Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, with more than 60% of the population living in rural areas. A practice of the Kyrgyz people, most prevalent in the country’s poor rural areas, is bride kidnapping, which occurs when men abduct women and force them into marriage with or without the consent of the woman’s family. Kyrgyzstan’s government and USAID are working to tackle this issue. However, one of the most effective ways to combat the practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is addressing poverty in rural Kyrgyzstan.

The Connection Between Poverty and Bride Kidnapping

Because some of Kyrgyzstan’s population regard bride kidnapping as a traditional and romantic practice, men may “kidnap” brides with consent from the bride and her family. This is known as consensual bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnappings that occur without the bride’s knowledge or agreement are non-consensual bride kidnapping. The U.N. has condemned this practice of forced marriage as a violation of human rights.

Poverty and unemployment in recent years provide a source of frustration for young men in rural Kyrgyzstan seeking to marry. One characteristic of traditional Kyrgyz marriage is kalym, or the “bride price,” by which a man seeking to marry must pay the bride’s family in cash and livestock.

Poor men in rural Kyrgyzstan often do not have the money or resources to pay this price. Additionally, these men face pressure from their communities to marry before they reach a certain age. Thus, the quickest and cheapest way to do so is to kidnap a bride.

Other Factors in Bride Kidnapping

Aside from poverty, many other factors can also help explain why bride kidnappings occur. One reason why a man may kidnap a bride is simply that he cannot otherwise obtain her consent or because he is worried she may marry someone else.

Another factor that explains bride kidnapping is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Kyrgyzstan gained its independence, the young country sought to assert its nationalist dignity and separate its identity from the Soviet Union by reviving traditional practices, such as bride kidnapping.

The U.N. estimates that one in five marriages in Kyrgyzstan is the result of bride kidnapping. Poverty is one factor that incentivizes bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnapping can also cause further poverty, particularly for the few women who manage to escape their marriages. Often uprooted in the middle of their pursuit of education or professional opportunity, these women return to a society where they lack the skills they need to support themselves and their children.

Additionally, the state does not register marriages that are a product of bride kidnapping, as Girls Not Brides reported. Therefore, these women are not entitled to any assets or support they might have otherwise received in the case of legal divorce. Along with driving women further into poverty, negative effects of bride kidnapping on women also include domestic abuse, denial of educational or economic opportunities, high rates of depression and suicide.

What is the Government Doing About It?

In 2013, Kyrgyzstan’s government increased the prison sentence for bride kidnapping from a maximum of three years to a maximum of 10 years. The state also set forth a Criminal Code that prohibits bride kidnapping and forced kidnapping.

The government’s efforts to criminalize bride kidnapping are worth noting and encouraging further. Still, it needs to more consistently and effectively enforce laws that address bride kidnapping. Women who manage to file a complaint against their kidnappers often find that the crime remains unprosecuted. Additionally, the government does not yet sufficiently fund services for survivors of bride kidnappings and the domestic abuse that can result from such a practice.

The Five-Year Enterprise Competitiveness Project

However, the state is not alone in its efforts. Several USAID projects focus on helping the poorest regions of Kyrgyzstan by supporting job creation and economic growth. Since poverty is one factor that can potentially motivate bride kidnapping, efforts to relieve poverty may translate into deterrence from bride kidnapping.

For example, in 2018 USAID started the five-year Enterprise Competitiveness Project. It focuses on growing sectors that can quickly create more jobs such as the agricultural, manufacturing and apparel sectors. The project provides businesses in regions with high levels of poverty and unemployment with grants and technical advice, funds research and creates partnerships with financial institutions. USAID expects the project to create 19,000 new jobs.

The USAID Business Growth Initiative

USAID also works to support and empower the women of Kyrgyzstan in a variety of ways. The USAID Business Growth Initiative supports women-owned businesses in sectors such as tourism and apparel. Thus far, the project has provided 2,000 women with new technical skills.

USAID also provides professional training for female Members of Parliament. The agency sponsors conferences between these women and political activists. It is fostering connections that strengthen support for legislation that combats bride kidnapping and prioritizes women’s rights. Furthermore, USAID partners with civil society organizations to raise awareness about criminal liability for bride kidnapping. It also advocates for laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Thus, providing greater economic opportunity for men in rural Kyrgyzstan is one way to decrease the risk of bride kidnapping. Men who are more secure in their finances and assured of their employment will have less incentive to kidnap brides.

Additionally, providing greater state protections and services for victims of bride kidnapping as well as a greater guarantee for prosecution can also serve to deter this practice and rehabilitate the victims of this human rights violation. Finally, raising awareness for women’s rights could help dismantle traditional, misogynistic practices such as bride kidnapping.

– Savannah Algu
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate Reduction
The World Bank published an analysis in 2019 of the 15 countries with the greatest poverty rate reduction from 1999-2015. Of those 15 countries, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and The Kyrgyz Republic were the most successful in reducing poverty. While some of these five countries are continuing to reduce their poverty levels, others have recently faced hardships, stagnating their ability to eradicate poverty.

5 Leaders in Poverty Reduction

  1. Tanzania: Tanzania saw a poverty rate reduction of 3.2% from 2000-2011. Moreover, its poverty rate is continuing to reduce as from 2007-2018, the poverty rate fell from 34.4% to 26.4%, and the extreme poverty rate fell from 11.7% to 8%. However, the wealth gap increased during that same time period, with the Gini coefficient rising from 38.5 to 39.5. This uptick in the wealth gap may be due to the fact that education and sanitation have become more accessible in cities but not rural areas. However, despite this increase, Tanzania is persisting in reducing its levels of poverty.
  2. Tajikistan: Tajikistan reduced its poverty levels by 3.1% from 1999-2015. Poverty rates fluctuate in Tajikistan depending on job availability and remittance. However, the poverty rate mostly remains on the decline in Tajikistan, albeit it is slower than in the past. From 2012-2017, the poverty rate fell by 7.5%, but now it is decreasing about 1% per year on average. The poverty rate has been decreasing slower because the remittances that Tajikistan has received have lessened over the past few years. Additionally, COVID-19 has negatively affected the economy, causing more food insecurity. Fortunately, expectations have determined that the country will recover quickly from this downfall.
  3. Chad: Chad experienced a reduced poverty rate of 3.1% from 2003-2011. The projected number of impoverished people in Chad increased from 4.7 million to 6.3 million from 2011-2019. Additionally, Chad ranks last on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. The good news is that many nonprofit organizations are working to help decrease the poverty rate in Chad. The World Food Bank has established many support systems and has helped 1.4 million people so far. The International Development Association (IDA) improved learning conditions for over 300,000 elementary school children from 2013-2018. The IDA also provided health support for over 50,000 people from 2014-2018. These are only two examples of organizations that work to improve the quality of life of the people and reduce the poverty rate in Chad.
  4. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The DRC reduced its poverty rate by 2.7% from 2005-2011. It remains low on the Human Captial Index with 72% of people living in extreme poverty. Yet, like in Chad, there are many nonprofits working to help reduce the poverty rate in the DRC. For example, the IDA helped 1.8 million people receive health services and provided work support programs for 1 million displaced people through 2018. The United Nations Capital Development Fund has been working in the DRC since 2004 and helps create a more financially inclusive environment. Even though the country has a long way to go, the hard work of these organizations shows a promising future for the DRC.
  5. The Kyrgyz Republic: The Kyrgyz Republic reduced its poverty levels by 2.6% from 2000-2015. The Kyrgyz Republic’s economy has experienced fluctuations since 2010 and remains vulnerable. Many citizens live close to the poverty line. However, the poverty rate in rural areas continues to steadily decline. Like Tajikistan, COVID-19 negatively impacted The Kyrgyz Republic’s economy. On July 30, 2020, the World Bank decided to finance three projects that will help “mitigate the unprecedented health, economic and social challenges caused by the…pandemic.” One of these initiatives includes direct financial help for up to 200,000 poor families. Overall, the Kyrgyz Republic has prevailed in reducing the poverty rate and increasing access to healthcare and education in the past 20 years.

Looking Forward

While some countries have regressed in poverty rate reduction, others continue to decrease poverty rates. However, good news exists even for countries with increased poverty rates. Nonprofits work to provide relief, aid and policy changes that help those in poverty.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr