Can I Get Bride-Napped in Bishkek?

Unless you are easily mistaken for a Kyrgyz female aged 18-22, no. If you are, it’s a rare phenomenon in [the much more liberal] city, so your risk is fairly low. Here *most* people have more open views about women’s rights and marriage, and the police are more likely to take bride kidnapping as a crime.
Even so, bride kidnapping still occurs in the capitol and villages just outside. This past weekend the petite twenty-something girl whose job it was to serve tea in E’s office was bride-kidnapped and brought to Kara-Balta, sixty kilometers outside of Bishkek. She called her father and he went to see her, but decided she could stay (against her wishes). So now she’ll spend the rest of her life serving tea (and cooking, and cleaning, and taking care of someone else) for free instead of for a wage like she was at the university.

How common bride kidnapping actually is is a question of some debate – like all statistics in Kyrgyzstan. Most cases aren’t reported (families may be afraid to damage their daughter’s honor as women who stay the night at their kidnapper’s family abode will likely find it hard to marry anyone else), and families who ‘lose’ a kidnapped bride are unlikely to admit the shame or rejection. When reported (much like domestic violence in Kyrgyzstan), local police usually treat it as a private or family affair, not the business of the state, and certainly not a crime to be prosecuted (or even put on the records). The rate also seems to vary by region – from nearly not at all in Bishkek to perhaps half of all marriages in other areas.

Whether or not bride-kidnapping [especially in it’s modern form] is a Kyrgyz tradition is also up for debate. Many scholars – and older Kyrgyz themselves – suggest that past ‘kidnapping’ was more form than practice, a way for young people who wanted to get married to each other to circumvent parental approval. The bride and groom-to-be were both involved in the decision-making process. Now days some ‘bride kidnapping’ is born of mutual consent and pre-meditation. However, more and more reports – even of girls being kidnapped by present boyfriends – seem to suggest that women frequently have no foreknowledge of events, and many women barely even know the man who kidnaps her. I’ve heard more than one person note that Kyrgyzstan was a much more equal society (in terms of gender relations) in both nomadic times and under soviet rule than it is today.

There are plenty of articles on the subject; here are a few that I’ve found:

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