[TW: Rape, kidnapping, suicide]
Bride kidnapping, or “bridenapping”, happens in at least 17 countries around the world, from China to Mexico to Russia to southern Africa. In each of these lands, there are communities where it is routine for young women and girls to be plucked from their families, raped and forced into marriage. Few continents are not blighted by the practice, yet there is little awareness of these crimes, and few police investigations. The lack of reporting means there are no global statistics, but inquiries over many weeks by The Independent on Sunday have found anecdotal evidence that bridenapping is increasing. Something that belongs more to the Middle Ages is growing in the 21st century.
[In Kyrgyzstan], [d]espite bridenapping being a criminal offence carrying a maximum three-year jail term, very few cases are brought, and most of those who are prosecuted get away with a negligible fine…
“Little awareness” and “few police investigations”. Yet again legal systems are failing women. And the kidnapped women are often subject to rape and abuse, as indicated in the linked article. In Rwanda, kidnapped women are basically forced to marry their kidnapper, as they are raped and beaten, and then held hostage by their kidnapper, which results in them being seen as too “tainted” to be able to marry anyone else.The problem of bride kidnapping is worsening:
“Once bride kidnapping was characteristic mostly in rural areas, but it has become widespread everywhere, including the capital, Bishkek,” says Gazbubu Babayarova, founder of the Kyz Korgon Institute, an organisation that campaigns to eliminate bridenapping in Kyrgyzstan.
The practice has emerged from a twisting of a traditional culture that has made communities turn a blind eye, allowing it to thrive. In Kyrgyzstan – one of the few places to collect data – the practice has been on the increase since the fall of communism. Some believe this violent subversion of a tradition (which was historically for show and done with the consent of the wife) has become popular to avoid the embarrassment of being unable to afford a dowry.
Up to a third of all ethnic Kyrgyz women in Kyrgyzstan are kidnapped brides, and some studies suggest that, in certain regions, the rates of bride kidnapping account for up to 80 per cent of marriages. In six villages scrutinised for a recent survey, almost half of the 1,322 marriages registered were from bride kidnapping, and up to two-thirds were non-consensual. Earlier this year, two 20-year-old students committed suicide after falling victim to bridenapping. The deaths of Venera Kasymalieva and Nurzat Kalykova prompted demonstrations in their home province of Issyk-Kul, but little has changed.
According to Wikipedia, 70.9% of Kyrgyzstan’s population of 5,362,800 is Kyrgyz. This works out to 3,802,226 Kyrgyz people in that country. Also according to WP, 69.1% of that country’s population. Assuming a perfectly–balanced sex ratio, this means that there are about 1,313,670 Kyrgyz women in Kyrgyzstan, of which up to ~438,000 are kidnapped into marriage. And that’s just one country.
Bride kidnapping is also a serious problem in other parts of Central Asia, Chechnya in Russia, China (where it involves cross–border kidnappings and human trafficking), parts of Africa, and certain areas of Mexico. In China it is attributed to a shortage of women caused by the lack of reproductive freedom there.
I can think of several things that might be able to deal with the problem. In no particular order:
- Actually enforce the laws against bride kidnapping. Make such a hideous act have serious consequences. The lax (if at all) enforcement is failing women.
- Education. Educate women that they have the right not to be forced into marriage and the right not to be kidnapped. Educate men that it is illegal to rape and kidnap.
- Get rid of bride prices. A bride price is an amount of money or goods that a man gives to the woman’s parents upon her marriage. It usually intends to compensate the woman’s family for the loss of her economic output, and is therefore clearly a sexist institution. WP says that difficulty in paying bride prices might be a causal factor in the increase in bride kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan. Getting rid of bride prices would eliminate this incentive to engage in bride kidnapping. In addition, eliminating bride prices removes perverse incentives for families to “sell” their daughters.
- Improve treatments for substance abuse and other things that are socially undesirable. WP says that men who are socially undesirable are more likely to engage in bride kidnapping. Eliminating this will reduce the incentives to engage in bride kidnapping.
- Improve the status of women and promote reproductive freedom. This will eliminate any incentives to favour boys over girls and will eliminate the societal shortage of women.
- Promote matrilineality. Matrilineality is the system of descent where is always a member of one’s mother’s lineage, and property/power/positions pass through the female line. Any children are part of their mother’s family and the father is not considered a “social” ancestor, but is rather a sort of permanent live–in in–law. Patrilineality is likewise but with genders reversed. Since a mother always knows whether she is the (biological) mother of any children in her marriage, while a father can’t know for certain whether children in his marriage are biologically his. In most cases this will lead to different customs regarding sex. In a matrilineal society, since descent passes through the female line, children inherit wealth from their mother and her siblings. The father’s wealth passes to his sister(s)’ children. In a patrilineal society, since wealth passes through the male line, this necessitates measures to ensure a man knows (for certain) who is children are. This leads to restrictions on pre– and extramarital sex by women. This means of ensuring that a husband knows his wife’s children are his own leads to women being “tainted” and pressured into marrying their rapist, because if she marries someone other man, he won’t know whether he’s father to his wife’s children. In a matrilineal society, the woman’s children won’t inherit anything from their father (unless it is a sibling marriage!). The various sex rules regarding females would have no reason to exist (as far as the reckoning of descent is concerned). Amongst other things, this would therefore remove pressures for kidnapped women to marry their rapists because no one would refuse to marry her using the uncertainty of paternity as justification for the refusal.
Edited for clarity in last paragraph.