Bride Kidnapping: A Shocking Rape Culture Tradition that’s still Happening
What is Bride Kidnapping?
From a Western point of view, it was hard for me to fathom the antiquated idea of Bride Kidnapping. Imagine my horror and dismay when back in 2010 while living in the Republic of Georgia — formerly of the Soviet Union — I was warned that it was a practice that still existed.
Wikipedia defines Bride Kidnapping also known as marriage by abduction or marriage by capture, as a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Bride kidnapping has been practiced around the world and throughout history. It continues to occur in countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and parts of Africa, and among peoples as diverse as the Hmong in Southeast Asia, the Tzeltal in Mexico, and the Romani in Europe.
Bride Kidnapping perpetuates Rape Culture and a paradigm where women are not autonomous within their own bodies and are forced to cower under the weight of patriarchy and misogyny. In the Republic of Georgia located in the Caucasus region, bride kidnapping is still commonplace in the South.
What happens during a Bride Kidnapping?
A man would gather a group of his friends and go on the hunt for his prey. Usually, they drive around looking for a young girl they like the look of. Once she is found, they grab her and stuff her into the car taking her back to their family home.
The family of the abductor bullies the girl to accept the coerced proposal. She is now going to be her kidnapper’s wife, all protests and fighting are thwarted. Rape usually happens to consummate the farce of a marriage. Once this happens the girl’s family encourages her to remain with her abductor and make the marriage official. This is also a leftover sentiment from Abrahamic Religions and can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible.
In 2010, I lived there as a part of the Teach and Learn with Georgia program where I taught English and lived with a host family. Below I recount a story of what transpired within my own household.
A Bride Kidnapping Ordeal that hit close to Home
*Note: Deda means mother in the Georgian language Kartuli.
The day was November 18th 2010 in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. It began like any normal day apart from being stuck to my bed for the first half of it, but it was like any other day or so I thought. There was no way I could have fathomed or predicted the events that would have transpired within the course of that day evening and night.
As usual, my host sisters got dressed around 2:30 pm to head to their afternoon lessons. They did not attend regular school during there last year; instead, their mother who is quite invested in their education pulled them out of public school and paid for tutors in each subject to ensure they were receiving personal attention and would have passed their exams for University.
My friend Claudia came over for lunch because my host mother made some good Georgian food and a cake. Lika my host sister curled her long black hair and was quite concerned about what she was wearing and kept asking us if everything looked okay. I was confused since she was only going to lessons but ignored it. We assured her everything was fine and they both left. Claudia and I watched a movie in my room and then she headed home.
When Lina (the other sister; they are twins) came into my room I assumed the other sister was home as well as they are usually everywhere together. She and I completed an English Proficiency test to see what areas I needed to focus on for our English lessons together. I told her to call Lika so we could do the test together. Her response, was surprising but I wasn’t worried at the moment, needless to say, Lika was not at home yet. Deda came into the room and wasn’t worried as yet either and Lina said that Lika had a test so that was the reason she wasn’t at home.
Two very long hours went by. Lika hadn’t arrived at home. Deda was now worried and very angry. Lina was now sweating buckets and very nervous so I asked her again where Lika was and she said: “Lika went to hang out with her boyfriend after lessons in the park, but she said she would be home by 5, I am going to kill her.” At this point my host mother began calling around for her daughter it wasn’t tense, but I should have known it was the calm before the storm.
Next, a million things were happening all at once; there was angry Georgian being shouted and my host sister Lina, while was freaking out and calling some random young man from my cell phone, and the house phone was ringing off of the hook. The house was transformed into a Call Center, or a live telethon called “Do you know where Lika is?!”
All I heard was crying next, the deep wail of a mother in mourning, and the angry shouting through the tears. Lina continued to freak out. She was frantic and worried as she told me she thought that Lika was married. I was in shock, wondering how on earth the day had turned into this shit-show.
I assumed after calling her family in Kakheti (a vineyard village outside of Tbilisi) they had received confirmation that Lika was indeed there and with the young man and his family. Deda was crying profusely, screaming in angrier Georgian about her daughter and blaming the other one for what happened.
Certain events took place in the house that I just will not discuss but it left my host sister basically having an epileptic seizure in the kitchen from the sobs that racked her body. Words cannot describe the hopelessness I felt. I had no idea how to help anyone, their despair crept into me and I also began crying in my bewilderment.
Plodding down my short hallway I walked into the living room and sat next to Lina. I tried to comfort her. Then there was knocking at the door, I looked up as 4 policemen walked into the house curtailed by a female detective. That was my cue to go to my bedroom. Moments passed as I listened to the Georgian, bits and pieces came through the bedroom door I left slightly ajar.
I heard the officers question the host mother of my identity — in all that calamity the presence of a black woman was still more interesting than a missing and possibly married teenager. Then I heard footsteps, the kind that comes from high heels, approaching my door, and I was worried the female detective wanted to speak with me. I was relieved to see my host aunt, who was followed by an 18-year-old boy by the name of Lasha who I assumed was her son but later found out, no less after he kept coming into my room to expand his English and peer his eyes into mine, that he was indeed just a nosy neighbor!
A few more hours went by as they tried to find the exact location in Kakheti of the boy’s family. Finally, they did and Deda had to rush out with my 13-year-old host brother Abo (he’s quite the mature young man he acts 25) in tow and all the policemen. Finally, I was able to sleep. I hoped for Lika to be returned home and for the nonsense to end.
7 am the next morning I was awoken out of fitful slumber by the ringing of the doorbell and some insistent knocking on the door. I got up to get it and halfway there my host sister was already opening the many locks. There stood Deda chemi (my host mother) on the threshold with the haunted look of mourning adorning her face, and without looking at Lina says to me in Georgian, Lika will not come home and began to cry. All I could utter was “I am so sorry” in her mother tongue. She thanked me and I went back to bed.
Somehow I found sleep again and when I was awakened again it was by more crying and angry Georgian. The entire day she sat on the couch staring into nothingness and cried on and off.
No matter how much she cried and asked why the fact still remained that Lika her 17-year-old daughter was now married and living in Kakheti as a Muslim wife to a 20-year-old husband.
I left the house that day and when I returned she was still in the same position. Gaping as rivers fell silently from her eyes.
A Sick Tradition that continues Today
At the time, when they said she was married I thought they actually had eloped. Later that week, I found out that married just meant that he took her and raped her thus the bottomless depths of my host mother’s despair. My host family was originally from Chechnya and so was the young man that took my host sister. She trusted him as her boyfriend and he betrayed her.
A year later, after an abusive and tumultuous introduction to marriage Lika gave birth to her son. Years later I would find out that she indeed was able to get away from him and get a divorce.
It’s been 8 years since a bride kidnapping affected me and those I cared about directly, and yet the practice is still prevalent in countries such as Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, Armenia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and South Africa. In Kyrgyzstan 1 in 4 girls are bride napped. What’s even more heartbreaking is that these girls are typically very young like my host sister Lika was.
In fact, in June 2018 a bride kidnapping resulted in the murder of a young woman at the Police Station by her abductor. As a result of this bride kidnapping that turned deadly, the United Nations in Kyrgyzstan gave a statement:
“According to the latest available data in Kyrgyzstan, 13.8 per cent of women aged under 24 married through some forms of coercion. The United Nations in Kyrgyzstan are committed to the support for the eradication of this unlawful practices a matter of priority in line with the agreements signed with the Government of Kyrgyzstan valid until 2022.
Child and/or forced marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights with far-reaching consequences not only to the individuals directly involved but to the well-being of the entire society. Practices such as bride kidnapping, forced marriage or Ala-Kachuu do not belong to the culture and tradition of Kyrgyzstan but are a violation of the rights of vulnerable people.”
Kyrgyzstan has taken significant steps to strengthen its laws such as the prohibition to perform child religious marriages. However, more work needs to be done in the prevention and prosecution of perpetrators as well as ensuring the protection of victims.
UN agencies in Kyrgyzstan are calling on Kyrgyzstani authorities to take all appropriate measures to stop such practices and fulfill its domestic legislation and international treaties that the country has joined.
Though more work needs to be done in other countries to eradicate this barbaric practice of rape culture. Could you imagine living through such a traumatic ordeal and then being forced to lie beneath your captor as his wife?
Viewer beware. The video below illustrates the horror of bride kidnapping.