The Tragic Reality of Bride Capture – Understanding the Abduction of Women into Forced Marriage

Bride capture, also known as bride kidnapping or marriage by abduction, is a practice that involves the abduction of women for the purpose of forced marriage. It is a phenomenon that has been documented in various cultures and regions around the world.

Bride capture is often associated with tribal warfare or raids, particularly in areas where there are ongoing conflicts or tensions between different groups. In these situations, bride capture may be seen as a way for a man to increase his status or power within his community by demonstrating his ability to acquire a wife through force. This can also serve as a way to assert dominance over rival groups and demonstrate superiority.

Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding an instance of bride capture, the practice is deeply harmful and violates the basic human rights of women. It is a violent and traumatic experience for the woman involved and has been linked to various forms of violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse. In some cases, the woman may be killed if she resists or tries to escape.

The practice of bride capture is declining in many parts of the world. However, it still occurs in some parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. A recent example is the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

The Historical Context of Bride Capture

The practice of bride capture has a long and complex history, and its origins can be traced back to various cultural traditions around the world.

In some societies, bride capture was seen as a way for men to establish social and economic ties between different groups or families. For example, in ancient Rome, bride capture was used as a means of acquiring wives from neighbouring tribes and establishing political alliances.

Over time, the practice of bride capture has evolved in different ways in different societies.

In some cases, it has become more formalized and ritualized, with specific rules and procedures governing how it is carried out. For example, in certain parts of Africa, bride capture is accompanied by elaborate ceremonies that involve negotiations between families and the payment of a dowry.

In other societies, however, bride capture became increasingly violent and coercive. This is particularly true in areas where there are ongoing conflicts or tensions between different groups. In these situations, women may be abducted by armed groups and forced into marriages against their will as part of a broader strategy to exert control over a particular region or population.

Regardless of how it has evolved over time and across cultures, the practice of bride capture remains deeply problematic from both a human rights perspective and an ethical standpoint. It perpetuates harmful gender norms and reinforces the idea that women are property rather than individuals with agency and autonomy.

Factors that Contribute to the Occurrence of Bride Capture

While there are many factors that contribute to the phenomenon of bride capture, several common themes stand out.

Female Infanticide

In some societies, female infanticide – the killing of infant girls – is still practiced as a means of controlling population growth or ensuring that male heirs are prioritized. However, this practice can have unintended consequences, particularly when it leads to a shortage of women in the population.

When there are fewer women than men in a given society, it can create a situation where men must compete for wives. This competition can take many forms, including bride capture. In some cases, men may resort to abduction or forced marriage as a way to secure a wife when other options are not available.

This dynamic is particularly pronounced in regions with high rates of female infanticide and gender imbalance. For example, in parts of India and China where sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have been common practices for decades, there are now millions more men than women in these countries. This has led to increased demand for brides from neighboring regions or even countries, often at great expense to families who must pay high dowries or other costs associated with marriage.

In addition to creating opportunities for bride capture and forced marriage, gender imbalance resulting from female infanticide can also have other negative consequences for women’s rights and well-being. For example, research has shown that areas with skewed sex ratios tend to have higher rates of violence against women and lower levels of education and economic opportunity for girls.

Poverty and Bride Price

Poverty is a significant factor that contributes to bride capture, particularly in societies where a bride price must be paid for a man to obtain a bride. In some parts of the world, marriage is viewed as an important social and economic transaction between families, with the groom’s family typically expected to pay a bride price to the bride’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage.

However, in situations where families are struggling to make ends meet or where economic opportunities are limited, paying these costs can be challenging. This can lead some men and their families to resort to abduction or forced marriage as a means of securing a wife without having to pay the costs associated with traditional marriage practices.

For women who are abducted or forced into marriage due to poverty-related factors, the consequences can be severe. They may be subjected to physical and emotional abuse by their abductors or husbands, denied access to education and other opportunities, and forced into early motherhood before they are ready.


Polygamy, or the practice of having multiple spouses, is another factor that can contribute to bride capture. In societies where polygamy is accepted or even encouraged, men may seek out additional wives as a means of enhancing their social status or securing greater economic benefits.

However, the practice of polygamy also creates a demand for more wives, which can lead to an increase in bride capture and forced marriage. Men who are unable to secure wives through traditional means may resort to abduction or other forms of coercion in order to obtain a wife.

For women who are subjected to bride capture due to polygamy-related factors, the consequences can be severe. They may be forced into marriages with older men or with men who already have multiple wives, leading to increased risk of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. They may also be denied access to education and other opportunities, further exacerbating their vulnerability.

Conflict and Instability

Conflict and instability are significant factors that can contribute to an increase in bride capture. In areas affected by conflict or instability, social norms may break down, leading to a breakdown in traditional marriage practices and an increase in forced marriages.

In many cases, the breakdown of law enforcement and other forms of governance can make it easier for individuals to engage in bride capture with little fear of legal repercussions. This can create a situation where women and girls are particularly vulnerable to abduction and forced marriage, as they lack the protection of formal legal systems or other forms of support.

Furthermore, the displacement and disruption caused by conflict or instability can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities for women and girls. For example, those who are forced to flee their homes due to violence or persecution may face increased risks of abduction or exploitation as they seek safety elsewhere.

Conclusion – Ending Bride Capture

In conclusion, while there is no single factor that explains why bride capture persists around the world today, these themes offer important insights into why this practice remains so prevalent in certain contexts.

Addressing these root causes will require sustained efforts at all levels – from legal reforms aimed at protecting women’s rights to broader social campaigns aimed at promoting gender equality and challenging harmful cultural norms that perpetuate violence against women.

Related terms

Female infanticide – the practice of killing newborn baby girls.

Polygamy – the practice of having more than one wife.

Violence against women – any form of violence that is directed at women, typically because they are seen as being weaker or inferior to men.

Women’s rights – the right of women to be treated equally to men in all areas of life.

Tribal warfare – war between two or more tribes.

Raid – a sudden attack or invasion.

Abduction – the act of forcibly taking someone away against their will.

Kidnapping – the act of abducting someone for the purpose of ransom or other gain.

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