I never said “YES”
The story of Aisuluu, a survivor of bride kidnapping
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – She enters the room, walking fast and with confidence. Aisuluu, 42, is a successful international trainer and coach from Kyrgyzstan who supports women to design and implement their business ideas. No one would ever suspect that this strong, independent woman was a survivor of bride kidnapping and child marriage.
It has been 25 years, but it is still deeply painful for Aisuluu to share her story. Today she has the courage to publicly share what has happened. She hopes that by telling her story, she will support other young women who have also lived through the nighmare to speak out and help end the dangerous practice.
“For me, as a person who has survived such a crime, as a victim, it is not easy to describe what I experienced and what I went through,” she says. “You will never be a victim of bride kidnapping in the past. It stays with you for the rest of your life”.
Bride kidnapping, or Ala-Kachuu, is a dangerous practice where men abduct a girl or woman and force them to get married. The practice violates the rights of girls and women and although illegal in Kyrgyzstan, and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the practice continues to happen.
During the first six months of 2019, 118 criminal cases of bride kidnapping were being pursued across the country. According to latest statistics, 1 out of 11 girls aged 15 to 19 years old in Kyrgyzstan are married. UNICEF estimates that many more cases took place, but too often these incidents go unreported.
“Despite the fact that 25 years have passed since then, I cannot forget this whole nightmare that broke my life. I cannot forgive any of the people who participated in this, including my parents, who instead of supporting me, became one of the accomplices of this crime.”
Aisulu was just 17 years old when she was abducted and forced to marry. At the time, she was at University studying to be a teacher in the capital city, Bishkek, and had come home to visit her parents during school holidays. On a warm, quiet evening, a family friend invited Aisuluu to her house, just down the street from where Aisuluu`s parents lived. As she approached the house, several young men she did not know, including one who she would be forced to marry, leaped out of a car that was parked nearby and dragged her into it. Violence followed.
“Do you know how hard it is to live after it?” asks Aisuluu. “Even after you left that house of the kidnappers: to live with this stigma for life, (…) How do victims of bride kidnapping live after a divorce? They are treated like second-class people, including by close relatives. In their view, the girls that survive the abduction do not have the moral right to marry an unmarried guy. A man (…) must also be divorced so that they are on equal conditions, so as not to ´infringe upon´ his rights. At the same time, a man who kidnapped a girl can steal other girls again and again. The law does not work.”
“I never said YES”
Aisuluu says, “I never said ‘YES’”, but no one even asked her.
During the abduction, Aisuluu was forced to marry a man she had never seen before. Two months later she managed to escape, leaving behind the man she was forced to marry, his family and her village forever.
But the emotional and psychological violence continued for two years after as the man she was forced to marry, and his family, kept trying to force her to return. Aisuluu’s own family tried to push her to go back and accept the marriage, as families are often ashamed when women become divorced. But Aisuluu said “no” to her family and found the motivation to start a new successful life.
“I made lots of efforts to become successful, and I managed. But the question is, at what price? ... I am one of the thousands of victims, but there are just a few of us, who could resist and won this fight.”
Too many women in Kyrgyzstan have lived and still live through the horrors of bride kidnapping.
UNICEF works to prevent this crime and to empower girls so they can demand their rights to education and protection against violence – including forced and early marriage. UNICEF also works with the Government of Kyrgyzstan to develop public education campaigns that educate people on the dangers of bride kidnapping and early marriage, with the goal of ending child marriage across the country.
Today, Aisuluu works on gender issues, helping other women to become financially independent. She knows how important it is: financial independence provides freedom of action, freedom of choice and speech and opens up new opportunities.
“It took me 20 more years to find the strength to say YES, I am a victim of bride kidnapping so that I can tell my story without tears and help other young girls whose rights have been violated and have been subjected to violence. I am glad that I have the strength to somehow help the victims of marriage by abduction”.
Globally it is estimated that 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married. Girls who marry at a younger age are more likely to drop out of school and have a lower level of education than those who marry later.
Child marriage and early unions can also result in unwanted adolescent pregnancies which harm the mother and child. While total numbers are not available, bride kidnapping and child marriage also continues in other parts of the region, including in Georgia and Albania. UNICEF works around the world to protect the rights of girls by ending child marriage, and supporting girls to continue learning and access vital services.