Hmong Traditions – Forced Marriage; Bride Kidnapping



Bride kidnapping or forced marriage is an old tradition that is rarely practiced today and is a form of marriage by abduction, it is known as “zij poj niam”. Before the kidnapping occurs, the boy must first give a gift to the girl whom he wants to marry and after a couple of days or so, the boy along with help of his friends and family will then kidnap the girl, this is usually done when she is alone. The would-be-groom would then send a message back to the girl’s family informing them of the kidnapping and the intent to marrying their daughter. The girl’s family would then try to find where she is being kept. If the girl’s family is successful and manages to find the girl, they might be able to free her from marrying the man. However, if the girl’s family fails to find her, she is then forced to marry the man. The would-be-groom would still have to pay a bride price for the girl to her family and most of the time it is an increased amount because of the kidnapping. But if the boy has never given a gift to the girl and he kidnaps her, she then is allowed to refuse and go back home with any family member who comes to save her. If the girl loves the man then there is no problem with the kidnapping and a wedding ceremony would take place to celebrate the union of the two (2) people and their families. It is also an event to announce to the public that the two (2) are now husband and wife.

On the other hand, if the parents do not approve of the man or if she does not love him, then the parents can demand something similar to a court trial. On both sides of the family, each one will send a representative to act as a “lawyer” and the presiding “judge” would be someone who both sides of the family agrees too, usually this person is a clan leader. Each side will present their case and depending on how the trial goes, the girl could be returned to her parents or her parents could demand monetary compensation for their loss. If she does return to her parents, it doesn’t mean everything is okay. She would be considered “unclean” because she was inside another man’s home by herself and that could present future problems if she wanted to get married. It could make her parents lose faith for they no longer can confidently offer her to the man or family of their choice. During this process the girl has no opportunity to say anything, she is to be silenced and let the elders work it out.



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