Under current Kyrgyzstan law, if you steal a cow, the penalty is eleven years in prison. Is you abduct a girl, the penalty is three years in prison. Unfortunately, this is not a typo, you read that correctly. The penalty for stealing a cow is nearly four times greater than the penalty for abducting a girl for marriage.
In Kyrgyzstan, men are often pressured to marry. Kidnapping a bride is seen as the quickest and least expensive way to do this. Campaign 155 is a women’s advocacy group working to increase penalties and change the cultural norms around kidnapping girls for marriage.
Oftentimes when a girl is taken she is forced to have sex on the first night. Afterwards she is considered ‘damaged.’ Shamed, she often will not speak out. Her in-laws, many of who were also kidnapped and forced to marry, convince her there is nothing she can do and that if she tries, her life would be at stake. This happens to an estimated 8,000-12,000 girls a year.
Campaign 155, named after the penal code article number for bride kidnapping, does advocacy to increase the penalty for kidnapping. They work in their community to raise awareness of the issue and to share the message that, ‘no happy marriage begins from violence.’ The women also lobby for a bill to raise the penalty for abducting a girl for marriage from 3 years to 7 years. They originally proposed ten years, but even seven years is bringing incredible opposition.
“Tradition” is the wall that Campaign 155 is fighting against. One member of parliament said that if the bill passes it would not be good for Kyrgyzstan because, “We will put all men in Kyrgyzstan in prison if we increase the punishment for bride kidnapping.”
We look forward to seeing where these women go on their path to change their country.