Curated by PhotoJourn
In Kyrgyzstan, As many as 40% of ethnic Kyrgyz women are thought to be the result of Ala Kachuu (“grab and run”), or bride kidnapping. According to a local NGO, about 15,000 women, usually below the age of 25, are kidnapped every year to become brides, at great cost to their physical and psychological health. Though illegal since 1994, the authorities largely turn a blind eye to the practice.
There is some confusion about the different types of ‘kidnapping’ since some young couples may act out a kidnapping scenario which they then get their parents to retrospectively sanction. It is clear, however, that a majority of the abductions occur against the women’s will.
Most commonly, the putative groom will gather a group of young men and charter a car to go and look for the woman he wants to marry. Unsuspecting women are then often dragged off the street and bundled into the car which takes them straight to the man’s house where frequently the family will have already started to make preparations for the wedding.
Once girls are taken inside the kidnapper’s home, female elders play a pivotal role in persuading her to accept the marriage. They try to cover the girl’s head with a white scarf, symbolizing that she is ready to marry her kidnapper. After several hours of struggle, around 84% of kidnapped women end up agreeing to the marriage. Their parents often also pressure the girls, as once she has entered her kidnappers home she is considered to no longer be pure, making it “shameful” for her to return home. Therefore, in order to avoid scandal, a negative reputation among neighbors, cursing from the kidnapper’s family and disgrace, they tend to remain with their kidnappers.
Prior to the Soviet period when the people were living in nomadic life, the majority of the marriages were arranged by parents. Although non-consensual bride-kidnapping occurred rarely, it was not common and was not socially accepted.
I visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time in 2012 and have spent five months visiting villages throughout the country to explore the issue and tell the story of mainly 4 women who had been kidnapped: Fardia, a 20 year old woman who was kidnapped but resisted and ended up being rescued by her brother from her suitor’s family; Cholpon and Dinara, two women who were kidnapped and, for one reason or another, decided to give in and get married; and Urus, a young woman who was kidnapped and released but committed suicide after the ordeal.
“Please let me go back home. You asked me to go for driving and then just kidnapped me. You are a liar. I don’t love you and I don’t even really know you.”
When I first met Dinara, a 22 year old woman, she was crying in the corner of a small room, surrounded by elderly female relatives of a kidnapper from the rural village of Naryn oblast, Kyrgyzstan. The women were trying to persuade her to accept a marriage proposal from the young man. The next day, she agreed.
A university student studying Russian literature and Turkish language, Dinara was planning to move to Turkey to work at a computer company. “My dream was to live in a city, but it will never come true. I decided to accept because I was told that bride kidnapping is our tradition…”
In January 2013, the President of Kyrgyzstan signed the amendment and jail time for abductors increased to 7-10 years from 3 years.
In January 2014, I went back to Kyrgyzstan for a month to follow up on the women I photographed before. Dinara was 9 month pregnant and delivered a girl on the 8th of February and became a mother. Pictures I took are just a piece of their lives.
Noriko Hayashi is a Japanese photographer focusing on social issue and human conditions in different parts of the world.
Noriko began taking pictures for a small local newspaper “The Point” in The Gambia, West Africa in 2007, when she was an university student in International Relations and Conflict studies.
Working in a small place like Gambia, which is rarely the focus of international news but is full of interesting stories taught her the value of detailing the overlooked realities of every stand of society.
Her work has been recognized with awards including the 1st prize of NPPA Best of Photojournalism in contemporary issue stories 2014, the Visa d’Or feature award at the Visa Pour I’image 2013 in France, , the 1st prize of DAYS JAPAN international Photojournalism award in 2012. Her documentary work was also finalist for the Alexia Foundation Professional Award 2013.
Noriko’s works have been published internationally such as The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Der Spiegel, National Geographic Japan, Marie Claire UK and Russia, Le Monde and Newsweek.com, DAYS JAPAN.