It is often referred to as a tradition, perceived as the obvious thing to do when one is ready for marriage.
If a man has his eye on a girl, he may inform his family members about the upcoming kidnapping, gather his friends together, and wait for the right time. The girl is dragged into a car and brought to his home. Once a girl is brought to the house of the groom, his female family members will persuade the girl to stay, often using physical and mental violence. This part of the process can last for days, until the girl eventually agrees to marriage.
Once a girl’s parents become aware that their daughter has been kidnapped, there is often no way back. The family’s honor was violated the moment the girl was dragged onto the property of the kidnapper. Social pressure often keeps the parents from taking their daughter home with them.
The UN estimates that 12,000 cases of kidnapping occur every year. Although the punishment on bride kidnapping was tightened in 2013 (the practice has been illegal since Kyrgyzstan’s independence from the USSR), prosecution is rare. A wide range of factors may explain the low prosecution rate, ranging from social pressure not to press charges to a lack of confidence in the authorities. In some cases, the kidnapper is a blood relative or a member of the “extended family,” further complicating the situation.
Despite legislative measures, widespread cultural acceptance of the practice persists. While interviewing dozens of people in rural parts of Northern Kyrgyzstan, I learned about the scale of the problem and the devastating impact it has on society. Physical and mental violence is common during kidnappings and these experiences haunt the victims for years. A number of suicides have even been reported after kidnappings.
With this work, WILDNESS, I aim to de-sensationalizes the practice of bride kidnapping and instead reveal underlying motives and societal expectations while providing an insight in the lives of ordinary Kyrgyz. It shows the struggle within Kyrgyz society and how changing norms may provide hope for the future.
Wildness is selected for the Jakarta International Photo Festival 2019.