The brutal murder of Turdaaly Kyzy sparked protests against the Kyrgyz cultural practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. On May 27, 2018, a twenty-nine-year-old man abducted twenty-year-old medical student Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy to force her into marriage. After police detained and recklessly left them alone in a room together, the man fatally stabbed her. Concurrently, Kyrgyz state TV has been justifying domestic violence and bride kidnapping in a high-profile drama series, which features a Kyrgyz woman who is abducted and forced to marry against her will but later chooses to stay with her kidnapper.
Kyrgyzstan is considered one of the most problematic countries in the world in terms of the frequency of forced marriages. Between ten to thirty women are kidnapped every day. Most of them are forced to marry their captor for fear of social stigma or condemnation from family members. These figures reveal a profound sickness at the heart of Kyrgyz society when it comes to marriage. Despite the public outcry and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s recommendation in 2015, urging Kyrgyzstan to raise public awareness through education and “to ensure the effective investigation, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators,” the situation has not yet dramatically improved.
In accordance with the current legislation, the abduction of a girl under seventeen years old for forced marriage is defined as a crime in Articles 154 (2) and 155 (2) of the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan. In 2013, sentencing guidelines were increased to a maximum ten years’ imprisonment for the abduction for forced marriage of a person under the age of seventeen and to seven years’ imprisonment for the kidnapping of a person over that age. Nevertheless, both Article 154 and Article 155 allow payment of a fine in lieu of imprisonment. Rape is punishable by five to eight years’ imprisonment according to Article 129. Marital rape is not specifically criminalized and remains unpunished.
Prosecutions for bride kidnapping have been rare, and only a few cases of bride abduction are officially registered. For instance, from 2013 through 2018, out of 895 registered reports and statements, 727 (or 81.2 percent) went uncharged. Government prosecutors sought convictions in only 168 (or 18.7 percent) of complaints. As the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded in its inquiry concerning Kyrgyzstan in September 2018, deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes and cultural stereotypes remain the main issue as police officers “often discourage victims from filing a complaint and sometimes are under pressure from within their communities or receive bribes so as not to investigate reports of bride kidnapping.” Bribery is prevalent to avoid investigation or prosecution. Hence, the laws are no more than symbolic so long as the pattern of socially legitimizing bride kidnapping and allowing perpetrators to act with impunity remains.
Kyrgyzstan has been ordered to report back to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women by March 2019. As explained in the Committee’s General recommendation No. 28 on the core obligations of State parties under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—which Kyrgyzstan ratified in 1997—“State parties have an obligation not to cause discrimination against women through acts or omissions . . . [and] to react actively against discrimination against women, regardless of whether such acts or omissions are perpetrated by the State or by private actors.” Therefore, by failing to take sustained measures to protect women from bride kidnapping, Kyrgyzstan acts in violation of Articles 2, 5, 10, and 16 of the Convention that specifically include the elimination of harmful cultural practices and stereotypes in collaboration with the educational system, the media, and society overall. Under Articles 1, 2, 12, and 16, Kyrgyzstan is also obligated to provide ex officio prosecution of perpetrators of bride kidnapping, to eliminate the option of paying fines to avoid imprisonment, and to criminalize subsequent marital rape. Failure to criminalize marital rape denies victims legal protection against rape within forced marriage. In addition, Articles 2, 5, 12, and 15 obligate Kyrgyzstan to ensure that victims of bride kidnapping have access to effective remedies, appropriate protection, and support services. In particular, the Articles call for legal aid and well-equipped shelters, where women can remain during and after legal proceedings.
Kyrgyzstan promotes a culture that bestows all power on men and that exercises willful blindness on bridal kidnapping—abusive cultural practices that invite human rights violations but are considered part of Kyrgyzstan’s cultural identity and ideals of masculinity. Although legislative frameworks can be amended in the blink of an eye, changing the social perception of a women’s place in the modern Kyrgyz society in order to meet human rights obligations, has a long way to go.