Vienna, July 5 – Few customs among North Caucasians attract more critical and often tabloid-style attention from the Russian media than those having to do with marriage such as polygamy, but in some cases at least, the reality today is very different than the way in which the Moscow news outlets portray them.
One such practice – the kidnapping of young women by men who intend to make them their wives often referred to as “bride theft” – has been the subject of particular criticism as a violation of the rights of the women involved and “a survival of the past” that the authorities should do everything they can to wipe out.
When this custom involves an actual kidnapping by force, there is no question that is so, but Magomed Mutsol’gov, the head of the Mashr NGO and a member of the Experts Council on Human Rights, says that only a very few of the cases of “the kidnapping of the bride” actually involve that (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/156121).
In 90 to 95 percent of the incidents of this practice now, he tells Kavkaz-uzel.ru, such “kidnappings” are pre-arranged by the young couple and their families either because this practice makes it easier for those involved to reach agreement or because by saving money it allows a family to marry off all its daughters.
And consequently, a practice that many denounce as medieval on its face, Mutsol’gov says, may have the consequence of giving young people, women and men, a greater chance of happiness than would be the case if “kidnapping of the bride” were completely wiped out as many people in Russia and Ingushetia would like.
But in some cases, perhaps five percent, Mutsol’gov reports, these events are not pre-arranged but rather are genuine kidnappings and entirely properly are deemed to be crimes. In the first five months of this year, he notes, there were 18 such cases in which prosecutors concluded that the men involved had violated the Article 126 of the Criminal Code.
Both because of the danger that there will be such violations and because of the impact of them on the reputation of the Ingush, the elders of that community have long sought to end this practice. But in addition to speaking out against it, the Ingush leaders have gone about this in an interesting way.
(An additional reason, one Mutsol’gov does not mention, may be the attention kidnappings for ransoms in the North Caucasus have attracted from the Moscow media and authorities. Such kidnappings have become almost an industry in Chechnya and several other parts of the region over the last decade.)
In 2005, they proposed through the Ingush government that the Russian Duma adopt a special amendment to the criminal code that would make “bride theft” a crime but draw a legal distinction between it and kidnapping. The Duma has repeatedly refused, even though what the Ingush seek was a provision in the Soviet-era RSFSR Criminal Code.
It is not clear whether the Ingush human rights activist himself in fact favors such a measure because as he puts it while “kidnapping a person is sad misfortune, kidnapping a bride in a majority of cases ends with a good large marriage ceremony” at least among his ethnic community.