Kyrgyzstan: Bride Kidnapping and the Rule of Law

Stacy Hsu

By Stacey Hsu

The opportunity to work in Kyrgyzstan at the International Development Law Organization has been a dream come true. The IDLO is an inter-governmental organization with field offices all around the world. In Kyrgyzstan, I work on projects that strengthen the rule of law through capacity building and justice system reform.

On a day-to-day basis, I attend meetings at the UN House, and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, draft answers to a UN Report on the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and conduct research on different legal questions.

In all of its projects, the IDLO focuses on gender equality issues and other cross-cutting themes, in addition to anti-corruption. For instance, one of the topics I have heavily researched is “Ala Kachuu,” or bride kidnapping, an act of gender-based violence where a man (with his friends) kidnaps a young woman in an attempt to make her his bride. Often, they force her into a vehicle and drive her to his family home, where the kidnapper’s relatives have prepared a “wedding” feast. The kidnapper’s female relatives physically restrain the victim and try to wrap a white wedding scarf over her head as a symbol that she is now married. If the victim is allowed to contact her family, often her own family will dissuade her from leaving her kidnapper – because since she has entered the kidnapper’s home, she is no longer “pure.” If she leaves, it is shameful for herself and her family. Bride kidnapping is a legislated crime in Kyrgyzstan but there are issues of prosecution and enforcement.

Outside of work, I lecture Masters-level law students at the American University of Central Asia and the Kyrgyz State Law Academy. I’ve travelled to Uzbekistan on a silk road caravan, hiked up and skied down the Kyrgyz mountains, learned Russian from a US Peace Corps tutor, and attended local ballet and opera. And of course, I’ve sampled the local cuisine which includes hand-pulled noodles with fresh meat and vegetables (lagman), grilled kebabs of beef, lamb, chicken or mutton (shashlik), samosa-style puff pastries (samsy), and fried rice with carrots, beef and medallions of horse meat (plov), with fresh bread, and tea.

Working at the IDLO in Kyrgyzstan has forever changed my life and career aspirations. The opportunity to contribute to projects that make a real and lasting impact on the rule of law has been the most rewarding aspect of my work. I’m grateful to the CBA, Global Affairs Canada and IDLO for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Stacey Hsu was called to the bar in Ontario in 2014. She hopes to continue working in international development law when she returns to Canada. You can continue to follow her adventures at or on Instagram @staceyssilkroad