In Kyrgyzstan, if a man kidnaps a woman to make her his wife, he runs little risk of prosecution. Should he steal sheep, however, there’s a good chance he’ll go to prison.
In the first eight months of this year, according to statistics provided by the Interior Ministry, criminal proceedings were initiated in 10 cases of bride kidnapping (“ala kachuu”) across Kyrgyzstan. By contrast, in the same period Kyrgyz courts heard 666 cases of livestock theft. There are no reliable figures, but human rights activists believe thousands of women are kidnapped and forced into marriage each year in Kyrgyzstan. The figure could be as high as 75 percent in some rural areas.
Though both activities are illegal, the punishment is greater for livestock theft. Article 165 of Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code authorizes up to 11 years in prison for livestock theft, but Article 155 allows only three years for bride kidnapping.
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Aigul Kasymova is a program officer with Freedom House in Bishkek.