resistance as she campaigns for end to “bride-stealing”.  By Maria

prejudices limit access to family planning and reproductive health
services.  By Almaz Kumenov

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Parliamentarian faces resistance as she campaigns for end to “bride-stealing”.

By Maria Batyrova

A Kyrgyz lawmaker campaigning against forced marriage is pushing for
tougher rules to end the custom of “bride-stealing”.

Aynur Altybaeva, a member of the opposition Ar Namys party, has
submitted different two bills this year aimed at tackling unlawful
forms of marriage.

After fellow-legislators rejected the first of these, intended to
prevent clerics from sanctioning marriage without formal registration,
Altybaeva submitted a second bill just before parliament went into
summer recess. This time, she is seeking a real deterrent to men who
kidnap women and coerce them into marriage.

As it stands, the law in Kyrgyzstan makes it illegal to force a woman
into marriage, and imposes a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment,
but it does not set out special penalties for cases where the woman is

Altybaeva would like to see a sentence of five to ten years for anyone
who abducts a woman with intent to marry her, so that the offence
would be treated like any other form of criminal kidnapping.

Such abductions are common enough to cause concern to campaigners like

While defenders of bride-stealing – called “ala kachuu” in Kyrgyz –
argue that it is a long-established custom, historians say the
original form was consensual, whereas now it is an act of violence. In
the old days, a young man would stage an abduction – often with the
woman’s consent – and present the marriage to her parents as a fait
accompli so that he could avoid paying them the high “bride price”
they would otherwise demand. In post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, a young woman
may be kidnapped off the street by a passing acquaintance or complete
stranger, held against her will, and coerced into marriage.

In a report in late 2011, the Open Line NGO estimated that between
11,500 and 16,500 girls were kidnapped in this manner every year.
Based on interviews with 268 abducted women, the group found that half
of them had not met the kidnapper beforehand. Eight out of ten of the
268 cases ended in marriage, and one in five of the interviewees said
they were raped prior to the wedding.

Altybaeva says that marriages based on coercion are often short-lived.
Because the wedding is generally blessed by a Muslim priest but not
registered with the state authorities, the wives are not regarded as
married in the eyes of the law and are thus not automatically entitled
to property or alimony payments if they walk out.

Elnura (not her real name) told IWPR how she was kidnapped and forced
into marriage three years ago.

“They drove me [to their village] and took me into a house. I kept on
screaming and trying to run away, but to no avail,” she said. “Then
the women came and put a headscarf and dress on me. I wept and told
them I had a boyfriend, but no one listened.”

The kidnapper’s family pressured Elnura into cooperating.

“One of the women lay down on the threshold and told me that if I
stepped over her, she would put a curse on me,” Elnura said.

Completely outmanoeuvred, Elnura gave in. A mullah was called to bless
the marriage, but her husband did not register the union with the

Elnura said that if she had received more support from her own family,
she would have left her husband at once. Instead, they told her to
stay with him.

The Kyrgyz state prosecutor’s office says that only 159 bride
abductions have been reported to the authorities in the last 12 years.
Not all these cases went to court, and few resulted in convictions.

The office of Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman recently raised
concerns about one such case.

In a July 17 press release, the ombudsman reported that a resident of
the capital Bishkek whose daughter was abducted by strangers and taken
to a neighbouring region found that district- and regional-level
police departments reluctant to dealt with her complaint. In the end,
police in Bishkek finally dealt with the matter.

Some of the politicians who oppose Altybaeva’s bill argue that
abductions are so common that tougher penalties will lead to prison

During a debate on the legislation, Kurmanbek Dykanbaev from the
Respublika party advised against “very harsh measures for this issue”.

Another lawmaker, Esengul Isakov, argued that current legislation
banning underage marriage was enough, and it was not for parliament to
go into the matter any further.

Altybaeva’s first bill, submitted in January, went at the issue of
forced marriage from a different angle. She called for fines for
religious clerics who approved marriages that were unregistered with
the state.

The bill would have penalised Muslim clerics who married couples
without asking them to show a formal marriage certificate from the

Altybaeva says she has information showing that one in three women in
the countryside, and one in four in urban areas, is in a marriage
confirmed only by religious rites.

Her law would have ensured that all women who marry consensually
enjoyed full legal protections, while bringing coercive marriages
involving abduction to the attention of the authorities. It would have
prevented underage girls from marrying, and stopped clerics from
blessing polygamous marriages, permitted by Islam but not by the

Even though the bill would merely have reinforced Kyrgyzstan’s current
marriage law, it did not win enough support to pass, as many
politicians were reluctant to take on the religious establishment.

Tokon Mamytov, also an Ar Namys parliamentarian, said that while he
backed Altybaeva in principle, legislating on religious ritual would
amount to unwarranted intrusion by the state.

“It was a good idea, but if we’d passed the law we would have mixed
the secular with the religious,” he said.

Religious affairs analyst Kadyr Malikov said any legislation of this
kind would be hard to enforce because much of the population had more
regard for religious practice than for the law.

“Religious leaders now command more authority than all state
institutions put together, and parliament in particular,” Malikov
said, adding that state officials were often seen as “incompetent,
corrupt, and unable to come up with laws that are more effective and
improve the lives of ordinary people”.

Some clerics favour harsher penalties for bride kidnapping – a local
rather than Islamic tradition – and have even called for the death
penalty for it. But they are unhappy at the idea of clerics taking the
blame just for blessing marriages.

Nematulla Ajy Jeenbekov, an advisor to the Mufti, Kyrgyzstan’s top
Muslim cleric, said there was no need for a law requiring marriages to
be registered with the state.

“If you’re a sensible person and you want to start a family, you will
go and get an official marriage certificate of your own accord. You
don’t need a law for that,” he said.

Altybaeva’s bill will go before parliament in September, along with
some amendments proposed during the initial debate in June.

She will get support from the likes of Tatiana Levina, member of
parliament outraged at the stance of her male colleagues.

“I don’t understand their position,” Levina said. “They have daughters
themselves. Surely they want them to be protected by the law and to
enjoy the same rights as men.”

Maria Batyrova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


Enduring prejudices limit access to family planning and reproductive
health services.

By Almaz Kumenov

Disabled women in Kazakstan face many obstacles in fighting for their
rights, not least when it comes to accessing reproductive health
services in the state sector.

Alima Beysenbaeva is deputy chair of the Shyrak Association of
Disabled Women, and was confined to a wheelchair following a car crash
more than 20 years ago.

Now 42, she can talk from personal experience about the difficulty of
simply seeing a doctor for a check-up.

“When I went to see a gynaecologist, she looked at me with
near-bewilderment, as if to ask why I’d come to see her,” she
recalled. “It was so humiliating.”

Beysenbaeva said some doctors believe disabled women should not have children.

The Shyrak group commissioned a report last year that focused
specifically on disabled women in Almaty, Kazakstan’s biggest city. Of
the 300 women interviewed, six out of ten said their rights had been
harmed in some way by hospitals and clinics. This included
disrespectful and downright rude treatment by medical staff.

Some reported that when they became pregnant, they were refused
permission to register with maternity services and were referred for
abortions instead.

A 2010 survey by Kazakstan’s Public Opinion Research Centre found that
most of the 1,500 visually impaired and hard of hearing people it
canvassed had limited access to information on reproductive and sexual
health. Those seeking to have children were unaware of options that
might be open to them, while the lack of family planning information
led to a high incidence of abortion.

Saida Abdrahmanova, a doctor at the municipal health centre in Almaty,
acknowledged that some of her colleagues held negative attitudes
towards people with disabilities.

Particularly among the older generation who worked in the Soviet
medical health system, there are some medics who see no need to offer
a good service, provide a high standard of care and respect patients’
rights, she said.

Abdrahmanova insisted that rather than persuading disabled women not
to bear children, the role of doctors was to provide the right advice
to inform their decisions.

Kazakstan has laws setting out the state’s obligations to support
disabled people, including legislation on social benefits and home
care provision.

As Shyrak has pointed out, the current legislative framework is
limited to ensuring that the disabled get the basic essentials, but
ignores other needs that they share with everyone else.

Shyrak has organised training sessions for medical staff to improve
access to reproductive and sexual health services for disabled women.
In June, it held the first in a series of workshops which focused on
encouraging health and social workers to offer the right kinds of
treatment to disabled women, and to use the correct terminology when
speaking to them.

Doctors like Abdrahmanova argue that with the best will in the world,
some disabled women are not up to having children.

Viktoria Kuznetsova, 45, proves how wrong such attitudes can be.

A resident of Almalybak, a small town near Almaty, she has used a
wheelchair since an operation to remove a tumour on her spine that she
attributes to years of volleyball training.

Her doctor supported her decision to have a child; and she gave birth
by caesarean section. Things got harder when her husband died before
the baby was born.

“No one helped me so I looked after the baby virtually on my own,” she
recalled, adding that her mother, who does not live nearby, would
visit just to take the child out for some fresh air.

When her daughter Sofia was 18 months old, a ramp was fitted to allow
Kuznetsova to take her daughter outside on her own. Before that, she
said, “it was physically impossible for me to get downstairs and go

Sofia is now eight. Alongside coping with single parenthood,
Kuznetsova has won Kazakstan’s disabled table tennis championship
several times, and recently took up archery.

Almaz Kumenov is IWPR’s editor in Kazakstan.

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