In at least 17 countries around the world, girls are being abducted, raped and forced into marriage. Emily Dugan investigates
Last year, Asana, a 14-year-old from Somalia, popped out to get some meat and milk for her mother. As she walked in a Mogadishu market, a car with blacked-out windows pulled up, a door was flung open and she was dragged inside. A man she had never seen before said to the driver: "This is my wife; we just got engaged." The man was Mohamed Dahir, a leader of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Her money was taken, she was locked away and forced to become Dahir's wife.
Asana's story is echoed across the globe in a phenomenon that is still little reported or understood. Bride kidnapping, or "bridenapping", happens in at least 17 countries around the world, from China to Mexico to Russia to southern Africa. In each of these lands, there are communities where it is routine for young women and girls to be plucked from their families, raped and forced into marriage. Few continents are not blighted by the practice, yet there is little awareness of these crimes, and few police investigations. The lack of reporting means there are no global statistics, but inquiries over many weeks by The Independent on Sunday have found anecdotal evidence that bridenapping is increasing. Something that belongs more to the Middle Ages is growing in the 21st century.
The lack of awareness, and therefore of any worldwide campaign on the issue, leaves little hope for women such as Asana (her name has been changed to protect her from Al-Shabaab, who still send her death threats). Now 15, and bringing up Dahir's baby son, she considers herself one of the luckier ones. She managed to escape to Kenya after Dahir was killed in a shoot-out. Her story, however, would not be considered "lucky" by many.