Frontline World


Kyrgyzstan, THE KIDNAPPED BRIDE, March 2004



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story, including responses from the reporter.

Anonymous - New Cumberland, Pennsylvania
Thank you for giving another point of view. I too reacted the same way as Rahul Mehta, and this is the first time I ever watched your program. The thought of someone kidnapping their bride has been disturbing me ever since I saw this segment on your documentary. But, you are right, those abused tend to become abusers. And, I've seen firsthand how some women in abusive relationships do not avail themselves of the opportunity to leave the relationship when given the opportunity. That happens all the time in this country. I am just trying to sort out what is going on with the women there in Kyrgystan and come to grips with it in my own mind.

Casey Keenan - Somerset, Virginia
There are a lot of comments on this page that seem to me to be missing the scope of the problem. I am blessed with four daughters. [S]omeone would have to kidnap one of my daughters over my dead body. That's how most Americans would feel. So where was the girls family? [They are] in on it, the whole neighborhood seems to be in on it. There are probably bedtime stories told to them as little girls about it. It is a deeply rooted tradition, and we know about it because we live in an age where there are thousands of reporters all over the world, sticking their noses into everybody's business. But it is not our responsibility to fix it so that it reflects our traditions. It is a big strange world out there and it will be a long time before they all think like us. Just eighty years ago women could not vote in America. Just forty years ago American society was a lot different than it is today. Societies take time to evolve. What bothers me is that we think that the rest of the world should think the same way we do. Are we really any better than they are, safer, happier? I know we think we are, but do they? ...

Anonymous - Penn Valley, California
Thank you for your attention to this practice and this country. Our daughter is one of about 120 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Kyrgyzstan; of all the 'cultural differences' she has experienced there, this is the one that troubles her most. She seems to feel that educating women, and trying to expand opportunities for all Kyrgyz, is a positive (but slow) way to help.

Anna Nkebukwa - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Bride kidnapping dehumanizes the victims. [I]t is a gross breach of human rights and is offensive to all, who, like me, have had close experience of this dirty custom. A sweet fifteen-year old daughter of my close relative was kidnapped by an HIV positive man who died six months after the kidnap, leaving her being HIV positive. During the six months she lived with him she had to provide care for him, since, by tradition, she was considered to be his wife. The kidnapping of girls by HIV positive men sometimes is triggered by the traditional requirement in that part of Tanzania that it is shameful for a man to die a bachelor. They used even to bury him in a degrading way to symbolize that he died a bachelor. The practice of kidnapping girls is now fading away but when it happens, it leaves mothers devastated, it is as if your intestines are being torn out without any anesthesia. So whether you are a parent or not, you have sisters whom you love dearly or not, as long as you are human, you should consider it incumbent upon you to fight this deadly practice in any part of the world where it still exists. We should fight poverty, ignorance and any factors that expose our innocent daughters to such exploitative inhumanity and their mothers to such heart-rending traditions. Evil cannot just go away, we have to fight it.

Anonymous - Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
There are many 'bad' traditions, guarded by conservative leaders and society at the cost of human lives. But the world has learned to overcome these kinds of hardships to make our life better. Human rights are and should be put high above the traditional practices infringing rights. However, there are so many colorful, inspiring, and educating cultural traditions which should be defended and maintained.

Katherine - Georgia
What an incredible story. I find cultural differences in societies fascinating, and try to view them impartially (rather than through Western eyes). The bride kidnapping tradition in Kyrgyzstan, however, was difficult to appreciate. I echo the concerned sentiments of others here. It leaves me to wonder, is Kyrgyzstan unique in this aspect? If they consider themselves an Islamic nation, how do other Islamic nations view this unconventional practice? I'd assume that women's support options are scarce in that remote area, but perhaps this show will serve as a first step to changing that. Fantastic work, Frontline. I'd always been a passive fan of the show, but this episode has converted me into an avid supporter.

Naomi Willis - Gonzales, Louisiana
Thank you for creating a documentary that can be used for education in the schools of Kyrgyzstan. My husband and I visited Kyrgyzstan in 1998 while our son was serving in the Peace Corps. The Kyrgyz people treated us with the greatest of hospitality and kindness. The mountains are equally as beautiful as our Tetons. Two exchange students have lived with our family from Kyrgyzstan. One student was from Bishkek and was not concerned about kidnapping but the other student was from the village and feared kidnapping. Her sister had been kidnapped and the marriage ended in divorce. Education for young women that will empower them to stand up for themselves is critical to change. Just because it is a tradition does not mean it is the best solution for young women and men. Also, informing young men is extremely important. It seemed that bride kidnapping was "expected" of them. Thank you for caring about people in our global world.

Daniel Murphy - Washington, D.C.
While I personally find this tradition of bride kidnapping to be very unsettling, I think that we must not be so rash in our reactions to it. This culture of whisking away a bride is deeply engrained in the Kyrgyz culture and for evidence of this, look no further than the fact that despite years of Soviet / Communist subversion and terror, the custom remains intact. While this particular sliver of Kyrgyz culture is very offending to the Western palate, is it our place to concern ourselves with it? Some may argue for international condemnation or for some sort of action to be taken by someone, but this is a cultural trait that has persisted for centuries and one that is not easily broken. Instead of proselytizing and acting morally superior, perhaps the world should sit back and let things fall as they will. In time, hopefully the economic and political situation of Kyrgyzstan will improve to the point whereby the attraction of kidnapping is no longer present. Furthermore, given the inevitability of globalization, even in a provincial corner of the globe such as Kyrgyzstan, maybe the Kyrgyz will alter their culture on their own, as gender rights and feminist ideas filter in. In any event, pushing the envelope rather than letting the Kyrgyz people decide for themselves is surely not a recipe for success in decreasing the incidence of bride kidnapping. Besides, is the Western tradition and sanctity of marriage so wonderful after all? With divorce rates at all time highs and unhappy (voluntary) marriages seemingly everywhere, maybe we should turn our ire inward. Although the video footage of the kidnappings was shocking, seeing the happy couple at the end meander off into the wondrous scenery makes the issue far less black [and] white and really led me to the conclusion that I know far too little about the culture to be able to say anything with full faith and conviction.

Christina Nichol - Berkeley, California
I find it very repugnant that we in the West are so comfortably self-righteous about imposing our ideas of "romantic love" onto a culture that is far more ancient and complex than one hour can portray. I lived also in Kyrgyzstan and I find it very disheartening that it was the theme of bride stealing that was chosen as the means to portray one of the most peaceful, hospitable, and non-polluting nations on the planet. One wonders what would happen if a Kyrgyz were given a budget and a film crew to document some of the extreme practices of America. I am sure the results would be far more appalling. It is interesting that the producer initially traveled to Kyrgyzstan to study Muslim extremism, and unable, apparently, to find enough of it, chose the next best sensational topic: bride stealing - that which can so easily inflame every Western romantic heart. It is an insidious practice to always look for the extreme, especially if it involves a culture that hardly anybody knows about yet. When I lived in Kyrgyzstan, I became very close to a group of young men who were coming of age during the Soviet collapse and, after watching enough western TV, felt that they wanted to rebel the marriage tradition of kidnapping. However, Krygzystan has no precedent for dating. I fail to see how going to discos, getting drunk, and finding a girl that way is so much more "moral," -- their only other alternative. As devout as this group of young Kyrgyz men were to try to implement Western ideas of romance into their notions of marriage, ultimately the desires of their culture, family, and village, were more powerful than their own individual whims, and they had to relinquish their western fantasies and find a bride. I did not witness in the film the amount of joy -- bashful, blushing bride included -- that is typical at Kyrgyz weddings. This is not to say that bride stealing does not have its tragedies, but it is hardly a Westerner's right to judge. The last remaining man in the village where I lived who refused to kidnap a bride, was HIMSELF, physically FORCED by his family to marry a woman; it is not a practice limited only to women. It is based on a whole different set of standards necessary for survival, and lacking knowledge of them, we have no foundation to judge.

Richard Weinstock - Ventura, California
Great story, great job covering it! Best, you balanced the outrage borne of the educated or informed middle-class people who might watch Frontline with the views of people who live in that culture and find the tradition appropriate.

Anonymous - Austin, Texas
The film may have been shocking for some only because it was so visual. Look around, there is all kinds of "peer" pressure put on women (and men in some cases) to marry, or not marry the ones they like. I applaud the Krygz families for opening their homes to the outside world. We need more films like this on: arranged marriages, multiple women marriages to the same man, genital mutilation, street crimes by children from unhappy marriages, and the high rate of divorce even when freedom of choice is employed. This pretty much sums it up about marriage in 100% of the cultures world wide. Shocking indeed.

Rahul Iyer - Dixon, Illinois
I was lead to believe that for countries and societies that were once classified (or still classified) as communist/socialist, [they] had evolved to a point where the women had greater equality then otherwise. Seeing this story on Kyrgyzstan, a former communist country, makes one wonder. This is a disturbing trend, though it may be part of "tradition" and part of the newly found independence of these countries and people.

Argyle Angooli - Ottawa, Ontario
This so called tradition of bride kidnapping is totally repugnant to me. Just because it is a tradition or custom doesn't mean it is acceptable. Do the men who have to rely on kidnapping to gain a spouse, have no sense of worth of themselves? If I was a man who had to resort to forcing a woman to be my wife, I wouldn't have much of an opinion of myself. These guys are reading too many romance novels.

Producer/Reporter Petr Lom responds:
You are right. The practice is wrong, and just because it is a custom does not justify it. The real question is how to try to transform it. One way to do that is to try to understand why the men are kidnapping. One reason is poverty in Kyrgyzstan: it is very expensive to marry. If you kidnap, you avoid paying much of the bride price. So it's not that the men "have no sense of worth," but rather that often they don't have the money to marry. Changing the custom of the bride price might be a way to reduce kidnappings.

Erin - Worcester, Massachusetts
The comment about the Kyrgyz men reading too many romance novels is perhaps the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. Bride kidnapping is a deeply disturbing part of these peoples culture and is not to be attributed to modern day smut written by third class writers looking to make a buck. Criticizing their "sense of worth" is not the issue at hand and not a relevant argument if a human rights issue such as this one is to be stopped. These men are not "resorting" to kidnapping a wife, young men such as Jumankul are under pressure to marry and it is embedded into their minds that it is acceptable because it happened to their mother and their grandmother and so on. Clearly, women's rights are not being respected and it is a difficult and time-consuming task to change the entire outlook of a culture. A practice such as this one has deep roots and its forms are present in our world today in many different forms, from the outright kidnapping of a bride to the symbolic presence of groomsmen in many weddings.

Julia Griner - Jersey City, New Jersey
I was fascinated and disturbed by the tradition of kidnapping a bride. There is such a fine line here. On the whole, I feel it is a violation of human rights, however in circumstances where both parties know and agree that it will happen as a symbolic gesture in the name of tradition, I have to feel that it is something we in the West have no right to judge. But like I said, it is a very fine line. Bravo for making this available to the public.

Mary O'Brian - Las Vegas, Nevada
Great presentation of a touchy story. My favorite point the story made was that besides showing the girls and women crying and trying to escape it is...almost eerie how some not only accepted their future but found some form of happiness in it. I think I would bite any man or woman who tired to force me to do such a thing...

It is interesting that this "tradition" of bride-kidnapping first began with a man asking a father for permission to race his daughter, who was given a fifteen second head start and a whip to beat the guy off, now involves stalking women on the streets and forcing them into cars. Seems a little cowardly.

Meerim Kylychbekova - San Francisco, California
I was very much looking forward to watching this story. However, I have to admit, I am very disappointed. As someone from this country (not to say it adds any additional validity to my point, just a view of someone who looks at this issue from within, not an outsider), I was sad to see how my people are being portrayed. To all of you, educated, worldly, curious citizens - of course this documentary is a personal view of a Westerner, just an individual observation. But Kyrgyzstan is still [a] very new, unknown, far away land. So with the lack of information about this place, it becomes very easy to make a generalization about the whole country just based on ten-minute footage of one or two incidents. Bride kidnapping does happen, and it should not be glorified, but should not be completely invalidated either. The issue is extremely complex! There are cultural, geopolitical and economic conditions that have been influencing the social perception of this phenomenon for centuries.

Rahul Mehta - Detroit, Michigan
This is the first time I watched Frontline on PBS and I think I have missed lot of good things you people have shown so far. Today's story literally shook me up. I come from India a place where women are given lot of respect and dignity and having seen what a woman has to go through in Kyrgystan hurted deep down inside. Doesn't the man who kidnaps a bride for himself has a sister and doesnt he thinks that can happen to his family too? How can a mother-in-law who herself was married forcibly encourage such an activity. I dont know how much sense it makes to carry out such activity but my only request is if someone I can be any help to make people aware of their wrong doing or can help in any other sense please feel free to contact me. Kudos!! to everyone involved in making such a documentary. You people are the actual heroes and my hats to u all!!!

Producer/Reporter Petr Lom responds:
Dear Rahul,
You raise some very thoughtful points. Yes, the practice is extraordinarily humiliating for women. Your point about the kidnappers is very interesting too. We did ask some of them your question. Often, they told us that they would not want their daughters or sisters to be kidnapped. But they said that if the kidnapper was wealthy, had a good job, then they wouldn't be against the kidnapping. You see how economics is tied to the practice.

Finally, your last question: how can women who have been kidnapped condone the practice? Customs are hard to change. And think of what we know about patterns of abuse -- how those who have been abused tend to themselves become abusers. Condoning kidnapping is a bit like that. Many of the women would tell the kidnapped girls, "we all came this way" as justification.

Vernon Wong - Waipahu, Hawaii
I believe Frontline is THE best documentary program on TV. These short stories are wonderful. This story shows how a tradition that was probably necessary a thousand years ago still persists today. Today, I imagine that is a practical way for farmers and herders to find wives. For example, some Japanese fishermen and farmers today have similar difficulty in finding wives.

Anonymous - San Gabriel, California
It seems wrong when we examine the situation with our norms. However, we cannot judge their tradition with our norms. We cannot point our fingers at them and say, "Your way of lifestyle does not fit out norms, change NOW!" After watching the show, I was ambivalent. Some couple seems happy after the kidnapping. It really made me think how something seems so wrong can result in happiness.

Re'ne G - Los Angeles, California
I happened to come upon this documentary tonight and was completely taken aback. This is one custom that does not need to continue and I would gladly sign any petition that would come my way. I was horrified, mortified and in such shock to see that the groom's family didn't seem to care how upset and unwilling the women were. I can't even begin to comprehend how these families think it's ok and just. Thank you so much for bringing this to light and reminding me things like this unfortunately still exist in the world. Let's hope things change on your follow-up trip.

Michelle Kunert - Sacramento, California
This issue of bride kidnapping should be considered as shocking to those as Oprah Winfrey as female genitalia mutilation. However, in regards to the rights of women in the third world and these former Soviet countries, American feminist groups like N.O.W. have no interest in them (all their financial resources instead go preserving abortion on demand, for any reason!). Back to the moderator's question, this clearly is a human rights violation, especially since the men are not forced into marriage like this. Apparently, so many women in the society are kept ignorant so that play along with this male dominated society that created this cultural bride kidnapping.

Deborah Ray-Wright - Wichita Falls, Texas
I draw the line here. I believe this is a clear violation of human rights. Firstly, let me start by saying this is my first time watching FRONTLINE, and it will not be my last. I am a 28-year-old, college educated, African-American woman. I found this story shocking and compelling. I came to a realization of how blessed I am that I was able to choose my own spouse and enjoy the joy that it was a choice. Not only do I blame the Soviet government for not enforcing the law, but I also see that peer pressure is not just a problem that our "next generation" is going through here in America everyday, but it is a problem of society as a whole. I still sit dumbfounded at how the women--other women--pressure a woman into a situation that may not be the best for her. I wonder is it a matter of culture or is it just that they need for a bigger clan to assist in day to day operation of the household. I hope that soon, very soon, the Soviet government will start to consider that life is not always about the economy but about the welfare of our fellow men.

Paul Simons - Philadelphia Pennsylvania
The line between these 'traditions' and absolute violation is clear. If we can say murder and rape are wrong then we had better say wife kidnapping, as well as the 'tradition' of genital mutilation, are horrific violations that need to be condemned and stopped. Otherwise we might as well accept anarchy. I'm disgusted hearing these foul 'traditions' defended.

Alan Salazar - San Jose, California
Outrageous! I watched this segment in complete disbelief! I simply find it hard to accept that this sort of behavior is tolerated, even acceptable, in Kyrgyzstan. Having grown up in a society where we protected our women (a bad word directed at one of my sisters would have earned you a beatdown by myself and my brothers), I found this practice of "bride kidnapping" utterly incomprehensible. It's tantamount to legalized kidnapping/rape. I devoutly hope that the treatment of women improves by leaps and bounds in that country.

J. Wayne - New York City, New York
I happened to be watching this with my two young children (six and two-and-a- half). My son, who is just six, had me read the subtitles to him, as he was too tired and they went by too fast. I asked him if he understood what was happening, and he said, "No," but had a very disturbed look on his face, realizing that this was not "just a TV show". Somehow, without my explaining, he seemed to understand it was "real". I searched my mind quickly for a way to explain that he could understand. He has been fairly sheltered and home schooled so far. So I said to him, "What if in 20 years your sister was out walking and someone - none of us in our family knew - decided that he wanted to marry her without asking her if she wants to marry HIM. [What if he, without] even knowing what kind of person she is, grabbed her and carried her off to his house, and kept her there until she agreed to marry him, not letting her call us, her family, until the deed was done?" My little boy looked up at me and said in a very small voice,"Scared." I don't know what I expected him to say, but that surprised and touched me. Once again, it convinced me that for true change, you have to start with the children and speak to them of how it affects and has affected their families. Only then will laws already on the books begin to be followed.

Anonymous - Fort Meyers, Florida
I was raised as a migrant worker but I enjoyed my life. I have felt that my children have been taking their lifestyle and freedom for granted. So I had my daughter who is 12 watch the show. She was shocked how culture and tradition was so different in other countries. She seems to understand freedom is a privilege that she must appreciate. I love your FRONTLINE show; it helps me show my daughter to relate to the rest of the world and just not what the new style is.

Daniel Serfaty - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Great story. The ambiguity of people's attitude toward bride kidnapping is well portrayed. Beautiful music, pictures, and cinematography. This documentary filmmaker has a great future.

Rose Jacobsohn - New York, New York
The conditions and status of women in this world is frightening. How sad! I know horrible things are still going on as we speak, but this in particular, I was not aware of... This story/documentary is SO very important! Thank you for showing it. I will pass the info on to other[s]! Thank you again.

Producer/Reporter Petr Lom responds:
Thanks for writing. Please note on the Web site the links to sites about bride kidnapping and women's rights in Kyrgyzstan -- especially the Association of Crisis Centers in Kyrgyzstan. If you know anyone who'd like to help them, pass on the information too.