In Chechnya, attempts to eradicate bride abduction
By Ruslan Isayev
CHECHNYA – The Chechen authorities, working in conjunction with religious leaders, are trying to eradicate the practice of bride abduction from the lives of Chechen citizens. This ancient custom has recently become increasingly popular.
The republic’s Muftiate has announced that the kidnapping of a young woman for the purpose of marriage will be punished with a monetary fine for the prospective groom and his accomplices. Thus, the groom will be obliged to pay the injured party 30,000 roubles, the driver of the car used in the abduction will have to pay 10,000 roubles, and the accomplices 5,000. Moreover, the bride’s relatives will be fully entitled to return her to her father's custody, and no one will be have a right to condemn them.
The religious authorities also say that the law enforcement agencies will treat each case of bride abduction as a criminal act, with all its consequences. However, Russia's Criminal Code stipulates a penalty for kidnapping of imprisonment for up to eight or ten years (art. 126), but a note in the article states that "a person who has voluntarily released an abducted person may be freed from criminal responsibility if he or she has committed no other crime." Thus, under Russian law the typical bride abductor is not actually held to be criminally responsible for his actions.
Brides are usually abducted if they refuse to marry voluntarily or because of so-called “love at first sight”. However, in many cases the young women themselves incite their grooms to abduct them. This happens when the young women’s relatives are opposed to the marriage, or in order satisfy their own personal pride.
The state has so far remained somewhat aloof from this process, believing that “folk diplomacy” is more efficient than criminal prosecution. What is more, previous attempts by the authorities to intervene were unsuccessful because they were presented as recommendations to the public rather than as legislative measures. This new decision by the Chechen authorities merely demonstrates the gravity of the situation, particularly as by now there is a certain degree of association between the words "Chechnya" and "kidnapping" – a stigma from which the republic is now trying to free itself.
In Chechnya, abduction has always carried a price. If a young man abducted a young woman in order to marry her, and it was possible to return her to her family at once, the elders would be called in and the offence caused to the young woman’s family would be compensated by a financial reward. If the young woman agreed to live in the house of the man who had abducted her, the two parties would negotiate the amount. It is considered that the young woman’s family has the right to demand any sum.
There are mixed opinions about this in Chechen society, but most Chechens agree with the authorities. They believe that the phenomenon must be eradicated, as the days when a human being could be treated as a thing or a possession have irretrievably gone, and no man with any self-respect will now resort to such measures in order to create a family for himself. If a young man cannot earn a young woman’s attention, what sort of a man is he, people ask.
However, bride abduction is traditional in the Caucasus, and it is unlikely that the phenomenon can be completely stamped out in Chechnya. The fact that a monetary fine will be levied simply means that young men from wealthy families will continue to abduct their brides, and those from poor ones will have to prove their feelings by other means, people say.
(Translation by DM)