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Defining other forms of forced marriage: bride kidnapping

Last edited: January 28, 2011

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  • Drafters should consider whether to create a new offence of bride kidnapping, where they must ensure adequate resources for training, outreach, prosecutions, and victim support, as well as penalties reflective of the seriousness of the crime. Bride kidnapping involves taking a female without her consent for the purpose of forcing her to marry one of her captors. Perpetrators may use psychological coercion or physical force, including rape, to force the woman or girl into marriage. As with other forms of forced marriage, the key elements are: the taking of a woman or girl; an absence of her consent; for the purpose of marriage. A crime of bride kidnapping should not require that a marriage rite take place, and offenders should still be held accountable even if the victim escapes captivity prior to the marriage.
  • Drafters should ensure that related offences, such as assault, rape, marital rape, abduction, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and trafficking, are criminalized and enforced against perpetrators of bride kidnapping. Alternatively, drafters may wish to consider using existing offences to prosecute forced and child marriage, but include bride kidnapping as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
  • Most of the criminal laws addressing this problem require kidnapping or abduction. Under Article 23 of the Georgian criminal code, bride abduction qualifies as a “crime against human rights and freedoms” and a perpetrator can receive a sentence of four to eight years in prison or up to twelve years if the act is premeditated by a group. Article 366 of the Bangladesh Criminal Code punishes the abduction of a woman with the intent to compel or knowledge that it is likely she will be compelled to marry against her will.
  • Abduction is a requisite element in these cases. Thus, a perpetrator who uses physical or other coercive means, but not abduction, to force a woman into marriage, will escape prosecution under bride kidnapping laws. Criminal laws on related offences, such as assault or rape, may be used to prosecute offenders who commit those crimes. In general, however, focusing on the kidnapping element may exclude other forms of forced marriage from the law’s scope. Bride kidnapping constitutes only one form of forced marriage, where the unique factor is abduction. Adopting a specific bride kidnapping offence is an important measure, but drafters should ensure laws punish all forced marriages where free and full consent is absent.
  • Drafters should ensure that punishments for bride kidnapping are, at a minimum, commensurate with those for kidnapping and other related offences. For example, the Kyrgyzstan Criminal Code, Art.155 provides for a sentence of up to ten years in prison for bride kidnapping, under an amendment that came into effect in 2013. In a 2006 report, Human Rights Watch made several recommendations on improving legislation and its implementation. It recommended that lawmakers explicitly criminalize marital rape, and improve investigations of accomplices—including offenders who assist in her kidnapping, falsely imprison her, plan the capture, or physically or psychologically coerce the woman throughout, fail to inform police of the kidnapping or otherwise facilitate the offence.


Illustrative example: Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya introduced measures to discourage the practice of bride-stealing, in which women are abducted off the street and forced to marry their kidnapper. The kidnappings are rarely reported to police, instead the families of the women turn to a local imam for help. The women often do not know their abductors, and have no say in their marriage negotiations. President Ramzan Kadyrov stated that bride abductions are 'un-Islamic', following a meeting with Chechnya’s religious leaders. Mullahs responsible for negotiating marriages of kidnapped women risk punishment and excommunication, according to the measures introduced by authorities. Further, the financial penalty kidnappers must pay the woman’s family has also increased from thirty thousand roubles (approx. $980) to one million roubles (approx. $33,000). Lipkhan Bazaeva, head of the Women’s Dignity Centre in the Chechen capital, Grozny, suggests that another effective measure would be for authorities to put into practice existing Russian laws that punish kidnapping with up to nine years in prison. See: StopVAW, Chechen Republic’s Authorities Introduce New Measures to Prevent Bride Kidnapping, The Advocates for Human Rights (2010).