The 20-year-old woman from Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, was headed for a medical career and marriage to the man she loved. Instead, she was murdered by a jealous admirer who had “bride kidnapped” her to force her into marriage. It is a striking example of the authorities’ failure to protect women and girls subjected to “bride kidnapping,” an illegal yet enduring practice called ala kachu in Kyrgyzstan.
After Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy’s abduction earlier this week, her father notified the police, who took her and her 29-year-old kidnapper into custody. The police then left the two alone together in a room in the police station, where the kidnapper stabbed her to death on Monday.
Burulai’s murder is a sobering reminder that “bride kidnapping” is unequivocally a form of violence against women. Those who excuse the practice often claim it is Kyrgyz culture or tradition. But, as a United Nations statement on Burulai’s case points out, it isn’t tradition. Rather, it’s a human rights abuse that the government should act decisively to stop before more women are harmed.
Young women I interviewed for a Human Rights Watch report on domestic violence in Kyrgyzstan told me how “bride kidnapping” terrorized them, subjecting them to forced and sometimes child marriage often accompanied by abuse, coercion, and emotional and physical violence. While the government has taken positive steps such as strengthening penalties for such abductions and criminalizing religious marriages of children under 18, more action is needed.
Burulai had been kidnapped by her killer twice. Unlike many Kyrgyz families, Burulai’s parents intervened both times to prevent a forced marriage, and even contacted the police. Yet the police, by leaving the two alone together, showed a horrifying disregard for the danger that she faced.
Yesterday, May 31, Kyrgyzstan’s Ombudsman called for increased sanctions for the crime of abduction for marriage. The government should direct police and prosecutors to investigate and appropriately prosecute all cases of “bride kidnapping” and other violence against women. They should also adhere to policies for victim protection, and discipline officials who fail to do so.
Every day, women and girls in Kyrgyzstan live with the risk of being kidnapped for forced marriage. They shouldn’t have to be murdered for it to end.