Bride Capture Custom Under Scrutiny in Vietnam

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A still image from a video shared on social media shows an 18-year-old man trying to make a 16-year-old girl his wife in Ha Giang Province, February 2022.
A still image from a video shared on social media shows an 18-year-old man trying to make a 16-year-old girl his wife in Ha Giang Province, February 2022 (VNExpress).

The Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has called for an end to the custom of bride kidnapping sometimes practiced by members of the Hmong ethnic group.

The call to end the custom comes in response to an event in Ha Giang Province last month that went viral on social media, during which an 18-year-old male tried to kidnap a 16-year-old girl to make her his wife against her will.

Neither the 18-year-old nor the 16-year-old is of marriageable age under Vietnamese law. 

In a video of the event, onlookers do not intervene as the young man drags the girl, who is clearly distraught.  However, a police officer, Captain Ly Ngoc Tuan, saw the event while patrolling and intervened on behalf of the girl. 

The video sheds light on a practice that many Hmong call a “distortion” of a tradition meant to provide young people with the freedom to consensually elope if their parents do not agree with their marriage. 

The Hmong, who call bride capture Zij poj niam, are not the only culture that sometimes practices the brutal tradition.

In rural Kyrgyzstan, as many as one in three marriages begin with bridal kidnapping. The problem is so ubiquitous there that many young women leave Kyrgyzstan to avoid non-consensual marriage. 

The Hmong custom is not limited to Southeast Asia, but has also been practiced by members of the ethnic group living elsewhere.

In a high-profile case in the United States in 1988, a Hmong man used the Zij poj niam custom as his legal defense when charged with kidnapping and raping a Hmong college student in Fresno, California.

The man’s criminal sentence was reduced on the grounds that Zij poj niam was part of his Hmong culture.

Indonesia’s central government vowed to completely ban the practice after two bridal capture videos from the island of Sumba went viral in 2020.  

As of 2015, there were approximately 600,000 Hmong people living in Laos. It is unclear whether or not Zij poj niam is being practiced nonconsensually within Hmong communities in Laos.