Jackie Dewe-Mathews



A third of all marriages in modern Kyrgyzstan are non-consensual kidnaps.  The Kyrgyz words ‘ala kachuu’ mean to grab and run.  Typically a man abducts his bride by force or deception, enlisting his family to break her resistance, through hours of persuasion.  If successful, the following morning the bride will be sitting quietly in a curtained off area wearing the traditional white wedding headscarf and an imam will be called in to marry them.

Some brides are kidnapped by total strangers, while others by men they know.  Some escape after violent ordeals, but most are persuaded to stay by tradition and lore and with their virginity and purity in question after a night at a man’s house, they accept what they believe is their fate.

Ala kachuu was outlawed during the Soviet era and remains illegal under the Kyrgyz criminal code although kidnappers are rarely prosecuted.  Since the Kyrgyz declaration of independence in 1991 incidents of ala kachuu have surged for a number of reasons: it is seen as part of a national identity that was denied by Soviet rule, little social structure for sexes to mix exists but parental pressure on a man to take a wife at a certain age remains strong and compared to the expense of ritualistic weddings and the custom of gift exchanges between the families it is considered a cheaper alternative.

Although the practice is said to have its roots in nomadic customs, the tradition has been corrupted and remains at odds with modern day Kyrgyzstan.


 JACKIE DEWE-MATHEWS was born in London in 1978.  Following a degree in philosophy she worked in the film industry as a freelance camera assistant on feature films and commercials.  Her continued interest in cinematography has informed her photography practise which she was able to develop during an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication in 2007.  Since graduating with a distinction, she has had work published in the Saturday Telegraph, the Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Stern and The Fader Magazine.  In 2008 she was awarded the Joan Wakelin bursary for a social documentary project from the Guardian newspaper and the Royal Photographic Society.  In 2009 she was selected by the Magenta Foundation for emerging photographers and received a honourable mention at the New York Photo Festival and the International Picture Awards.  In 2010 and 2011 she was a runner up in the Ojodepez human values award.