Bride abduction

Bride kidnapping, also known as marriage by abduction or marriage by capture, is a practice throughout history and around the world in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Bride kidnapping occurs in countries spanning Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and parts of Africa, and among peoples as diverse as the Hmong in Southeast Asia, the Tzeltal in Mexico, and the Romani in Europe.

In most countries, bride kidnapping is considered a sex crime, rather than a valid form of marriage. Some versions of it may also be seen as falling along the continuum between forced marriage and arranged marriage. The term is sometimes used to include not only abductions, but also elopements, in which a couple runs away together and seeks the consent of their parents later; these may be referred to as non-consensual and consensual abductions respectively. However, even when the practice is against the law, judicial enforcement remains lax, particularly in Bulgaria, Turkey, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya.

Bride kidnapping is distinguished from raptio in that the former refers to the abduction of one woman by one man (and his friends and relatives), and is still a widespread practice, whereas the latter refers to the large scale abduction of women by groups of men, possibly in a time of war (see also war rape).

Some modern cultures maintain a symbolic kidnapping of the bride by the groom as part of the ritual and traditions surrounding a wedding, in a nod to the practice of bride kidnapping which may have figured in that culture's history. According to some sources, the honeymoon is a relic of marriage by capture, based on the practice of the husband going into hiding with his wife to avoid reprisals from her relatives, with the intention that the woman would be pregnant by the end of the month.[1]

Background and rationale

Though the motivations behind bride kidnapping vary by region, the cultures with traditions of marriage by abduction are generally patriarchal with a strong social stigma on sex or pregnancy outside of marriage and illegitimate births.[2]

A familiar example from the Hebrew Bible is the passage in Book of Judges (Judges 21:19) (7th century BCE based on earlier tradition):

"Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh. (…) Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards. And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty. And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them."

In some modern cases, the couple collude together to elope under the guise of a bride kidnapping, presenting their parents with a fait accompli. In most cases, however, the men who resort to capturing a wife are often of lower social status, because of poverty, disease, poor character or criminality.[3] They are sometimes deterred from legitimately seeking a wife because of the payment the woman's family expects, the bride price (not to be confused with a dowry, paid by the woman's family).[4]

In agricultural and patriarchal societies, where bride kidnapping is most common, children work for their family. A woman leaves her birth family, geographically and economically, when she marries, becoming instead a member of the groom's family. (See patrilocality for an anthropological explanation.) Due to this loss of labour, the women's families do not want their daughters to marry young, and demand economic compensation (the aforementioned bride price) when they do leave them. This conflicts with the interests of men, who want to marry early, as marriage means an increase in social status, and the interests of the groom's family, who will gain another pair of hands for the family farm, business or home.[5] Depending on the legal system under which she lives, the consent of the woman may not be a factor in judging the validity of the marriage.

In addition to the issue of forced marriage, bride kidnapping may have other negative effects on the young women and their society. For example, fear of kidnap is cited as a reason for the lower participation of girls in the education system.[6]

The mechanism of marriage by abduction varies by location. This article surveys the phenomenon by region, drawing on common cultural factors for patterns, but noting country-level distinctions.


In three African countries, bride kidnapping often takes the form of abduction followed by rape.


Bride-kidnapping is prevalent in areas of Rwanda.[7] Often the abductor kidnaps the woman from her household or follows her outside and abducts her. He and his companions may then rape the woman to ensure that she submits to the marriage.[8] The family of the woman either then feels obliged to consent to the union,[9] or is forced to when the kidnapper impregnates her, as pregnant women are not seen as eligible for marriage. The marriage is confirmed with a ceremony that follows the abduction by several days. In such ceremonies, the abductor asks his bride's parents to forgive him for abducting their daughter.[9] The man may offer a cow, money, or other goods as restitution to his bride's family.[10]

Bride-kidnap marriages in Rwanda often lead to poor outcomes. Human rights workers report that one third of men who abduct their wives abandon them, leaving the wife without support and impaired in finding a future marriage.[9] Additionally, with the growing frequency of bride-kidnapping, some men choose not to solemnize their marriage at all, keeping their "bride" as a concubine.[9] Domestic violence is also common and is not illegal.[11]

Bride kidnapping is not specifically outlawed in Rwanda, though violent abductions are punishable as rape. According to a criminal justice official, bride kidnappers are virtually never tried in court: "When we hear about abduction, we hunt down the kidnappers and arrest them and sometimes the husband, too. But we're forced to let them all go several days later," says an official at the criminal investigation department in Nyagatare, the capital of Umutara."[9] Women's rights groups have attempted to reverse the tradition by conducting awareness raising campaigns and by promoting gender equity, but the progress has been limited so far.[9]


In parts of Ethiopia, a man working in co-ordination with his friends may kidnap a girl or woman, sometimes using a horse to ease the escape.[12] The abductor will then hide his intended bride and rape her until she becomes pregnant. As the father of the woman's child, the man can claim her as his wife.[13] Subsequently, the kidnapper may try to negotiate a bride price with the village elders to legitimize the marriage.[13] Girls as young as eleven years old are reported to have been kidnapped for the purpose of marriage.[14] Though Ethiopia criminalised such abductions and raised the marriageable age to 18 in 2004, this law has not been well implemented.[15]

The bride of the forced marriage may suffer from the psychological and physical consequences of forced sexual activity and early pregnancy, and the early end to her education.[16] Abductions of schoolgirls still occur in Oromiya, for example.[17] Women and girls who are kidnapped may also be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.[16]


Forced marriages continue to be a problem for young girls in Kenya. The United States Department of State reports that children and young teenaged girls (aged ten and up) are sometimes married to men two decades or more their seniors.[18]

Marriage by abduction used to be, and to some extent still is, a customary practice for the Kisii ethnic group. In their practice, the abductor kidnaps the woman forcibly and rapes her in an attempt to impregnate her. The "bride" is then coerced through the stigma of pregnancy and rape to marry her abductor. Though most common in the late 19th century through the 1960s, such marriage abductions still occur occasionally.[19]

The Turkana tribe in Kenya also practised marriage by abduction. In this culture, bridal kidnapping (akomari) occurred before any formal attempts to arrange a marriage with a bride's family. According to one scholar, a successful bridal kidnapping raised the abductor's reputation in his community, and allowed him to negotiate a lower bride price with his wife's family. Should an attempted abductor fail to seize his bride, he was bound to pay a bride price to the woman's family, provide additional gifts and payments to the family, and to have an arranged marriage (akota).[20]

Central Asia

In Central Asia, bride kidnapping exists in Kyrgyzstan,[21] Kazakhstan,[22] Turkmenistan,[23] and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan.[24] Though origin of the tradition in the region is disputed,[25] the rate of nonconsensual bride kidnappings appears to be increasing in several countries throughout Central Asia as the political and economic climate changes.[26]


Main article: Ala kachuu

Despite its illegality,[27] in many primarily rural areas, bride kidnapping, known as ala kachuu (to take and flee), is an accepted and common way of taking a wife.[28] Studies by researcher Russell Kleinbach have found that approximately half of all Kyrgyz marriages include bride kidnapping; of those kidnappings, two thirds are non-consensual.[29] Research by non-governmental organizations raise the estimate of the frequency of bride kidnappings to between 68 and 75 percent of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan.[30]

The matter is somewhat confused by the local use of the term "bride kidnap" to reflect practices along a continuum, from forcible abduction and rape (and then, almost unavoidably, marriage), to something akin to an elopement arranged between the two young people, to which both sets of parents have to consent after the fact.

Although the practice is illegal in Kyrgyzstan, bride kidnappers are rarely prosecuted. This reluctance to enforce the code is in part caused by the pluralistic legal system in Kyrgyszstan where many villages are de facto ruled by councils of elders and aqsaqal courts following customary law, away from the eyes of the state legal system.[31] Aqsaqal courts, tasked with adjudicating family law, property and torts, often fail to take bride kidnapping seriously. In many cases, aqsaqal members are invited to the kidnapped bride's wedding and encourages the family of the bride to accept the marriage.[32]


In Kazakhstan, bride kidnapping (alyp qashu) is divided into non-consensual and consensual abductions, kelisimsiz alyp qashu ("to take and run without agreement") and kelissimmen alyp qashu ("to take and run with agreement"), respectively.[33] Though some kidnappers are motivated by the wish to avoid a bride price or the expense of hosting wedding celebrations or a feast to celebrate the girl leaving home, other would-be husbands fear the woman's refusal, or that the woman will be kidnapped by another suitor first.[34] Generally, in nonconsensual kidnappings, the abductor uses either deception (such as offering a ride home) or force (such as grabbing the woman, or using a sack to restrain her) to coerce the woman to come with him.[35] Once at the man's house, one of his female relatives offers the woman a kerchief (oramal) that signals the bride's consent to the marriage. Though in consensual kidnappings, the woman may agree with little hesitation to wear the kerchief, in non-consensual abductions, the woman may resist the kerchief for days.[36] Next, the abductor's family generally asks the "bride" to write a letter to her family, explaining that she had been taken of her own free will. As with the kerchief, the woman may resist this step adamantly.[37] Subsequently, the "groom" and his family generally issues an official apology to the bride's family, including a letter and a delegation from the groom's household. At this time, the groom's family may present a small sum to replace the bride-price. Though some apology delegations are met cordially, others are greeted with anger and violence.[38] Following the apology delegation, the bride's family may send a delegation of "pursuers" (qughysnshy) either to retrieve the bride or to verify her condition and honour the marriage.[39]


In Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region in Uzbekistan, nearly one fifth of all marriages are conducted by bride kidnapping.[40] Activist groups in the region tie an increase in kidnappings to economic instability. Whereas weddings can be prohibitively expensive, kidnappings avoid both the cost of the ceremony and any bride price.[41] Other scholars report that less desirable males with inferior educations or drug or alcohol problems are more likely to kidnap their brides.[42] In Karakalpakstan, the bride kidnapping sometimes originates out of a dating relationship and, at other times, happens as an abduction by multiple people.[43]

The Caucasus

Bride kidnapping is an increasing trend in the countries and regions of the Caucasus, both in Georgia, and Azerbaijan in the South[44] and in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia in the North.[45] The traditions in the Caucasus, though appearing in distinct cultures, may have emerged during Ottoman rule.[45] In the Caucasian versions of bride-kidnapping, the kidnap victim's family may play a role in attempting to convince the woman to stay with her abductor after the kidnapping, because of the shame inherent in the presumed consummation of the marriage.[46]


In Azerbaijan, both marriage by capture (qız qaçırmaq) and elopement (qoşulub qaçmaq) are relatively common practices.[47] In the Azeri kidnap custom, a young woman is taken to the home of the abductor's parents through either deceit or force. There, she may be raped. Regardless of whether a rape occurs or not, the woman is generally regarded as impure by her relatives, and is therefore forced to marry her abductor.[48] Despite a 2005 Azeri law that criminalised bride kidnapping, the practice places women in extremely vulnerable social circumstances, in a country where spousal abuse is rampant and recourse to law enforcement for domestic matters is impossible.[49] In Azerbaijan, women abducted by bride kidnapping sometimes become slaves of the family who kidnap them.[50]

Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia

The Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia regions in the Northern Caucasus (in Russia) have also witnessed an increase in bride kidnappings since the fall of the Soviet Union.[51] As in other countries, kidnappers sometimes seize acquaintances to be brides and other times abduct strangers.[52] The social stigma of spending a night in a male's house can be a sufficient motivation to force a young woman to marry her captor.[53] Under Russian law, though a kidnapper who refuses to release his bride could be sentenced to eight to ten years, a kidnapper will not be prosecuted if he releases the victim or marries her with her consent.[54] Bride captors in Chechnya are liable, in theory, to receive also a fine of up to 1 million rubles.[55] As in the other regions, authorities often fail to respond to the kidnappings.[56] In Chechnya, the police failure to respond to bridal kidnappings is compounded by a prevalence of abductions in the region.[57] Several such kidnappings have been captured on video.[58]

Researchers and non-profit organisations describe a rise in bride kidnappings in the North Caucasus in the latter half of the 20th century.[53] In Chechnya, women's rights organisations tie the increase in kidnappings to a deterioration of women's rights under the rule of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.[53]


In Georgia, bride kidnapping occurs throughout the country, but primarily in ethnic minority communities, such as Samtskhe-Javakheti.[59] Although the extent of the problem is not known, non-governmental activists estimate that hundreds of women are kidnapped and forced to marry each year.[60] In a typical Georgian model of bride kidnapping, the abductor, often accompanied by friends, accosts the intended bride, and coerces her through deception or force to enter a car. Once in the car, the victim may be taken to a remote area or the captor's home.[61] These kidnappings sometimes include rape, and may result in strong stigma to the female victim, who is assumed to have engaged in sexual relations with her captor.[62] Women who have been victims of bride kidnapping are often regarded with shame; the victim's relatives may view it as a disgrace if the woman returns home after a kidnapping.[63] In other cases, the kidnapping is a consensual elopement.[64] Human Rights Watch reports that prosecutors often refuse to bring charges against the kidnappers, urging the kidnap victim to reconcile with her aggressor.[65] Enforcing the appropriate laws in this regard may also be a problem because the kidnapping cases often go unreported as a result of intimidation of victims and their families.[66]

East and South Asia


Marriage by abduction is also practiced by some patriarchal tribes of North-East and Central India. Usually, the groom carries away the bride and the villagers chase them. If they are not found after a few hours, they are considered to be married. There are however, different rules for different tribes.

In North-East India, the practice of peethchuk (peeth meaning back) is common. The groom carries the bride on his back and runs away with her.

In Central India, among the Bhil tribe, there is a large festival called Bhagoria Mela where matchmaking takes place in a peculiar manner. Girls dance in the inner circle and boys in the outer. When the music stops, a boy may elope with a girl.

Among the Santals, if a boy fancies a girl, he must keep a branch of a sal tree outside her house. If there are two or more sisters in the house and the bride is not known, all the sisters must be ready. The next day, preparations for the marriage are made and relatives called. The girl is then encircled by all family members and relatives. The boy must break inside the circle to get to his bride. If she is willing, they get married. If she is not, she may run away. If he catches her and she still doesn't consent, she may use arms and weapons against him.

Marriage by capture is slowly dying today. The Indian government disapproves of it but cannot do much as it comes under the personal laws of the tribal community.

Hmong culture

Marriage by abduction also occurs in traditional Hmong culture, in which it is known as zij poj niam.[67] As in some other cultures, bride kidnapping is generally a joint effort between the would-be groom and his friends and family. Generally, the abductor takes the woman while she is alone. The abductor then sends a message to the kidnap victim's family, informing them of the abduction and the abductor's intent to marry their daughter.[68] If the victim's family manage to find the woman and insist on her return, they might be able to free her from the obligation to marry the man. However, if they fail to find the woman, the kidnap victim is forced to marry the man. The abductor still has to pay a bride price for the woman, generally an increased amount because of the kidnapping. Because of this increased cost (and the general unpleasantness of abduction), kidnapping is usually only a practice reserved for a man with an otherwise blemished chance of securing a bride, because of criminal background, illness or poverty.[69]

Occasionally, members of the Hmong ethnic group have engaged in bride kidnapping in the United States.[70] In some cases, the defendant has been allowed to plead a cultural defense to justify his abduction.[71] This defense has sometimes been successful. In 1985, Kong Moua, a Hmong man, kidnapped and raped a woman from a Californian college. He later claimed that this was an act of zij poj niam and was allowed to plead to false imprisonment only, instead of kidnapping and rape. The judge in this case considered cultural testimony as an explanation of the man's crime.[72]


Until the 1940s, marriage by abduction, known as qiangqin (Chinese: 搶親; pinyin: qiǎngqīn), occurred in regions of China.[73] According to one scholar, marriage by abduction was sometimes a groom's answer to avoid paying a bride price.[74] In other cases, the scholar argues, it was a collusive act between the bride's parents and the groom to circumvent the bride's consent.[75] Ethnographer Anne McLaren found that qiangqin, though illegal in imperial China, was common in rural areas, and often became a local "institution" that could be carefully planned and undertaken in a public context.[76]

According to McLaren, in one form of a typical qiangqin, the abductor would arrive at a woman's house flanked by around twenty men. While the friends carried the woman away, the "groom" would use scissors to try to cut off the woman's pants. The woman, struggling with ensuring her dignity, would be unable to adequately fight off her abductors. The victim would then be taken to the groom's house, where the marriage would be consummated.[77]

Chinese scholars theorise that this practice of marriage by abduction became the inspiration for a form of institutionalised public expression for women: the bridal lament.[78] In imperial China, a new bride performed a two to three day public song, including chanting and sobbing, that listed her woes and complaints. The bridal lament would be witnessed by members of her family and the local community.[79]

In recent years bride kidnapping has resurfaced in areas of China. In many cases, the women are kidnapped and sold to men in poorer regions of China, or as far abroad as Mongolia. Reports say that buying a kidnapped bride is nearly one tenth of the price of hosting a traditional wedding.[80] The United States Department of State tie this trend of abducting brides to China's one-child policy, and the consequent gender imbalance as more male children are born than female children.[81]


There was the custom of bride kidnapping named Ottoi-yomejo (おっとい嫁じょ) in Kagoshima.[82][83][84] In June 19, 1959, a man who did Ottoi-yomejo was sentenced three years imprisonment on rape, in Kushira, Kagoshima.[85][86]

In Buraku of Kochi, there was the custom of bride kidnapping named katagu (かたぐ).[87][88]

The Americas

The practice of kidnapping children, teenagers and women from neighbouring tribes and adopting them into the new tribe was common among Native Americans throughout the Americas. The kidnappings were a way of introducing new blood into the group. Adoptees were usually treated well and fully accepted into the group. Although the practice was considered normal by Native Americans, European settlers were horrified by it.[89] Captured European women often settled down as adopted members of the tribe and refused "rescue" when it was offered.[90]

United States

Several reports of bride kidnapping for religious reasons have surfaced recently. Most known are the cases of Elizabeth Smart in Utah and Jaycee Lee Dugard in California. Both perpetrators have been convicted of kidnapping and sexual assault. Other cases exists within some fundamentalist or break off groups from Mormonism around the Utah-Arizona border; however, accurate information is difficult to obtain from these closed communities. Most of these cases are usually referred to as forced marriages, although they are similar to other bride kidnappings around the world.[91]


Among the Tzeltal community, a Mayan tribe in Chiapas, Mexico, bride kidnapping has been a recurring method of securing a wife.[92] The Tzeltal people are an indigenous, agricultural tribe that is organised patriarchally. Premarital contact between the sexes is discouraged; unmarried women are supposed to avoid speaking with men outside of their families.[93] As with other societies, the grooms that engage in bride kidnapping have generally been the less socially desirable mates.[94]

In the Tzeltal tradition, a girl is kidnapped by the groom, possibly in concert with his friends. She is generally taken to the mountains and raped. The abductor and his future bride often then stay with a relative until the bride's father's anger is reported to have subsided. At that point, the abductor will return to the bride's house to negotiate a bride-price, bringing with him the bride and traditional gifts such as rum.[95]

South America

Among the Mapuche of Chile, the practice was known as casamiento por capto in Spanish, and ngapitun in Mapudungun.[96]

Helena Valero, a Brazilian woman kidnapped by Amazonian Indians in 1937, dictated her story to an Italian anthropologist, who published it in 1965.


Roma (Gypsy) communities

Bride kidnapping has been documented as a marital practice in some Romani community traditions. In the Romani culture, girls as young as twelve years old may be kidnapped for marriage to teenaged boys.[97] As the Roma population lives throughout Europe, this practice has been seen on multiple occasions in Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Slovakia.[98] The kidnapping has been theorised as a way to avoid a bride price or as a method of ensuring exogamy.[99][100] The tradition's normalisation of kidnapping puts young women at higher risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.[101]

In religion

Catholic law

In Catholic canon law, the impediment of raptus specifically prohibits marriage between a woman abducted with the intent to force her to marry, and her abductor, as long as the woman remains in the abductor's power.[102] According to the second provision of the law, should the woman decide to accept the abductor as a husband after she is safe, she will be allowed to marry him.[103] The canon defines raptus as a "violent" abduction, accompanied by physical violence or threats, or fraud or deceit. The Council of Trent insisted that the abduction in raptus must be for the purpose of marriage to count as an impediment to marriage.[103]

Islamic law

While an engagement may be arranged between families for their children, Islamic requirements for a legal marriage needs legal consent from both parties (ijab-o-qubul). A marriage without this consent or performed under coercion is considered void and may be annulled on those grounds.

In history


Marriage by capture was practised in ancient cultures throughout the Mediterranean area. It is represented in mythology and history by the tribe of Benjamin in the Bible;[104] by the Greek hero Paris stealing the beautiful Helen of Troy from her husband Menelaus, thus triggering the Trojan War;[105] and by the Rape of the Sabine Women by Romulus, the founder of Rome,[106] and was a common marriage practice in Sparta.

In 326 A.D., the Emperor Constantine issued an edict prohibiting marriage by abduction. The law made kidnapping a public offence; even the kidnapped bride could be punished if she later consented to a marriage with her abductor.[107] According to historian Judith Evans-Grubbs, spurned suitors sometimes kidnapped their intended brides as a method of restoring honor. The suitor, in coordination with his friends, generally abducted his bride while she was out of her house in the course of her daily chores. The bride would then be secreted outside the town or village. Though the kidnapped woman was sometimes raped in the course of the abduction, the stain on her honor from a presumptive consummation of the marriage was sufficient to damage her marital prospects irreversibly.[108] Sometimes, the "abduction" masked an elopement.[109]


The custom of fuitina was widespread in Sicily and continental southern Italy. In theory and in some cases it was an agreed elopement between two youngsters; in practice it was often a forcible kidnapping and rape, followed by a so-called "rehabilitating marriage" (matrimonio riparatore). In 1965, this custom was brought to national attention by the case of Franca Viola, a 17-year-old abducted and raped by a local small-time criminal, with the assistance of a dozen of his friends. When she was returned to her family after a week, she refused to marry her abductor, contrary to local expectation. Her family backed her up, and suffered severe intimidation for their efforts; the kidnappers were arrested and the main perpetrator was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The exposure of this "archaic and intransigent system of values and behavioural mores"[110] caused great national debate. In 1968, Franca married her childhood sweetheart, with whom she would later have three children. Conveying clear messages of solidarity, Giuseppe Saragat, then president of Italy, sent the couple a gift on their wedding day, and soon afterwards, Pope Paul VI granted them a private audience. A 1970 film, La moglie più bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) by Damiano Damiani and starring Ornella Muti, is based on the case. Viola never capitalised on her fame and status as a feminist icon, preferring to live a quiet life in Alcamo with her family.[110]


The abduction of heiresses was an occasional feature in Ireland until 1800,[111][112] as illustrated in the film The Abduction Club.

Slavic tribes

East Slavic tribes, predecessor tribes to the Russian state, practised bride kidnapping in the eleventh century. The traditions were documented by Russian monk Nestor. According to his Chronicles, the Drevlian tribe captured wives non-consensually, whereas the Radimich, Viatich, and Severian tribes "captured" their wives after having come to an agreement about marriage with them.[113] The clergy's increase in influence may have helped the custom to abate.[114]

Marriage by capture occurred among the South Slavs until the beginning of the 1800s. Common in Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the custom was known as otmitza.[115] The practice was mentioned in a statute in the Politza, the 1605 Croatian legal code.[116] According to leading intellectual and Serbian folk-chronicler Vuk Karadzic, a man would dress for "battle" before capturing a woman. Physical force was a frequent element of these kidnappings.[117]

Bride kidnapping was also a custom in Bulgaria. With the consent of his parents and the aid of his friends, the abductor would accost his bride and take her to a barn away from the home, as superstition held that pre-marital intercourse might bring bad luck to the house. Whether or not the man raped his bride, the abduction would shame the girl and force her to stay with her kidnapper to keep her reputation. As in other cultures, sometimes couples would elope by staging false kidnappings to secure the parents' consent.[118]

In film


Bride capture has been reflected in feature films from many cultures, sometimes humorously, sometimes as social commentary.

Bride kidnapping is depicted as a frontier solution in the 1954 Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The 1960 Hong Kong film Qiangpin (The Bride Hunter) portrays the custom in the format of an all-female Shaoxing opera comedy, in which Xia Meng plays a gender-bending role as a man masquerading as a woman. Bride kidnapping is displayed somewhat humorously in Pedro Almodóvar's 1990 Spanish hit ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), starring Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril. It is the underlying theme behind the 2005 Korean movie The Bow. In the 2006 comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the eponymous fictional reporter Borat, played by British comedian/satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, attempts to kidnap Canadian actress Pamela Anderson in order to take her as his wife.[119] He brings a "wedding sack" which he has made for the occasion, suggesting that such kidnappings are a tradition in his parody of Kazakhstan.[120]

On a more serious note, a 1970 Italian film, La moglie più bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) by Damiano Damiani and starring Ornella Muti, is based on the story of Franca Viola, described above. However, before the national debate caused by the Viola case, a 1964 satire directed by Pietro Germi, Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata), treated the Sicilian custom as a dark comedy. The 2009 film Baarìa - la porta del vento shows a consensual fuitina in 20th-century Sicily (atypically having the couple enclosed in the girl's house) as the only way the lovers can avoid the girl's arranged marriage to a richer man.

Some Russian films and literature depict bride kidnapping in the Caucasus. There is a Soviet comedy entitled Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (Кавказская пленница, или Новые приключения Шурика, literally translated as The Girl Prisoner of the Caucasus), where a bride kidnapping occurs in an unidentified Caucasian country.[121] The 2007 Kyrgyz film Pure Coolness also revolves around the bride kidnapping custom, mistaken identity, and the clash between modern urban expectations and the more traditional countryside.


In 2005, a documentary film entitled Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan made by Petr Lom was presented at the UNAFF 2005 festival,[122] and subsequently on PBS and Investigation Discovery (ID) in the United States.[123] The film met controversy in Kyrgyzstan because of ethical concerns about the filming of real kidnappings.[124]

In 2012, the website did a full documentary film about bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

In literature

In Frances Burney's novel, Camilla (1796), the heroine's sister, Eugenia, is kidnapped by an adventurer called Alphonso Bellamy. Eugenia decides to stay with her husband on the grounds that she believes her word is a solemn oath. Eugenia is fifteen years old, and so underage, and is co-erced into the marriage—both were grounds for treating the marriage as illegal.

A Sherlock Holmes story features bride kidnapping. In "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", a woman is employed as a governess by a man who knows that she will soon inherit a fortune, with the intent of a confederate marrying her. The ceremony does eventually occur, but is void.

The manga Otoyomegatari A Bride's Story takes place in central Asia. The heroine is married to a boy in an outside clan, but regrets regarding this decision occur when her original clan has problems bearing heirs. Her birth family comes to retrieve her with the intention of marrying her to someone else, but without success. Her new family tells the invaders that the girl has been impregnated, which would be the last seal on the marriage. They doubt this has occurred as the groom is very young and, desperate, they resort to a kidnap attempt, but again fail.

The fantasy novel A Storm of Swords features marriage by capture (or "stealing a woman") as the traditional form of marriage north of the Wall. The Free Folk consider it a test for a man to "steal" a wife and outwit her attempts on his lifelong enough for her to respect his strength and come to love him. More often, though, marriages by capture are conducted between a couple already in love, an elopement without the extra element of attempted murder. Jon Snow and Ygritte have such a marriage by capture, although at the time he was ignorant of the custom and thought he was merely taking her prisoner.

In television

In the BBC radio and television comedy series The League of Gentlemen, the character Papa Lazarou comes to the fictional town of Royston Vasey under the guise of a peg-seller. He seeks to kidnap women by entering their homes, talking gibberish to them (Gippog) and persuading them to hand over their wedding rings. He 'names' them all 'Dave', and, after obtaining their rings, proclaims; "you're my wife now".[125] In Criminal Minds, Season 4, episode 13 titled "Bloodline" depicts bride kidnapping.

See also



  • Adekunle, Julius. Culture and Customs of Rwanda, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007).
  • Kovalesky, Maxime. Modern Customs and Ancient Laws of Russia, London: David, Nutt & Strand (1891).

Journal articles

  • Ayres, Barbara "Bride Theft and Raiding for Wives in Cross-Cultural Perspective", Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, Kidnapping and Elopement as Alternative Systems of Marriage (Special Issue) (July 1974), p. 245
  • Barnes, R. H. "Marriage by Capture." The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 1. (March 1999), pp. 57–73.
  • Bates, Daniel G. "Normative and Alternative Systems of Marriage among the Yörük of Southeastern Turkey." Anthropological Quarterly, 47:3 (Jul. 1974), pp. 270–287.
  • Evans-Grubbs, Judith. "Abduction Marriage in Antiquity: A Law of Constantine (CTh IX. 24. I) and Its Social Context" The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 79, 1989, pp. 59–83.
  • Handrahan, Lori. 2004. "Hunting for Women: Bride-Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan." International Feminist Journal of Politics, 6:2 (June), 207–233.
  • Herzfeld, Michael "Gender Pragmatics: Agency, Speech, and Bride Theft in a Cretan Mountain Village." Anthropology 1985, Vol. IX: 25–44.
  • Kleinbach, Russ and Salimjanova, Lilly (2007). "Kyz ala kachuu and adat: non-consensual bride kidnapping and tradition in Kyrgyzstan", Central Asian Survey, 26:2, 217 — 233.
  • Kleinbach, Russell. "Frequency of non-consensual bride kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic." International Journal of Central Asian Studies. Vol 8, No 1, 2003, pp. 108–128.
  • Kleinbach, Russell, Mehrigiul Ablezova and Medina Aitieva. "Kidnapping for marriage (ala kachuu) in a Kyrgyz village." Central Asian Survey. (June 2005) 24(2), 191–202. available in [1].
  • Kowalewsky, M. "Marriage among the Early Slavs", Folklore, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Dec. 1890), pp. 463–480.
  • Light, Nathan and Damira Imanalieva. "Performing Ala Kachuu: Marriage Strategies in the Kyrgyz Republic".
  • McLaren, Anne E., "Marriage by Abduction in Twentieth Century China", Modern Asian Studies 35(4) (Oct. 2001), pp. 953–984.
  • Rimonte, Nilda "A Question of Culture: Cultural Approval of Violence against Women in the Pacific-Asian Community and the Cultural Defense'", Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul. 1991), pp. 1311–1326.
  • Stross, Brian. "Tzeltal Marriage by Capture." Anthropological Quarterly. 47:3 (July 1974), pp. 328–346.
  • Werner, Cynthia, "Women, marriage, and the nation-state: the rise of nonconsensual bride kidnapping in post-Soviet Kazakhstan", in The Transformation of Central Asia. Pauline Jones Luong, ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2004, pp. 59–89.
  • Yang, Jennifer Ann. "Marriage By Capture in the Hmong Culture: The Legal Issue of Cultural Rights Versus Women's Rights", Law and Society Review at UCSB, Vol. 3, pp. 38–49 (2004).

Human rights reports

  • Amnesty International, , AI Index: EUR 56/009/2006, September 2006 (last accessed 18 Aug 2011).
  • Georgian Young Lawyers' Association & OMCT, , August 2006 (last accessed 18 Aug 2011).
  • Human Rights Watch, , Vol. 8, No. 9, September 2006 (last accessed 28 Jan 2009).
  • Ireland: Refugee Documentation Centre, "Georgia: Bride-kidnapping in Georgia", 8 June 2009 (last accessed 18 Aug 2011).
  • Pusurmankulova, Burulai, "Bride Kidnapping. Benign Custom Or Savage Tradition?", Freedom House, 14 June 2004 (last accessed 18 Aug 2011).
  • U.S. Department of State, , 11 March 2008 (last accessed 28 Jan 2009).
  • OSCE, Building the Capacity of Roma Communities to Prevent Trafficking in Human Beings, 12 June 2007, (last accessed 9 Mar 2012).

News articles and radio reports

  • Aminova, Alena, "Uzbekistan: No Love Lost in Karakalpak Bride Thefts", Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 14 June 2004
  • Armstrong, Jane, "Rage or Romance?", Globe and Mail (Canada), 26 April 2008
  • BBC, "Ethiopia: Revenge of the Abducted Bride", 18 June 1999
  • Brooks, Courtney & Amina Umarova, "Despite Official Measures, Bride Kidnapping Endemic in Chechnya", Radio Free Europe, 21 October 2010
  • Kokhodze, Gulo & Tamuna Uchidze, "Bride Theft Rampant in Southern Georgia", Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 15 June 2006
  • Najibullah, Farangis, "Bride Kidnapping: A Tradition or a Crime?", Radio Free Europe, 21 May 2011
  • Isayev, Ruslan, "In Chechnya, Attempts to Eradicate Bride Abduction", Prague Watchdog, 16 Nov 2007
  • Kiryashova, Sabina, "Azeri Bride Kidnappers Risk Heavy Sentences", Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 17 November 2005
  • McDonald, Henry, "Gardai Hunt Gang Accused of Seizing Roma Child Bride", The Guardian, UK, 3 September 2007
  • NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, "Kidnapping Custom Makes a Comeback in Georgia", 14 May 2006
  • Rakhimdinova, Aijan, "Kyrgyz Bride Price Controversy", Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 22 Dec 2005
  • Rodriguez, Alex, "Kidnapping a Bride Practice Embraced in Kyrgyzstan", Augusta Chronicle, 24 July 2005
  • Ruremesha, Jean, "RIGHTS-RWANDA: Marriage by Abduction Worries Women's Groups", Inter Press Service, 7 Oct 2003
  • Smith, Craig S., "Abduction, Often Violent, a Kyrgyz Wedding Rite", NY Times, 30 April 2005

Dissertations and Academic Papers

  • Moua, Teng, "The Hmong Culture: Kinship, Marriage & Family Systems", University of Wisconsin–Stout (May 2003)
  • Pamporov, Alexey, Roma/Gypsy Population in Bulgaria as a Challenge to Policy Relevance (2006)


External links

  • The Kidnapped Bride: A documentary by Petr Lom
  • Dedicated to Understanding Ala Kachuu (bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan) and Preventing Non-Consensual Marriage
  • Spotlight on: Violence Against Girls in Ethiopia – Marriage by Abduction and Rape
  • Rights-Rwanda: Marriage by Abduction Worries Women's Groups
  • Article on the kidnap of a young girl for marriage in Kyrgyzstan
  • BBC documentary about stolen brides in Chechnya Aired August 2010.
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