Marital rape has long been defined as force, malicious intent or both that prevent women from getting an annulment. A recently-married 22-year-old student in Kyrgyzstan has taken a radical stance against what is, in the West, rare still. She is preparing for marriage but is quietly risking being condemned by her family.
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One morning on her way to her studies, Aktaba Ahmadian had a fatal accident, resulting in her brain swelling and death. “The next day, there was a meeting between the family, my own teacher and friends, and she insisted I marry him. I was not prepared to be married as I felt so strongly for myself,” she says.
Ahmadian had just finished her degree and had been accepted for a teaching position at a hospital. She had no income, no debt and a land connection. On 5 February, she arrived at the house of her relatives in Osh, a northern city with a large Christian population. The home-law marriage of poor children is a common practice in Osh, and just like the wives of wealthy men, the men in Ahmadian’s family expected her to take part. “He didn’t announce the marriage, but instead showed me the ring he’d given me. At first, I didn’t understand what this meant,” she said.
Ahmadian met her husband and lived with him. Soon after her arrival, he told her that in the Bible, polygamy is not only in the case of priests, but of everyone. This raised suspicions. “I stayed with him for three months without questioning his actions. Then one day, he turned violent and beat me. At that moment, he said he did not love me any more.”
Mohammed Kukhanov is jailed for four years in Kyrgyzstan. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters
She managed to escape from the home and started looking for some help. Soon she met her grandmother, who offered to get her the annulment, she said. Nevertheless, all her family members were very upset. “I told them that if I wanted to change my mind, I could do so then, and they agreed.”
At around midnight, Ahmadian went to the court in Osh and told the judge that she did not want to marry. “I would like to change my mind and would ask for an annulment. That’s why I have gone to the court,” she explained.
Though a number of cases have been reported in Kyrgyzstan of women cancelling a marriage, the procedure is complicated and depends on the beliefs of the parties involved. The bride’s family is usually against the annulment, but when a woman’s side have taken the matter to court, the divorced man still almost always has to marry the woman again.
Rarely is an annulment made due to force, malicious intent or both. The marriage must end in a free will transaction, or by simply stating a desire to make changes to a contract that she does not want. The woman’s family has to consent in the case of coerced marriages, but that has been pretty rare.
The international human rights committee in 2005 concluded that domestic and sexual violence committed against women, even by family members, was a violation of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Many believe that the decision in the case of Ahmadian is the first of its kind in the country.