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Kyrgyzstan: Bride-Kidnapping, Abuse Rampant

Kyrgyzstan: Bride-Kidnapping, Domestic Abuse Rampant

Despite Progressive Laws, Violence Against Women Goes Unpunished

(Bishkek) – Kyrgyzstan’s government is allowing domestic violence and the abduction of women for forced marriage to continue with impunity, Human Rights Watch said today in its first report on human rights violations in this Central Asian country.

“Police in Kyrgyzstan have an obligation to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence and bride-kidnapping are brought to justice,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But more often than not, they simply don’t treat these as serious crimes.”

The 140-page report, “Reconciled to Violence: State Failure to Stop Domestic Abuse and Abduction of Women in Kyrgyzstan,” concludes that although Kyrgyzstan has progressive laws on violence against women, police and other authorities fail to implement them. As a result, women remain in danger and without access to justice.

Based on in-depth, firsthand interviews with victims of violence, the report tells the stories of women who have been kicked, strangled, beaten, stabbed and sexually assaulted by their husbands. The report also tracks what happens when women seek help from the authorities. Instead of attaining safety and access to justice, they are encouraged to reconcile with their abusers.

A 38-year-old woman, “Elmira E.” told Human Rights Watch about being beaten by her husband for years and hospitalized, once for a knife wound and another time for a concussion after he kicked her in the head. “The situation was so bad that I thought it would be better if he killed me,” she said.

Women suffer serious and permanent injury from domestic violence, and many are emotionally traumatized by the abuse, even years later. Left with nowhere to go and no access to police protection, many women lose hope.

The report also examines the controversial issue of “bride-kidnapping,” or abduction for forced marriage. Women and girl victims of bride-kidnapping describe being grabbed, forced into cars, isolated and in some cases raped by their abductors.

“Many Kyrgyz officials portray bride-kidnapping as a harmless ritual, a voluntary practice. But women all over the country paint a very different picture,” said Acacia Shields, senior researcher and author of the report. “Abduction for forced marriage is a violent and traumatic experience that involves taking a woman against her will. It’s a serious crime, and police need to start treating it that way.”

Despite government claims that abduction of women by complete strangers is rare, many women told Human Rights Watch that they were kidnapped by men they did not know. In other cases, acquaintances use deception to kidnap a woman – often inviting her to a party or offering her a ride home from school, and then shuttling her off without warning to the home of her abductor.

Seventeen-year-old “Feruza F.” was raped on her wedding night by her abductor, a stranger until that day: “He forced me to have sex with him the first night. A woman came to say that they’d prepared my bed; I thought I’d be alone. I lay down to sleep, then he came in and he forced himself on me and raped me. I was saying no and he still did it. I cried and screamed…There were other times, too, when he raped me. I didn’t ever want to go to sleep.”

Human Rights Watch challenged the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev to make ending violence against women a priority. The report called on the government to implement its domestic violence law, including by issuing guidelines for protection orders and directing police to enforce such orders. It also called on the government to enforce existing criminal laws against assault and abduction and to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and kidnapping to the fullest extent of the law.

Kyrgyzstan’s international donors should increase financial and technical assistance to civil society organizations providing services to women and girls who have suffered violence.

“A strong and sustained international focus on this issue, coupled with concrete support, is needed if we are to see real improvement in the lives of women in Kyrgyzstan,” said Cartner.

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