Legislation designed to discourage the controversial practice of bride kidnapping fizzled recently in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament. The bill lost support because a key provision could also be used to crack down on the ostensibly illegal, yet quietly tolerated practice of polygamy, according to a member of parliament.
The bill would have authorized fines for Islamic clerics who bless marriages that are not already registered with the state. Mullahs play an important social role in villages by providing a religious veneer to customs that the state deems taboo, especially bride kidnapping, a traditional practice that survived the Soviet era and has continued in independent Kyrgyzstan.
Because bride kidnapping is illegal, most resulting marriages are not initially registered with the state. But mullahs, via the Islamic “nikaah” marriage ceremony, often help affirm a forced union in the eyes of local communities.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.