On her final full day in office, President
"Bride kidnapping is a tradition of the Kyrgyz people," she acknowledged as she was preparing to leave the presidential palace on
Young men kidnap about 15,000 girls each year, Otunbayeva said. They simply grab a girl walking down the street, stuff her in the car, kicking and screaming, and take her home. He may rape her -- or not. Either way, after she's locked up overnight in an unrelated man's house, the girl is unfit to wed anyone else. Her family won't permit her to come home. So she's forced to marry her kidnapper.
No one keeps precise statistics, but estimates suggest that half of Kyrgyz wives are married in this way. The outgoing president urged her people to stop romanticizing bride kidnapping and inaugurated a month-long campaign to fight the practice. But then the new president, Almazbek Atambayev, had nothing to say about this as he took office -- though admittedly he was preoccupied. The next day his ruling coalition collapsed.
Around the world, numerous nations cling to longstanding traditions that, to Western eyes, seem barbarous -- or worse. Most of them victimize girls.
Pakistani officials use gang rape as a government-sanctioned punishment.
"Breast ironing has existed as long as
If it's "normal for them," how should Western societies regard practices like these? Anthropology's "cultural relativism" rule suggests that we should not judge other countries by the standards of our own society. But some acts are just too vile, and cultural courtesies don't stop human-rights groups from wagging their fingers at these states.
Their admonitions accomplished little if anything. Now, however, awareness is finally rising among the Kyrgyz themselves, and change may be coming -- as the president's parting statement suggested. Last spring, 200 people staged a small rally in
Then, late last month, the
As barbaric as we may view bride kidnapping, breast ironing and other hideous practices, most often human-rights lectures have little actual effect. Change must come from within.
It's no coincidence that most places preying mercilessly on their young are desperately poor.
A few weeks ago, it began what it calls "a program to improve the social and economic position of 50,000 vulnerable women" who are often "the victims of bride kidnappings."
That's a heartening effort, worthy of widespread support.
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