Several young men in northern Vietnam have abused a deeply-rooted ethnic custom known as ‘pulling wife’ to ‘kidnap’ and forcefully ask any girl of their choice to become their wives regardless of the girls’ consent.
The custom, also known as ‘catching wife', is traditionally observed by the H’Mong people who live in the northern mountainous areas near the Vietnamese border with China.
According to the custom, a man who wishes to marry a girl he loves must be able to ‘catch’ her and bring her to his house in order for the wedding to occur.
Traditionally, the ‘pulling wife’ ritual is just for show, as most couples would have already agreed to the marriage beforehand, and the girl would fake resisting her lover’s grip to add to the drama.
Alternatively, the custom is also of great help to couples whose parents oppose to their marriage, as once the girl has been ‘kidnapped’ and brought to the man’s house, she can no longer be rejected by his family.
However, the seemingly harmless tradition has been taken advantage of by some local men in modern times, who argue that the ritual grant them the right to make any girl their wife as long as they can successfully bring her home.
In a footage going viral on YouTube since Saturday, a girl in the north-central province of Nghe An is seen being forced onto a motorbike and driven away by a group of young men despite her helpless screams for help.
After putting up a fight with her abductors with little help from onlookers, the girl managed to break free and ran for her life.
In another clip seen by Tuoi Tre News, a 16-year-old girl in northern Ha Giang Province were standing on the side of a street when two young men approached and started a conversation with, before trying to force the girl onto their motorbike.
She also managed to escape after violently resisting the abduction.
Footage of a girl being abducted by a group of men in Nghe An Province uploaded on Youtube on February 4, 2017. Clip: Youtube
Violation of multiple laws
Many legal experts have voiced concern for the outdated custom which they said was in violation of human rights and multiple laws in Vietnam.
Under the the Penal Code of Vietnam, those so-called ‘wife-nappers’ could be charged with illegal arrest, custody or detention of people and face up to two years in prison, or up to ten years if the crime is deemed of serious nature, according to lawyer Truong Xuan Tam.
Those who assist the abduction could also be prosecuted for being partners in crime, Tam said.
In addition, Vietnam’s Law on Marriage and Family forbids non-consensual marriage, and violators could receive up to three years behind bars for their crime, according to lawyer Pham Van Chung.
Chung added that, should the ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ be under 16 years of age, those responsible for the wedding could also be charged with organization of child marriage and sentenced to between three months and two years imprisonment.
The ‘husband’ may fall under the crime of forcible sexual intercourse with a child if his ‘wife’ is between 13 and 16 years of age, or child rape if the girl is 12 or younger, Chung said.
Lt. Col. Dinh Anh Dung, the police chief in Nghe An’s Quy Hop District, said on Tuesday that the men involved in the failed abduction of a girl as filmed in the footage had been summoned for warning.
“[The men]’s action has yet to constitute a crime so they will not be prosecuted,” Dung noted.
“We can only carry out legal proceedings if they have successfully made the illegal custody.”
Quy Hop authorities have been told to encourage the local ethnic community to give up their outdated and illegal ‘pulling wife’ custom, according to the district’s deputy chairman Vo Sy Son.
Change is not expected to come any time soon, as the custom has been deeply rooted in the life and culture of locals, legal experts admitted.
Footage of a girl being abducted by a group of men in northern Vietnam uploaded on Youtube on February 2, 2017. Clip: Youtube