10 October 2011

Bride Kidnapping Lecture Notes

These are notes from a lecture Russell Kleinbach gave in Tokmok 6 months ago, and some notes from when we talked to him at our house that same day.  He's done extensive research with (usually) Kyrgyz women in Kyrgyzstan on ala kachuu.  He started off as solely a researcher but over time has turned into an activist instead.  He usually doesn't give these presentations himself; generally Kyrgyz women travel around the country to do them.

I've probably posted some of this earlier after we met Kleinbach in Washington in 2005, but this also includes new research.  This is what I thought was most important.
  • Presentations like the one I heard appear to be having an effect on kidnapping in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan.  This was tested when researchers returned to some villages to see if kidnapping rates had dropped in the year since they did the presentations.  The sample size was smaller the second year, but non-consensual ala kachuu marriages dropped from 51% the first year to 27%. 
  • There is no cultural expectation to kidnap which makes it easier to advocate to end the practice.  It is currently traditional, but there are other accepted ways of getting married.
  • The newer research still indicates, despite claims to the contrary, that 80% of kidnappings are non-consensual.  Researchers asked 3 questions- Did you want to be kidnapped?  Was there deception or force?  Did you love him?  Answering yes to the first or third question or no to the second resulted in a kidnapping being categorized as consensual, and researchers feel that they were generous definition of what was consensual.
  • There is a push to criminalize kidnapping more, but that doesn't necessarily help.  Kidnapping has been illegal for some time now (it used to be a 5 year prison term, but currently it's 3), but researchers were only able to find two cases where kidnapping was successfully prosecuted.  One kidnapping resulted in the woman getting beaten severely (which is not common) and the man was imprisoned for beating her, not kidnapping her.  Another man was imprisoned for rape, and not for kidnapping.  They have found no cases where a man was sent to prison for kidnapping.  However, there have been cases settled out of court as would be expected here.  More on this below.
  • It is easier to get a divorce later than to refuse the wedding in the first place.  10-20% of women refuse to get married.
  • 35-50% of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan are the result of non-consensual kidnappings.
  • In 20% of the non-consensual kidnappings the woman does not know the man before the kidnapping.  About 20% of the kidnappings appear to involve rape.

After talking to Kleinbach who said he'd heard kidnapping happens amongst other ethnicities in Kyrgyzstan, my husband started asking the Uzbek community about this and confirmed that it does happen.  Kyrgyz do it more, but both consensual and non-consensual kidnapping happens within the minority communities (Uyghur, Dungan, Uzbek, Tajik) of Tokmok.  There's some anecdotal evidence that Kyrgyz in China do no kidnap.

I had my English conversation group go to this lecture in April.  Several of the students were high school students and one told me after that he had never thought about bride kidnapping before as a problem.  Kleinbach's presentation changed his mind and he said he thought he wouldn't want to kidnap his bride without her consent.  Made that presentation worth it. 

I also asked Kleinbach about my feeling that girls in Kyrgyzstan think it's exciting or romantic to be kidnapped (before it happens).  He agreed and also felt that both young men and women often hadn't thought about it much.  That's why the presentations help.  Kleinbach and crew are not interested (mostly, some of his fellow researchers are) in stopping consensual kidnappings.  The goal is to try to stop non-consensual kidnappings. 

Kleinbach told us about one village where they told him they don't kidnap anymore because it's too expensive.  That surprised him because kidnapping often is thought to be a cheap wedding (even though it's often not because families still go in for the whole wedding).  In this village, however, the family of a kidnapping woman did go to the police and it cost the man's family so much money that apparently no one else would risk it. 

I think it's best that Kleinbach and his associates have focused more on educating about ala kachuu instead of trying to use legal means to change this.  Ala kachuu has been illegal for a long time but that hasn't mattered.  I also appreciate that his education efforts are directed toward Kyrgyzstan instead of the West.  I'd be interested to see if there's any indication that the overall rates of kidnapping have dropped in the last 10 years since there's been more research and education directed toward the matter. 

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