Africa, Asia-Pacific, Human Rights, Editor's Choice

Marriage at Gunpoint: The Case of Modern Day Bride Kidnapping

“Amidst all the campaigns for alleviation of crimes and the progress of our defenses, the abduction of women around the world to be forced to marrying their captors remains unstopped.”

It may be dreadful, but kidnapping a girl as young as 18 to force her into marriage is not only a thing of the movies. It happens right before our eyes and amidst all the campaigns for alleviation of crimes and the progress of our defenses, the abduction of women around the world for the purpose of marrying their captors remains unstopped.

What it is

Reports from different news agencies give us figures regarding bride kidnapping, though claimed imprecise, that about one third of marriages in Central Asia and Africa could have resulted from this cultural phenomenon.

There are videos that have been surfacing online wherein girls, even younger than 18, are being kidnapped in broad daylight. It was also noted that once a girl is held captive at a man’s household, she is forced by his relatives to marry him. And what makes this more inhumane is that there are anecdotes that these girls are raped then returned home pregnant.

And in conservative communities where reputation is highly regarded, the girl’s parents would not even file charges but consent to the marriage instead.

Does the government know about this? Yes. Do they do anything about it? Aside from the studies conducted in order to produce a clearer insight on what bride kidnapping is and the motives for such, there is none. Reports from Human Rights Welfare Organization states that the perpetrators for such practice go unpunished though there are laws stating that this is illegal in so many levels.

Toothless Government and Cultural Roots

If you would be technical about it, bride kidnapping involves at least three crimes: kidnapping, illegal detention and rape. But why does this go unresolved despite the many reports from different NGOs and news agencies that it is still practiced today?

Simply this case transcends cultural boundaries, hence, no formal complaint from the victims.

According to studies, bride kidnapping happens in far flung villages and within tribes wherein patriarchy is heavily practiced and imposed. In these areas, men are pressured by society to marry as getting a wife helps the man’s family in so many aspects, particularly, financial.

It was found that once girls who are abducted finally agree to the marriage, they are formally separated from their families and stay with their groom. There, they are obliged to work for his family.

For these villagers, kidnapping is highly a normal practice. But though the girls are traumatized, and it is evident that the girls’ families are afraid of the phenomenon, once they fall victims, they no longer fight for their rights. Why is this? Because these families could have also been formed from similar practice. So, though the government is presented by many evidences from people who are outside this system, as long as nobody surfaces to actually complain, they cannot do anything.

As this happens in areas of lower economic status, the kidnapped women would rather stay with their abductors for child support than to put them in jail.

And as culture seems to perpetuate the very motivation and eventual acceptance of this phenomenon, it is becoming harder for human rights groups and women’s rights advocates to convince families that bride kidnapping is a crime. Hence, the number of cases continue to rise today. Amidst the methods of awareness available and developed, and the International Human Rights Laws being adhered to — supposedly, the very foundation of society remains uneducated and untouched by third party regulators.

Why this is Alarming

This has been noted to have been occurring in different areas in the world since some hundred years ago. It is a form of exertion of power or plainly just to boost population. However, it can’t be argued that gender inequality back then was worse.

Though some may expect that an unlikely practice as such would die down as views on patriarchy and gender roles progress, it only seems to survive further due to indifference or miseducation of different groups.

Moreover, as parents fear that girls would be abducted, girls are often kept home and skip education. What is even more surprising is that the abductors do not even suffer a social stigma.

For the public who experiences this, the distress is only upon the kidnapped bride who is accused of “fake resistance.” The question here now is: how would the government correct a mentality when people do not understand that anything that is forced is illegal?

There are also modern reports that in identified areas where bride kidnapping is rampant, there is high statistics of stillbirth, and natal and maternal death as most young mothers are below the ideal conception age.

Main Problem

If we’re to analyze further, the government is actually alarmed that non profit organizations are trying to study this incident in order to see a gap and address that. But why is it that bride kidnapping is still celebrated? Because though there are efforts, the government is more concerned on focusing on external relations rather than fixing what is inside.

What we can see is this: it is a mentality that has to be corrected.

Some even justify that these kidnappings were actually staged in order to cover for consensual elopement or to skip parental consent or marriage registrations. Though it may be noted as a common practice, girls do resist. Nonetheless, villagers do not take this as sign of trauma rather, when she cries or try to escape, it is seen as a sign of a girl being brought up to be “an ideal bride”.

Even if the government already has data, this problem remains unsolved. Probably because there is no pressure to remedy it at all.

What we can do

If the government cannot intervene and make the abductors held criminally liable, they can probably come up with a good campaign that will educate the majority of engaged villages regarding the importance of consent and the anatomy of an abuse.

The first step is probably to raise awareness. With social media being more accessible, more human rights groups would be able to educate people from outside who may still not be aware of this and spark enough controversy that the governments in affected.places actually feel the pressure to put a stop to it. Besides, ignorance of the law excuses no one.

We keep on hearing that a quality life is life of diversity, then we must live up to what that should do: give men and women young and old the same and equal rights and privileges as well as duties in society.

If men can decide when to marry, women should, too. Sometimes, culture must be toppled over by laws and regulations as some practices, though accepted are absolutely inhumane. Being able to intervene is part of promoting civic welfare.

Besides, if this continues, it will only produce larger scale problems like high mortality rate, rise in poverty, and who knows, one day, it might incite uprising, and then civil war.

There are hundreds of girls scared somewhere and helping raise awareness might save them from impending torture and trauma.

About Patricia Abrihan

Patricia has always been inspired by the witty yet innocent voice of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that she believes that writing is able to revolutionize ideas of society. She is a former college instructor from the Philippines and is currently a freelance writer and blogger managing her portfolio. She is open to collaboration and also loves reading and watching movies.

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