman would be taken to a groom-to-be’s home, where she could
Central Asian Survey (June 2005) 24(2), 191202
0263-4937 print=1465-3354 online=05=02=0191-12 # 2005 Central Asian Survey
DOI: 10.1080=02634930500155138
attempt to break free if she so desired.’
Abramzon states that non-consensual
kidnapping of brides was historically uncommon:
Bride kidnapping (kyz ala kachuu) as a form of marriage in the past was rare. According to our
interlocutors in Tien Shan, if a man seeking in marriage did not have resources to pay for
kalym, then he first paid a small amount and then having agreed with a woman, kidnapped her.
After that the father of the man had to visit the woman’s father and ask for forgiveness for his
son. This visit was called aldyna tushuu [sic]. After reconciliation, the bride’s mother visited
the groom’s parents bringing dowry with her. According to Jumagulov A., a man kidnapped a
bride in those cases when his relatives were influential people and could support him, or a
young man’s matchmakers were not successful, or a bride’s parents were against the marriage. Kid-
napping took place, as a rule, with bride’s agreement. People resorted to bride kidnapping rela-
tively rarely mostly due to conflicts that would engage a wide circle of relatives and tribal
members from both sides, which could result in tribal hostility sometimes ending with severe
Karimova and Kasybekov write that, ‘In the 1819th centuries kidnapping of a
girl was the only way for a loving couple to get married if they could not do it
for reasons of parental non-consent or issues of money. Differing social situations
would not allow a poor guy to marry a daughter of a bai.
The whole family clan
would stand against the mismatch. The only way out was ala kachuu.
She also
writes that, ‘In ancient times society severely punished a guy for such an audacious
action. Thieves of brides were stoned to death or thrown from minarets, including
the Burana Tower.’
Several descriptive narratives of contemporary kidnappings
are in the literature
and now on film.
There is a near consensus among scholars and the general public that according
to the most accepted Kyrgyz tradition the parents of a bridegroom or the bride-
groom himself choose a bride. Then the man’s parents ask the parents of the
woman and if they and the woman agree, there is a marriage. In some cases, ala
kachuu is a practice that allows young adults who want to marry, to do so when
their marriage is not approved by their parents for financial or social reasons such
as different class status or the parents having arranged their marriages to others.
In this case, it is consensual between man and woman, and is really a staged abduc-
tion, or elopement. This field survey evidence also suggests that kidnapping of brides
may have been happening early in the 20th century, although not as frequently
or incorporating violence and non-consent to the same degree as now.
At this time, the published literature, interviews with scholars, people in vil-
lages, and the evidence from our current research would suggest that prior to
the 20th century the practice of bride kidnapping was uncommon (both consensual
and non-consensual), hence not a ‘tradition’. Our theory at the time of writing this
paper is that in ‘ancient’ times when the Kyrgyz tribes were still primarily
nomadic, it occasionally happened that men from one tribe would steal women
from other tribes for wives (ala kachuu). However, this was not the normal or
usual way for marriages to be established. The traditional marriage was arranged,
or at least approved, by the parents, either within or between tribes. This was the
predominant practice prior to the 20th century.
The Soviet period brought an ideology of malefemale equality and secular,
rational freedom from traditions such as arranged marriage, bride price and
payment of dowry. In this context young men and women may have wanted to
exercise the new equality and independence from parental control over choosing
their marriage partners, and chose to legitimate this action by imitating the ancient
form of ala kachuu. If done with the mutual consent of the man and woman, it
would allow for freedom of choice and be legitimated by a traditional practice,
albeit one previously infrequently used. Coincidently, it would also lower the
overall cost of a traditional wedding. The problem, however, is that the manifest
appearance of ala kachuu marriages is non-consensual. To the community and
especially to younger men and women what appeared was the revival and
legitimating of a non-consensual tradition.
There is considerable published material asserting that non-consensual kidnap-
ping for marriage was common in the Soviet period and has been on the increase
since 1991.
The statistical evidence from the current study suggests that in at
least the last half of the 20th century there was a gradual increase until the practice
had evolved and become quite common and increasingly non-consensual. Now a
young man, usually with the help of some of his male friends and a significant
amount of alcohol, deceive or force a young woman into a car, after which, she
is taken to the home of a female relative of the man, where she is culturally, psy-
chologically and often physically forced to put on the marriage scarf.
she is raped as a means of coercing her to submit and accept the marriage. Our first
study showed 84 per cent of kidnapped women do not leave and are married as a
Previous research concluded that approximately one-half of ethnic
Kyrgyz women are kidnapped for marriage and that approximately two-thirds
of those kidnappings were non-consensual.
Based on the earlier and current
studies, we believe that as many as 3545 per cent of ethnic Kyrgyz women
are forced to marry someone, not of their choosing, through the process of kidnap-
ping. The quantitative and qualitative evidence now exists
to establish that non-
consensual ala kachuu is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1948), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (1981), and the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Research methods
The present survey (conducted in January, 2004) duplicated the descriptive ques-
tions of our first study
and was done to validate the accuracy of the results of the
earlier studies that described the characteristics and frequency of ala kachuu. The
present survey included all women of one village so that we may also determine
any patterns of change in frequency and consent level for different age groups.
For this study a single village was selected, whose population was primarily
ethnic Kyrgyz, large enough to provide a representative sample of this region of
the country, and small enough so that all the women in the village could be sur-
veyed. By surveying all the women (age 16 and above) we hoped to include all
women who are now or were married. The goal was to cover all age cohorts in
order to learn whether the frequency of ala kachuu is increasing or decreasing, to
learn if the level of consent is changing, and to learn if other characteristics of the
practice were different for different age groups.
The research village located in the north-eastern region of the country had 504
households. The village was also selected because the researchers had excellent
contacts with residents of the village who facilitated the research process. An unre-
lated community project did a detailed census of the village in 2003, and we were
able to use this information to have very current data, including the sex and age of
all residents.
The research project was directed by four faculty members of the American
University—Central Asia (AUCA). The University administration wrote an
introductory letter to the research village council that stated that the research
was sponsored by the University, and requested that the village council approve
and endorse the research by adding their seal and signature to the letter. This
was done by the council after being given a written description of the research
and copies of the research instrument. Copies of the council endorsement were
carried by research teams and shown to residents in the village to help legitimate
the research process.
The canvassing was done door to door by teams comprised of one AUCA
female student and one female teacher or senior female student from the local
high school. The local teachers and students provided knowledge of the village
and introductions for the AUCA students who were the surveyors and who
answered all questions about the survey questions in private with the respondents.
This process provided access to the homes, and anonymity for the respondents, as
neither their questions nor the questionnaires were seen or handled by anyone who
knew them. Ten teams canvassed 424 of 504 households and collected 564
questionnaires in three and one-half days. The village received a computer for
the village office, and each participating household received a small box of tea
by the research teams, as it is customary for visitors to a household to bring
small gifts. While in the village, the AUCA students stayed with local families.
One of the secondary goals of this project was for AUCA students to have the
personal experience of participation in practical research at the village level.
The questionnaire used in this study had been filled out previously by 300
respondents in 1999.
In 2001, a shorter version, covering the questions of age,
ethnicity, and consent was filled out by approximately 550 respondents.
two previous surveys were filled out by respondents from six of the seven
oblasts in the country.
They were filled out by both men and women, describing
kidnappings with which they were familiar, not usually their own. The present
study only asked women to fill out the questionnaires about themselves. Respon-
dents had a choice of Kyrgyz or Russian language questionnaires to complete. The
questionnaires gathered demographic data and information as to whether or
not the women had been kidnapped. If they were kidnapped, information was
gathered on when the kidnapping took place, who was involved in the planning
and actual kidnapping, what were the motives for the kidnapping, what was the
level of consent by the couple and families, whether or not a marriage resulted
from the kidnapping, and the present status of a resulting marriage. The results
of this research were (with some variations) consistent with the results of the
two previous surveys.
Who are the men and women involved in bride kidnapping?
The 2004 research village is predominately an ethnic Kyrgyz village (96 per cent).
Of the 543 Kyrgyz respondents, 374 (80 per cent) reported to have been kid-
napped, ten of them more than once. There were six non-ethnic Kyrgyz kidnap-
pings: three Kazak, two Kalmyk and one Uzbek. Unless otherwise noted, the
statistics given below describe only the Kyrgyz respondents and are usually
rounded to the nearest percentage point.
At the time of the kidnapping the mean average age of the women was 20 years
and of the men 24 years. Table 1 illustrates the education levels at the time of the
kidnappings. These results are consistent with the 1999 study and reveal a reason-
ably well-educated population.
What was the familiarity among men and women involved in kidnappings?
According to the respondents, 9 per cent of the men kidnapped women whom they
did not know, whereas 22 per cent of women said they were kidnapped by men
whom they did not know.
When asked if the man was in love with the
woman he kidnapped, 41 per cent of the respondents answered positively. A
similar question about whether the women were in love with the men yielded a
figure of only 26 per cent. As with our first study,
we see that approximately
one-fifth of the kidnapped women did not know the men they were to marry,
and only a quarter claimed to be in love with their future husbands.
What is the degree of mutual consent by men and women
involved in kidnappings?
Based on the results of this survey, the level of mutual consent in kidnappings in
Kyrgyzstan is relatively low. According to our respondents (see Table 2) only 34
per cent of the kidnappings were conducted with the woman’s consent. Forty-six
per cent of the respondents said they were kidnapped through deception and 18 per
Table 1. Education level of men and women at the time of the kidnappings
Men (%) Women (%)
Less than secondary education 10 12
Secondary education 34 27
Some university or technical school 39 38
University education 14 21
cent by physical force. The differences in the desires of the man and woman’s
parents are also notable in a culture where arranged marriages are or were
common. Among the mothers of the men, 23 per cent wanted the kidnapping to
happen, but only 4 per cent of the mothers of the women desired it. Among
fathers of the men, 18 per cent wanted the kidnapping vs. 2 per cent of the
fathers of the women.
Thus while the non-consensual kidnapping of a bride is obviously an act of male
dominance, the fact that such a small percentage of parents support the act before
it happens suggests that this is not an ‘ethnic ritual embedded in patriarchal
daily life’,
as the patriarchal tradition is for there to be a marriage arranged,
or at least approved beforehand, by the two family patriarchs. Beyond this, the evi-
dence that approximately one-third of ala kachuu marriages are consensual points
to the fact that the practice is complex and varied, and in a minority of cases is an
act of gender equality over-riding traditions of male dominance and patriarchy.
This is evidenced also by the reasons given as to why the woman was kidnapped.
Why were women kidnapped?
When asked why this woman was kidnapped, the respondents were given eight
possible choices and could check as many answers as applied (see Table 3).
The four most frequent reasons given were: ‘It is a good traditional way to get
a bride’ (38 per cent), ‘Woman might refuse marriage proposal’ (29 per cent),
‘To prevent the woman from marrying another’ (28 per cent), and ‘Woman had
refused marriage proposal’ (12 per cent).
These figures support the belief that
many people accept that this is a legitimate tradition. The responses demonstrate
a low level of respect for the rights of women to choose their husbands. Finally
there is evidence that in some cases this process may be used by young men (some-
times with the agreement of young women) to bypass the will of either set of
Table 2. Degree of mutual consent by men and women involved in kidnappings
Women (%)
Woman kidnapped with her own consent 34
Woman kidnapped through deception 46
Woman kidnapped by physical force 18
Man helped plan the kidnapping 76
Woman helped plan kidnapping 6
Friends of man helped plan kidnapping 73
Friends of woman helped plan kidnapping 9
Friends of the man helped kidnap woman 84
Friends of woman helped kidnap woman 12
Mother of man wanted kidnapping to occur 23
Mother of woman wanted kidnapping to occur 4
Father of man wanted kidnapping to occur 18
Father of woman wanted kidnapping to occur 2
parents, including arrangements for different marriages. It also raises a question of
a lack of dating culture in traditional villages that would provide space for a
broader pool of eligible men to choose from, for women.
How often did kidnappings result in marriage and eventually divorce?
The great majority of the kidnappings described in this survey (92 per cent)
resulted in marriage. In 8 per cent of the cases, the women refused to stay or
their relatives came and took them home. One woman reported being kidnapped
three times, and finally on the third time she agreed to stay. Of the marriages
that took place, 6 per cent reported ending in divorce.
How have frequency and consent level changed over time?
Grouping the respondents in age groups of ten years, we were able to estimate the
change in frequency of kidnapping and the change in level of consent over the
last half century (see Table 4). For example, of the women 76 years or older,
Table 3. Why was this woman kidnapped?
Women (%)
It is a good traditional way to get a bride 38
Woman might refuse marriage proposal 29
To prevent woman from marrying another 28
Woman had refused a marriage proposal 12
Parents of woman might not agree to marriage 7
Man was unable to pay kalym (bride price) 3
The woman was pregnant 2
Parents of man might not agree to marriage 1
Table 4. 2004 Village kidnapping frequency and consent level
Married women
kidnapped (%)
Married women,
without consent (%)
Number of
76 þ 64 43 27 11
6675 64 56 36 36
56 65 73 25 18 44
46 55 88 54 47 82
36 45 83 57 47 126
26 35 78 65 51 87
16 25 85 75 63 117
Average 80 57 45 503
By deception or force, not in love and woman not wanting to be kidnapped.
64 per cent were kidnapped, with 43 per cent of these kidnappings being non-
consensual. The result being that 27 per cent of all married women in this age
group were married by non-consensual kidnapping. For all married women 36
to 56 years of age this figure had risen to 47 per cent, and for all married
women 1625 years, 63 per cent were married by non-consensual kidnapping.
This evidence suggests an increase in both consensual ala kachuu and non-consen-
sual kidnapping of brides not just after the Soviet period, but over the last 4050
years (see Figure 1). The implication of this is that prior to the Soviet period non-
consensual kidnapping was rare. These findings are consistent with Cynthia
Werner’s research on bride kidnapping in Kazakhstan.
The 1999 and 2001 data provided evidence that approximately 50 per cent of
ethnic Kyrgyz marriages were the result of kidnappings. These data provided
evidence that as many as 66 per cent of these marriages were non-consensual.
The first two studies concluded that approximately 33 per cent of ethnic Kyrgyz
women were married against their will as a result of bride kidnapping. The
2004 data show that 80 per cent of Kyrgyz marriages in this village are the
result of kidnappings. These data illustrate that 57 per cent of these marriages
are non-consensual. The 2004 village study suggests that 45 per cent of the
ethnic Kyrgyz women are married against their will as a result of bride kidnap-
ping. Based on the cumulated data from the three studies, we estimate that
approximate 3545 per cent of married ethnic Kyrgyz women are married
against their will as a result of bride kidnapping.
The evidence from the 2004 village study suggests the rate of kidnapping and
the rate of non-consent have been increasing for the last 40 50 years. The
Figure 1. 2004 Villlage: frequency of kidnapping and consent level over time.
percentage of women kidnapped has increased from 64 per cent to over 85 per cent
and the percentage of women kidnapped without consent from 43 per cent to 75
per cent for the 1625 year-old age group. The weight of the evidence here
points to an increase in male dominance rather than to a practice that counters
arranged marriages and affirms a lover’s option. If it were primarily a lover’s
option, a much higher percentage of the kidnap-marriages would be consensual.
The results raise serious questions about the impact of bride kidnapping on the
rights of women, particularly those related to Article 16 of the Universal Declara-
tion of Human Rights (1948), which asserts that ‘marriage shall be entered into
only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses’. It also violates
Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (1981), which states that ‘parties shall take all appropriate
measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to
marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality
of men and women: (a) The same right to enter into marriage, and (b) The
same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with
their free and full consent’. Moreover, it violates Article 1 of the Declaration on
the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), that states, ‘For the
purposes of this Declaration, the term “violence against women” means any act
of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual
or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts,
coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in
private life.’
Non-consensual ala kachuu violates Article 155 of the Criminal code of the
Kyrgyz Republic, ‘Forcing a woman to marry or to continue a marriage or
kidnapping her in order to marry without her consent, also standing in the way
of marriage (impediment) is subject to punishment as a fine in the amount of
100 to 200 minimal wages per month or to imprisonment up to five years.’
Programs and future research
Research needs to be done into the degree to which, if at all, non-consensual
kidnapping of brides is a ‘Kyrgyz tradition’ that predates the Soviet period.
The evidence of this research suggests an increase in both consensual ala
kachuu and non-consensual kidnapping of brides not just after the Soviet
period, but over the last 40 50 years. The implication of this is that prior to
the Soviet era non-consensual kidnapping was rare. If this is true, the important
question to be answered is why this practice developed and increased to the
extent that it has.
Also, research needs to be done on Kyrgyz adat, i.e. the ancient customary law.
Material originally published in 1897 on Turkmen adat
makes it clear that by
Turkmen customary law (pre-dating Sharia), ‘pretended abductions’ of brides
with their consent is acceptable. It was also a way for a girl to marry without
her parents’ consent.
However the first article for declaring a marriage invalid
and legitimately dissolved is, ‘If married under compulsion (a girl or a widow)
proves that during the marriage ceremony she didn’t consent to marry and was
married by force.’
Research is needed to determine if Kyrgyz adat is similar
to Turkmen customary law. An aspect of this research will focus on the revived
aksakal (elders’) courts to determine if they are supporting the practice of non-
consensual kidnapping
or if they are basing their decisions on an interpretation
of adat, that supports only parentally arranged marriages and abduction by
There is also some anecdotal evidence emerging that the practice of non-con-
sensual bride kidnapping was very uncommon prior to the 20th century.
source gives an account by a grandparent of the first such kidnapping in her
region. This may, of course, tell us more about the moral ambiguity of the practice
in the eyes of many Kyrgyz than about its true historical origins.
There are programmes being developed to eliminate the practice of non-
consensual ala kachuu. These exist at least in Bishkek city, Jalalabat, Issykul,
Naryn and Talas regions.
Our research is being done partially to provide
statistical data for use in these programmes. The research and related educational
efforts have also resulted in a web page being created that is ‘Dedicated to
Understanding Ala Kachuu and Preventing Non Consensual Marriage’, and
‘Pledges of Resistance’ for men and women being written and distributed,
films being produced and lecture series being given around the country.
UNDP Kyrgyzstan has even published an educational cartoon book
young women kidnapping a young man and showing a mocking perspective of
ala kachuu.
Notes and references
1. F. Halle, Women in the Soviet East, translated from the German by Margaret M. Green (New York:
E. P. Dutton, 1938); G. Massell, The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies
in Soviet Central Asia, 1919 1929 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974); S. M. Abramzon,
Kirgizy i ih ethnogoneticheskie i istoriko-kulturnye svyazi (Frunze: Kyrgyzstan, 1990); C. Werner, ‘Marriage,
markets, and merchants: changes in wedding feasts and household consumption in patterns in rural
Kazakhstan’, Culture & Agriculture, Vol 19, Nos 1/2, 1997, pp 6 13; J. Eshimkanova, ‘Traditionalism
versus civil society: NGOs versus bride kidnapping’, Unpublished paper presented at the international
student conference ‘Ten Years After: Moving Forward, Looking Back?’, Budapest, Hungary, 1318
April, 1998; K. Kuehnast, ‘From pioneers to entrepreneurs: young women consumerism, and the “world
picture” in Kyrgyzstan’, Central Asian Survey, Vol 17, No 4, 1998, pp 639 654; S. Lloyd-Roberts,
‘Kyrgyz bride theft goes awry’, BBC Worldnews, 22 March 1999a, available at , http/;
S. Lloyd-Roberts, ‘Plight of Kyrgyzstan brides who are kidnapped, raped, and abandoned’, The Independent,
6 March 1999b, p 18; Violence Against Women, ch 5, Women in transition, UNICEF’s Monee Project, No 6,
1999, pp 77 92; L. M. Handrahan, ‘International human rights law and bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan’, 28
January 2000a, posted on Eurasia Insight, 19 July 2001, available at
insight/articles/eav012400.shtml.; L. M. Handrahan, ‘Kidnapping brides in Kyrgyzstan: prescriptive human
rights measures’, Human Rights Tribune, Vol 7, No 1, March 2000b, available at ,
bune/templates/article.cfm?IssueIDj16&Sectionj1&Articlej256.; L. M. Handrahan, ‘Hunting for women:
bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol 6, No 2, June 2004, pp
207233; A. Tabyshalieva, ‘Revival of traditions in post-Soviet Central Asia’, Institute for Regional
Studies, available at ,,%20Revival%20of%20Tradition-
s%20in%20Post-Soviet%20Central%20Asia.htm. Accessed June 1 2004.
2. B. Bekeshova, ‘Ala kachuu salt emes’, Asylzat, No 2 (104), January 2004, p 9.
3. Halle, op cit, Ref 1, pp 9293.
4. H. Toursunof and A. Abdyldaeva, ‘Marriage of inconvenience’, Transitions Online, 2003, available at
,¼ 1& IdPublication¼ 4&NrIssue¼ 45&
NrSection¼ 2&NrArticle¼ 9381..
5. Abramzon, op cit, Ref 1, p 245 (translated from Russian).
6. Bai, in Kyrgyz means a wealthy person.
7. G. Karimova and A. Kasybekov, ‘Brides are keeping quiet’, Verchniy Bishkek, 21 October 2003, p 8.
8. Ibid.
9. Lloyd-Roberts (1999a), op cit, Ref 1; S. Amsler and R. Kleinbach, ‘Bride kidnapping in the Kyrgyz
Republic’, International Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol 4, 1999, pp 185216; R. Kleinbach,
‘Frequency of non-consensual bride kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic’, International Journal of Central
Asian Studies, Vol 8, No 1, 2003, pp 108 128; N. Orozobekova, ‘Bride-kidnapping’, Unpublished
Student Paper, American University Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 2003; R. K. Osmonalieva,
Jenshiny Kyrgyzstana: Vchera i Segodnya’ (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Prosveshenie, 2003).
10. P. Lom, ‘Films: Ala Kachuu documentary film’, in R. Kleinbach, ‘Ala Kachuu’, available at ,http://faculty.
11. Tabyshalieva, op cit, Ref 1.
12. Kuehnast, op cit, Ref 1; Violence Against Women, op cit, Ref 1; Handrahan (2000a, 2000b), op cit,
Ref 1; Straits Times, May 8, 2001 ,,1887,43344-
140000,00.html. Accessed January 10, 2002; Tabyshalieva, op cit, Ref 1.
13. Orozobekova, op cit, Ref 9; T. Orunbaeva, Unpublished lecture notes, 2003; Handrahan, op cit, Ref 1.
14. Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
15. Ibid; Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
16. Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9; Handrahan (2000a, 2000b), op cit, Ref 1, Handrahan (2004), op cit,
Ref 1; Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
17. United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly
resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948; United Nations, Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women, General Assembly resolution 34/180, 34 United Nations, 1981.
GAOR Supp. (No 46) at 193, UN Doc A/34/46, entered into force 3 September 1981, available at
,; Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic
(Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan).
18. Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
19. Ibid.
20. Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
21. Oblast is an administrative district in the Kyrgyz Republic. Currently, there are seven oblasts in the country.
22. Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9; Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
23. These figures are lower than Handrahan’s (2004, op cit, Ref 1, p 220) reporting of 176 men, 35 per cent of
whom reported kidnapping strangers.
24. Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.
25. Handrahan (2004), op cit, Ref 1, p 223.
26. B. Pusurmankulova, ‘Bride kidnapping: benign custom or savage tradition?’, Voice of Freedom Initiative of
the Human Rights Working Group, 15 June 2004, available at , surveyed
300 respondents in the southern part of the country. Among the questions and responses was, ‘Why do young
men start a family by kidnapping brides? Here 27 [per cent] of all respondents mentioned economic reasons.
They said it helps reduce marriage expenses. More than 34 [per cent] of the respondents think that young men
steal those girls who do not agree to get married. And about 25 [per cent] of the respondents said it is very
convenient when you have to marry urgently.’
27. C. Werner, ‘Women, marriage, and the nation-state: the rise of nonconsensual bride kidnapping in post-
Soviet Kazakhstan’, in Pauline Jones Luong, ed, The Transformation of Central Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 2004), pp 59 89. Werner’s research (see pp 83 84) shows that in Kazakhstan, ‘From
1946 to 2000, the percentage of kidnap marriages with strong consent declined from 75 per cent (1946
1970) to 35 per cent. ... These findings correspond to a popular perception that the percentage of noncon-
sensual kidnapping is on the rise. Informants who were married in the 1960s and 1970s point out nostalgically
that the kidnappings in the past were almost always with the girl’s consent, and she was typically informed
where and when the kidnapping would take place.’
28. A. Lomakin, The Common Law of the Turkmens (Adat) (Ashgabat: “Ylym”, [1897], 1993), p 10.
29. Ibid, p 21.
30. Ibid, p 23.
31. Handrahan (2004), op cit, Ref 1, p 213.
32. Orozobekova, op cit, Ref 9.
33. See Orunbaeva, op cit, Ref 13. Tukan Orunbaeva is a leader of ‘Bakubat’ NGO in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. She
has conducted a number of seminars for male students in armed forces in Naryn. Orunbaeva’s goal was to
educate young males against bride kidnapping. She has also produced a documentary film, which she
shows during her seminars. Orunbaeva is a gynecologist in a local hospital where she works mostly with
young women. From their stories of unhappy marriages based on kidnappings without their consent
Orunbaeva devotes her time holding seminars, presentations and meetings with students in colleges,
universities and high schools.
34. R. Kleinbach, ‘Ala Kachuu’, retrieved on 27 June 2004, available at ,
35. E. Dj. Schukurov, Gendernye Otnosheniya: Uroki Vzroslenia (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: UNDP, 2003).
... However, another nationally representative study found that over half of bride kidnappings were non-consensual (Nedoluzhko and Agadjanian 2015). Studies by Kleinbach and colleagues, using non-random samples, found that 65-75% of kidnappings occur without the woman's consent, and that some 20% of kidnappings involve rape (Amsler and Kleinbach 1999;Kleinbach 2003;Kleinbach, Ablezova, and Aitieva 2005). Kyrgyz scholars have argued that the line between consensual and non-consensual kidnappings is fuzzy; even when a kidnapping is arranged in advance, the bride may have agreed under duress, or may have little say in the timing of the marriage (Werner et al. 2018). ...
... The extent of involvement of the prospective groom's family in a bride kidnapping also varies. Some grooms are pressured into kidnapping to secure a quick wedding, sometimes kidnapping occurs after a failed negotiation for an arranged marriage, and sometimes young men kidnap without the prior knowledge of their families (Amsler and Kleinbach 1999;Borbieva 2012;Kleinbach, Ablezova, and Aitieva 2005;Werner 2009). ...
... Werner (2009) describes it as a sign of resurging patriarchal norms in post-Soviet Central Asia. Kleinbach, Ablezova, and Aitieva (2005) argue that it constitutes a failure of the patriarchal norm of arranged marriage. However, Nedoluzhko and Agadjanian (2015) test the hypothesis that bride kidnapping, particularly consensual kidnapping, serves as a replacement for traditional arranged marriages and find no evidence for it. ...
Because the decision to migrate is a product of gendered negotiations within households, households formed through forced marriage may have different migration strategies than households formed through voluntary marriage. In Kyrgyzstan, we anticipate two possible effects of the traditional practice of bride kidnapping on migration. Households headed by a kidnap couple may be more cohesive and patriarchal, facilitating men’s labour migration and remittance-sending. Alternately, women may use migration to escape such households. We test these two hypotheses using a sample of 1,171 households in rural Kyrgyzstan. Kidnap households are more likely to include women migrants, compared to other households. Kidnap households are also more likely to be receiving remittances, even when controlling for migrant household members. However, traditional beliefs about kidnapping are negatively associated with men’s and women’s migration. While higher levels of remittance receipt among kidnap households resembles the unified, patriarchal households envisioned in the New Economics of Labour Migration, it also appears that women use labour migration as a means to escape patriarchal constraints. We demonstrate that forced marriage in Kyrgyzstan plays a larger social role than is often believed, and highlight a new pathway through which gendered power dynamics can shape household migration strategies.
... For instance, in Kyrgyzstan, while legislation banning bride kidnapping and forced marriage exist, Kleinbach et al. in 2005 estimated that approximately 35-45 per cent of ethnic Kyrgyz women are kidnapped against their will and coerced into marriage. 22 While there is some disagreement over the specific numbers, there is a general agreement that the prevalence of the practice of kidnapping for forced marriage is indeed increasing in Kyrgyzstan. 23 And furthermore that this has more to do with complex societal, political and economic realities, consequent upon the breakup of Soviet Union and increasing male dominance, than with perceived age-old traditional customs. ...
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This article examines asylum-seeker women’s appeals involving forced marriage at the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) in the UK over the past 20 years. Internationally forced marriage has long been understood as a human rights issue. In the UK, the government has introduced a range of policy and legislative measures to tackle forced marriage of its nationals that have been framed within human rights discourse. The aim of this article is to examine the ways in which forced marriage has been framed by the Tribunal in women’s asylum claims. Informed by feminist contributions to gender and refugee law, the article reveals two problematic and interrelated trends. First, that gendered harm in the form of forced marriage continues to be contained in the “private” sphere. And secondly, that a noteworthy trend of trivialisation through conflation of forced and arranged marriage, and the use of euphemisms emerges. As a result, these gendered representations evidence a continuing failure of refugee law to take women’s rights violations seriously.
... Shame, nevertheless, still appears as a salient quotidian practice in many places around the world, notably in Central Asia-a region largely missed by early Euro-American anthropology, owing to Cold War politics. Given the concept's troubled history, most contemporary anthropologists working on the Mediterranean and Muslim societies abjure investigations of shame, yet it pops up regularly in the contemporary social science literature on Central Asia, though mostly in passing (e.g., Beyer , 2016Borbieva 2012;Isabaeva 2011;Ismailbekova 2018;Kleinbach and Amsler 1999;Kleinbach and Babaiarova 2013;Kleinbach, Ablezova, and Aitieva 2005;Reeves 2011Temirkoulov 2004;Temirkulov 2010;Werner , 2009Wooden 2014). ...
Full-text available
Uiat is a word ubiquitously spoken in Kyrgyzstan. It is hurled at children to stop improper behavior and thrown by adults to evaluate conduct. It is a relational practice that textures everyday life, cultivating discomfort in the body when spoken, gendering and aging those involved in its practice, and setting the boundaries of propriety. Uiat is most often translated as “shame.” The earliest work on honor and shame in anthropology established the prevalence of shame and outlined its basic work as a social mechanism of control, but the discussion, especially when considering Muslim societies, largely died out. Yet shame remains a prominent practice ripe for investigation. Looking at uiat as a dense, knotty practice carried out over time shows how shaming practices, in Kyrgyzstan at least, work to exert control and why they are so very efficacious. [shame, material semiotics, gender, age, embodiment, performativity, Muslim societies, postsocialist, Kyrgyzstan] Уят ‐ бул бардык жерде айтылып жүргөн сөз. Бул туура эмес жүрүм ‐турумду токтотуу үчүн балдарга берилген сөз. Жаштарды жүрүм ‐турумун баалоодо улуулар тарабынан айтылат. Муну мамилелер практикасына байланыштырып, ал күнүмдүк жашоону көзөмөлдөйт, сүйлөө учурунда денеде ыңгайсыздыкты пайда кылат, катышкандардын жынысын жана картаюсун жана адептүүлүктүн чектерин белгилейт. Уят көбүнчө “уят” shame (англисче) деп которулат. Антропологиядагы ар ‐намыс жана уят боюнча эң алгачкы эмгек уяттын таралышын аныктады жана анын негизги ишин социалдык көзөмөл механизми катары сүрөттөп келген, бирок, айрыкча, мусулман коомдорун кароодо илимий талаш ‐тартыштар негизинен өчүп калды.Ошентсе да, уят практикасын изилдөө маанилүү бойдон калууда. Уятты убакыттын өтүшү менен жүзөгө ашырылган тыгыз, баш аламан практика катары көрүү, уялуу практикасы, жок дегенде, Кыргызстанда көзөмөлдү ишке ашыруу үчүн кандай иштээрин жана эмне үчүн ал абдан эффективдүү экенин көрсөтөт. [уят, материалдык семиотика, гендер, жаш, ишке ашуусу, аткаруучулук, мусулман коомдору, постсоциалист, Кыргызстан]
... It is difficult to define a bride's consent in the case of bride kidnapping. The practice can be considered consensual when it involves the groom abducting his girlfriend, who 6 Prior attempts to estimate the incidence of bride kidnapping in postindependence Kyrgyz Republic were not based on nationwide representative samples: Amsler and Kleinbach 1999;Kleinbach 2003;Kleinbach et al. 2005; Nedoluzhko and Agadjanian 2015; Za Reformy i Rezul'tat 2015. ...
... Bride-kidnapping, while formally outlawed in Kyrgyzstan, has been revived since independence as a 'national tradition', with consensual and non-consensual kidnapping accounting for up to half of ethnic Kyrgyz marriages in the early 2000s (Ismailbekova 2014: 380;Kleinbach, Ablezova, and Aitieva 2005). In 2013, the sentence for bride kidnapping increased from three years to ten years (UN Women 2013). ...
Aile, toplumu oluşturan en temel sosyal yapılardan biridir. Tarihi süreçte aile müessesesinin inşası, şekil itibariyle değişiklik göstermiş olsa da, fonksiyonu itibariyle çok fazla değişime uğramamıştır. Günümüze kadar geçen süreçte, ailenin kurulmasında bir takım evlilik şekilleri, gelenek ve görenekler oluşmuş, toplumlarda bunlara uymaya çalışmıştır. Evliliğe dair adetler, toplumdan topluma, dinden dine, kültürden kültüre farklılık arz etmektedir. Kız kaçırma yoluyla evlilikte, Kırgızistan’da evlenme yollarından biri haline gelmiştir. Toplumun çoğunluğunca kabul görmeyen bu evlilik şekli, ortadan kaldırılmaya çalışılıyorsa da, bu konuda tam bir muvaffakiyet sağlanamamıştır. Kız kaçırma ’ya geleneklerin sebep olduğu düşünülüyorsa da, bunun arkasında ekonomik, ailevi, cinsel sebepler yatmaktadır. Bu tarz evlilikler, gelinin psikolojisinin bozulmasına, aileler arası tartışmalara, boşanmalara ve doğacak çocukların problemli yetişmesi gibi birçok probleme sebep olmaktadır. Makale, Kırgızların sürdürdükleri ve gelenek gördükleri Kız kaçırmayı, İslâm dini perspektifinden değerlendirip, bu yanlış uygulamanın ortadan kaldırılmasında, İslâm dininden nasıl faydalanılabileceğini ve Kız kaçırmanın gelenek mi yoksa suç mu olduğunu ortaya çıkarmayı hedeflemektedir.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Multi-dimensioned insecurity has been a major challenge faced by Nigeria. Kidnapping is one of such and has in the recent become widespread to all over the country. Despite the huge resources expended by the Nigerian state authorities, the rate of kidnapping has been on the increase and more prevalent. The rural areas are also not left out and millions of Naira are paid as ransoms, lives lost, families broken and settlements displaced with enormously increasing burdens on security agencies. This paper explores kidnapping in Burra District of Ningi Local Government Area, Bauchi State-Nigeria, located within the big and extensive Lame-Burra forest and game reserve. The study is qualitative and uses non-probability sampling, and purposive interview to collect primary data from stakeholders in the District, as well as the secondary from reviewed literature. Recommendations are made on how to curb kidnapping in the District. The study is noble as the area is very strategic to the socioeconomic development, wild life and forestry of Bauchi State.
This article explores intersections among gender, violence and socio-economic insecurities through examining the practice of women’s abduction for forced marriage in rural Kyrgyzstan. In the post-Soviet period, bride-kidnapping has been discussed as an expression of reviving 'traditional' ethnic culture and as a system of social rules that constrain actors in a variety of ways. Understanding of this practice requires a more nuanced analysis of the links between various forms of vulnerabilities and gender violence it expresses. Previous work has overlooked men's roles within bride abduction process which are not simply men's exertion of authority but are intricate reflections of wider changes taking place in newly independent Kyrgyzstan. Through an analysis of interviews with forty-five men who have been involved in bride kidnappings we build a nuanced account of the broader system of structural and institutional inequalities that comprise ala kachuu and make social actors less agentic. The article links bride-kidnapping to ecological & economic transformations, and the social importance given to marriage - all in the context of neofamilial national state politics where gender violence takes shape as unsanctioned rituals cast as ‘tradition’.
Full-text available
As Kyrgyz society has shed its Soviet mantle and begun to reconstitute itself in the global arena, the place of women in society has become a site where the multiple gender ideologies of post-Sovietism, Islam, Kyrgyz nationalism, and globalization have been debated. Women's responses, resistances, and accomodations to these debates are important toward an understanding of change in the post-Soviet society. In addition, I have argued in this article that although societal change affects all age groups, it certainly affects each group differently. I have proposed that important data can be gleaned about the impact of socioeconomic changes upon women by analysing post-Soviet women in terms of generational age groups and their pattern of coping strategies. These particular perspectives drawn from different age-cohorts can better provide another vantage point from which to anticipate how these different groups may respond to social transformation.
The attempted modernization of Central Asia by the central Soviet government in the 1920's was a dramatic confrontation between radical, determined, authoritarian communists and a cluster of traditional Moslem societies based on kinship, custom, and religion. The Soviet authorities were determined to undermine the traditional social order through the destruction of existing family structures and worked to achieve this aspect of revolution through the mobilization of women. Gregory J. Massell's study of the interaction between central power and local traditions concentrates on the development of female roles in revolutionary modernization. Women in Moslem societies were segregated, exploited, and degraded; they were, therefore, a structural weak point in the traditional order-a surrogate proletariat. Through this potentially subversive group, it was believed, intense conflicts could be generated within society which would lead to its disintegration and subsequent reconstitution. The first part of the book isolates the trends that made Central Asia vulnerable to outside intervention, and examines the factors that impelled the communist elites to turn to Moslem women as potential revolutionary allies. In the second part, Professor Massed analyzes Soviet perceptions of female inferiority and of the revolutionary potential of Moslem women. Part Three is an account of specific Soviet actions based on these assumptions. The fourth part of the book deals with the variety of responses these actions evoked.
Bride kidnapping (ala kachuu) in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) is the act of abducting a woman to marry her and includes actions ranging from consensual marriage to kidnapping, rape and forced marriage. This paper is based on a survey of 1322 marriages and provides evidence that as many as one-half of ethnic Kyrgyz marriages were the result of kidnappings, and that as many as two-thirds of these kidnap-marriages were non-consensual (against the will of the women). This sample suggests that approximately one-third of ethnic Kyrgyz women may be married against their will as a result of bride kidnapping.
In 1983 Benedict Anderson famously claimed that the ethnic fraternity enabled millions of people to kill, and more so to die, over the past two centuries, in the name of their perceived community. While plenty of subsequent research focused on both the ethnic and violent part of this equation, the fraternal aspect has gone almost unnoticed in mainstream academia. In contrast, male identity, although not necessarily ethnic, and links to violence has held a prominent place in feminist research.Acknowledgement and exploration of the associations between male ethnicity identity and violence is essential to the field of ethnic and racial studies because gendered violence appears to be a crucial element of consolidating male ethnicity. If the gendered elements of ethnicity continue to be ignored, violent ethnic conflict will remain a ‘murky’ area. Supported by emerging feminist research on ethnicity and established feminist work on fraternity and violence, the following research examines one act, bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, in an attempt to explore the relatively ignored links between ethnic identity, violence and gender.
United Nations, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, General Assembly resolution 34/180, 34 United Nations
United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948; United Nations, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, General Assembly resolution 34/180, 34 United Nations, 1981. GAOR Supp. (No 46) at 193, UN Doc A/34/46, entered into force 3 September 1981, available at ,; Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan).
The Common Law of the Turkmens (Adat) (Ashgabat: "Ylym
  • A Lomakin
A. Lomakin, The Common Law of the Turkmens (Adat) (Ashgabat: "Ylym", [1897], 1993), p 10. 29. Ibid, p 21. 30. Ibid, p 23.
Films: Ala Kachuu documentary film
  • P Lom
P. Lom, 'Films: Ala Kachuu documentary film', in R. Kleinbach, 'Ala Kachuu', available at,http://faculty.
Ref 9; T. Orunbaeva, Unpublished lecture notes
  • Op Orozobekova
  • Cit
Orozobekova, op cit, Ref 9; T. Orunbaeva, Unpublished lecture notes, 2003; Handrahan, op cit, Ref 1.
Ala kachuu salt emes
  • B Bekeshova
B. Bekeshova, 'Ala kachuu salt emes', Asylzat, No 2 (104), January 2004, p 9.
Ref 9; Kleinbach, op cit
  • Kleinbach Amsler
  • Op Cit
Amsler and Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9; Kleinbach, op cit, Ref 9.