Fighting forced marriage in Kyrgyzstan
Bride abduction is not cool

"Ala kachuu" is Kyrgyz and translates as "Grab her and run". What sounds like an entertaining popular sport is actually the widespread practice of kidnapping women and forcing them into marriage. With her initiative "Ala kachuu is no cool!" Kyrgyz Svetlana Dzardanova is taking a stand against the alleged custom. By Wolfgang Kuhnle

In 2017 Deutsche Welle – Germanyʹs international broadcasting company – reported that every 30 minutes a woman in Kyrgyzstan is abducted and forced into marriage. The fact that young women are being dragged into cars in broad daylight, usually by several men, and brought to their future husband's parents' house is not regarded as a crime by many Kyrgyz, but rather as the preservation of a tradition.

A look into the past reveals, however, that the custom never existed in this specific form. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, the associated socio-political upheaval and the spread of poverty was there a sharp rise in the number of bride abductions in Kyrgyzstan.

Without doubt there had been abductions before, but to a much lesser extent. In the magazine "Human rights for women", published by the women's rights organisation Terre des Femmes, author Anja Heifel sees this as an expression of wrongly understood masculinity and the subordinate gender role of women. In her opinion, the custom serves as a boredom alleviator in the everyday life of young men of marriageable age – "entertainment" at the expense of young women.

"A good marriage begins with tears"

The paradox of "Ala kachuu": even the female family members of the kidnapper, who have often been forced into marriage themselves, become perpetrators during this patriarchal practice. It is their job to persuade the abducted woman in the kidnapper's house to agree to the marriage. The "bride" often hardly knows her kidnappers, if at all. She is detained and in some cases even raped.

A return to the parents' house, on the other hand, becomes impossible after spending one night in the house of the unknown man. The social stigma would be too grave. Women therefore often do not contradict their fate. Despite the fact that even in independent Kyrgyzstan forced marriage is an offence punishable by law, such deprivation of liberty rarely ends in criminal prosecution. A Kyrgyz proverb sums up this impotence: "A good marriage begins with tears".

Bride abduction is a crime

Svetlana, former participant in ifa's CrossCulture Programme, refuses to accept this understanding of gender roles. Especially since she came frighteningly close to "Ala kachuu" during her studies in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, when several young men tried to kidnap her friend and roommate.

More on this topic