Finders keepers

Dear old tradition.

Bride kidnapping, or “bridenapping”, happens in at least 17 countries around the world, from China to Mexico to Russia to southern Africa. In each of these lands, there are communities where it is routine for young women and girls to be plucked from their families, raped and forced into marriage. Few continents are not blighted by the practice, yet there is little awareness of these crimes, and few police investigations.

Well, you see, it’s something that happens to women and girls, and it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They aren’t really people you know. They look like people, sort of, but that’s deceptive – it’s just an outer thing, like the skin on a mango. They’re not really real people who feel things and think about things, the way you and I do. They’re hollow inside. It doesn’t matter what happens to them.

Up to a third of all ethnic Kyrgyz women in Kyrgyzstan are kidnapped brides, and some studies suggest that, in certain regions, the rates of bride kidnapping account for up to 80 per cent of marriages. In six villages scrutinised for a recent survey, almost half of the 1,322 marriages registered were from bride kidnapping, and up to two-thirds were non-consensual. Earlier this year, two 20-year-old students committed suicide after falling victim to bridenapping. The deaths of Venera Kasymalieva and Nurzat Kalykova prompted demonstrations in their home province of Issyk-Kul, but little has changed.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a reflex. It’s like lobsters trying to get out of the boiling water.

Aminata Touré, chief of the Gender, Human Rights and Culture branch of the UN Population Fund, said: “What we really need is more research to come up with the level of the problem. For something to be registered as a crime, it has to be reported; that’s the problem, because it’s often seen as a cultural practice and not a crime. When it’s not perceived as a crime, it becomes even harder for this practice to be registered as one.

“These are issues that sometimes it is problematic even to talk about. The bottom line is that women are considered as commodities – both by the husband who takes them and their own families who accept a deal.”

It’s a beautiful romantic traditional way to get possession of a commodity.


  1. says

    Can’t find a bride? What’s to be done?
    Tried dating and failed and you’re stunned?
    Don’t worry, don’t fret!
    There’s hope for you yet.
    If you need a wife, just take one

  2. says

    What kind of barbaric nonsense is this? It’s horrible that this still goes on in the 21st century. Did it ever occur to those brutish men to, I don’t know, ASK the woman if she wants to get married!?

  3. julian says

    There you go again trying to force Western Values where they don’t belong. What do you have against diversity?!1?!

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    There was some TV show on PBS in the early 90’s, I think it was called Legend, and might have been hosted by Michael Wood. It has a best case for wife kidnapping with some East African ethnic group. Once a year most young men would put on huge hats and awesome makeup, they’d even put a fennel seed under their lower eyelid to turn their eyes red, and they had the most awesome eyeliner ever. These men would dance with with a crowd of women who were mostly in their early twenties in arranged marriages. Some of these women had a child, but there were a few unarranged late teens women in the mix too. There were a few married men in the dance as well intent on abandoning their wives. Their wives were in the dance also.

    The whole point of the dance is that couples would pair up and then the man would “capture” his partner and lead her into the desert, sometimes pursued by her husband and “rape” her to make her his own. Not sure I’d call this rape as it seems pretty consensual to me, but that’s what they called it. So, you get forced into an arranged marriage, maybe have a kid, but you get to run off with awesome makeup guy to switch partners? Better lot in life for women than in many places.

    Searched Youtube for links. Anyone remember this show.

    But that’s what we have to remember. In most of history, a woman’s consent has never mattered at all. It was always about the consent of the woman’s “owner”, her father or older brother (or sometimes her eight year old younger brother, which is just stupid). This make sense of the who “marry the rapist thing” in the Old Testament. If she is within the city or near the city gates and does not cry out. the encounter might have been consensual, but the woman’s consent simply does not matter. Her virginity is lost and her owner is wronged. Thus her owner, usually her father, must be compensated and the couple cannot divorce. She’s like the fuzzy lollipop or dusty tape in modern day abstainence education. Better bind this piece of trash slut to whoever she fucked forever and pay daddy off to keep the peace.

    So the whole maybe the whole “marry the rapist” thing is not as bad as we thought. Some (possibly even the majority, think of the shotgun wedding) of these “rapes” were actually consensual, though surely many must have been without consent. I find it quite shocking that the core concept of rape, consent of the partners, is totally absent here. Consent of third parties is all that matters.

    In this context we can see how bride kidnapping might work in Kyrgyzstan. There’s little distinction about the woman’s consent or non-consent. Better to let the damaged goods become the property of bandits than to take her back home and face shame or stoning as an adultress.

    You gotta understand, in some cultures rape is not about a woman’s consent or non-consent whatsoever.

  5. Bruce Gorton says

    South Africa has this problem in rural areas – there is nothing “mock” about it and the victims are often between the ages of 14 and 17.

    The tradition is called ukuthwalwa, and is defended as a cultural practice. Funny how shitty behaviour is always cultural isn’t it?

  6. says

    as far as i can tell, this doesn’t happen anymore in greece, but it obviously used to — if you have a beautiful daughter, you often hear the comment ‘careful… someone might steal her’.

  7. Luna_the_cat says

    I have, sadly, actually encountered modern, Western individuals who defended the practice — not on the grounds of “cultural practice/diversity”, although that is bad enough — but on the grounds of “biological determinism.” The argument went that, because the practice is so widespread, this indicates that it has a biological origin, and since it (obviously) has a biological origin, it obviously doesn’t really traumatise women like they claim it does. — This, and the existence of “rape fantasies”, obviously in fact mean that this is actually a natural and acceptable practice to women and not something that misguided/deluded feminists should be claiming is real harm. O_o

    No, really, that was the sincere argument.

    By, among a couple of others, an individual who also argued (quite seriously) that women actually do derive pleasure from rape, and that Thornhill & Palmer were right in their argument (from the execrable “Natural History of Rape”) that women only act out distress or trauma to convince their “legitimate” mate that it wasn’t their fault for cuckolding him.

    Did I mention that I think this individual was also probably a rapist? Just made me wish I could prove it.

  8. says

    A thought struck me while reading this:
    Let’s say that a young woman is in her family kitchen, cutting up some vegetables. Suddenly her would-be “husband” comes charging in the door to grab her. She, thinking she’s being assaulted, stabs him to death with the knife. Would she be punished?

    Exactly at what point are they considered married? When does the man go from “attacker” to “husband”? Maybe, as long as their in her home, he’s an attacker. Once he has dragged her into the street, she’s been officially abducted and so, they’re man and wife. Or what?

    What if two suitors pick the same time to abduct the same girl? Do they fight to the death? Is the winner whoever can get the girl over their shoulder first? If she prefers one to the other, is she allowed to help in the fight?

    What happens if the girl abducts a guy and then claims that he abducted her? Can he dispute the marriage or is he bound by the same rules? What about standard rape cases? Is this like the OT, where the man then had to marry her, or does it fall under separate legislation?

    Are there any restrictions on how this abduction is to take place? E.g. can I hire a girl to bring me some food and then when she shows up at my door say “gotcha, now we’re married,” or would I have to physically grab her?

    I’m just wondering how any of this could possibly make sense to people. Never mind the ethics, I don’t see how you could possibly make a working system of this. The rulebook must be the size of the dictionary.

  9. says

    Luna – argh.

    Lyke, I know, it’s hard to imagine for instance what the minimum is – it’s like a horrible parody of children’s games – as long as I touch the magic tree even for a second I’m safe or I’ve won or a new round starts or whatever. Can a guy just handcuff a woman to a chair, does that count?

    Then again in at least some of the “traditions” it’s all too clear what the minimum is – it’s the rape. Once that’s done she’s “tainted” so he gets to keep her (and what she gets is of course not the issue).

  10. Noah the epistemic pinata says

    I’m just wondering how any of this could possibly make sense to people. Never mind the ethics, I don’t see how you could possibly make a working system of this. The rulebook must be the size of the dictionary.

    Although the details vary by region and culture, it’s normally not that complicated. I believe most stories run something like this:

    1) Woman is kidnapped.

    2) Her name is besmirched by the implication of kidnap/rape and becomes “unmarriageable” in a world where marriage is considered necessary; or she is unable to escape due to physical or financial constraints; or she feels committed because of the resulting pregnancy and children; or, more likely, she feels locked into the situation by a combination of these three factors.

    3) They are married and stay together.

    Bridenapping is relatively common here in China. According to the local paper, the police recently caught a gang involved with human trafficking. The police were able to track down a number of “stolen wives” (women who were already married and with children, kidnapped in their late 20s or early 30s). Surprisingly, some of the victims were unwilling to return to their old families. The reasons ranged from “embarrassment” to “wanting to care of their new children.”

    Reading this blog post from an ESL teacher in Georgia might give you a better idea of how bridenapping commonly works.

  11. rob says

    wow. i have been going about this dating thing all wrong. why use when i can…ugh.

    unbelievable. cultural my ass.

  12. Bruce Gorton says


    Part of the horror of this in South Africa is that often the parents are paid off by the would be kidnapper. In other words – they are in on it because they either want or need the money.

  13. Grace says


    Well, having nutty religious beliefs is pretty widespread, in fact so widespread it would indicate a biological origin. And since it has a biological origin, it’s actually a natural and acceptable belief system and not something that misguided/deluded Atheists should be claiming is a real harm.

  14. says

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