In October, 2012 a new bill for bride kidnapping received its second reading, but there were fears and uncertainties as to whether the bill would receive sufficient political backing to successfully pass through parliament.

January 28th, 2013 President Almazbek Atambayev passed a new law which increases the maximum prison sentence for bride-kidnapping from three to seven years. Kidnappers abducting girls under the age of 17, which is the minimum legal age for marriage, now face a punishment of up to ten years in prison. Restless Beings has been working in Bishkek to support the wellbeing of victims and welcomes this vital measure to ensure that a woman’s right to choose is respected and protected.

Bride kidnapping violates the basic rights of a woman's bodily integrity, freedom from violence, reproductive rights, access to reproductive and sexual health care, employment, freedom of movement and the right to consensual marriage. This inevitably leads to forced marriages, underage marriages, rape and enslavement. Recent outrageous reports in Russia show a disturbing turn where women are not only kidnapped but are publicly humiliated for ‘disobedience’.

A series of video clips in which ethnic Kyrgyzstani men living in Russia assaulted and humiliated a Kyrgyzstani female for allegedly “loose behaviour”. The first video came to light in February 2012, which showed a Kyrgyz woman called Sapargul standing half-naked amongst men, who were taunting her. The footage was captured on a mobile and later posted on the internet. Deplorably similar copycat footage also appeared later on the internet.

These historical infringements and silence on women’s rights have encouraged barbaric behaviour to evolve in an unnatural manner. Women are not only deprived of the right to choose, but this new trend is a clear desire to control women and enforce their secondary status amongst men, who hold this backwards mentality.

Restless Beings continues to provide support through Sezim, to those that we can reach.

A recent caller K, born in 1992, with hearing disabilities was abducted by three men. She was brought into a strange house where a marriage ritual was expected to take place. It was after some time, once the marriage was performed, details about her kidnapper was learnt. The kidnapper who was now her husband, was aged 30, unemployed and also had an existing family with children. He did not reside with this additional family nor did he provide any financial aid. It was also further revealed that his desire to abduct K was due to her financially weak status. It can only be assumed that this was pertinent to his decision, as a girl from a poor family was unlikely to object or rebel.

As the man predicted, K was not against the marriage and agreed to the ritual. However as time lapsed her husband and his family noticed that K had a hearing problem. After 2 months of continuous harassment and psychological pressure, K was evicted by the man that stole her. She had to return home.

Sezim are now doing their best to provide the psychological and legal help that K requires.

Alongside the Parliamentary activity, Sezim has been proactive in ensuring there is no blanket silence from the society at large during this critical period. As such, a 16 day campaign was launched throughout November and December to raise awareness on gendered violence.

The Director of Sezim and its’ staff started the campaign off with numerous live interviews on public television and radio about womens rights and the effects of Ala Kachuu. The 16 day campaign proved to be effective and shed light on the daunting realities to many. The packed schedule was a combination of wide media exposure and seminars; an intense focus group delivered four separate seminars to psychologist and social workers. A "family planning and reproductive health" seminar was also held for young female refugees at the centre for Refugee Women and outreach projects for local residents. Furthermore, a campaign called "development of tolerance among the younger generation" was also delivered at four different schools in Bishkek (with the support of the UN Refugee Agency) the participants consisting of school students and teachers. The seminar was a powerful one, which concluded in a symbolic declaration, with the participants raising their right hands unanimously stating "We are against violence!".

It now appears that we are faced with a strained tug of war between the recent escalation in public humiliation and the new punitive legislation. This unimaginable shift highlights the dire need for this law to be strictly implemented with ample legal and social enforcement. It is hoped that the legislation will be an avenue to mitigate and denounce some of the worst cases of abuse linked to forced marriages and child marriage, by defining age limits, enforcing compulsory marriage registers and prosecuting perpetrators.

Our refuge centre is urgently in need of your consistent support. Without your donations Kyrgyz women affected by Ala Kachuu and other forms of domestic violence will no longer be able to receive the counselling and safe refuge they desperately seek. Furthermore, your donations help to make outreach programes such as the 16 day campaign for the alleviation of the practice possible! We are at a critical stage of this project and now, more than ever, need your help

Love should be based on consent and respect, the union of two whether it be a canonical or a social institution. With Valentine’s day around the corner, Restless Beings here in the UK seeks to continue Sezim’s example and spread the meaning of love to the streets of London. And If you're on twitter, show your support by using the #LoveConsent hashtag!

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