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The 21st century Gypsy Bride Market: A Tradition of Selling Virgin girls to future husbands

Being the oldest country in Europe, Bulgaria is famous for its Black Sea Coast, rivers, lakes, and hot springs. However, something that will surprise you is that the country is known for having a Bride market as well. The Kalaidzhis, an ancient community, caught the world’s attention for its strange and unbelievable tradition. If you happen to visit the town of Stara Zagora in Bulgaria on the first Saturday of Orthodox Christian Lent, you will be surprised to see the whole town busy with pairing girls with their potential future husbands. Teenage girls are adorned with crowds throughout the whole place along with their mothers which are locally known as “Gypsy Bride Market”. On this day, Kalaidzhis finally settle on a bride price that leads to marriage.

THE HISTORY OF KALAIDZHI:

Traditionally the community is known for its ancient craft of producing and repairing pots, caldrons, and pans. The Roma group migrated to Bulgaria in about the 12th-14th century. According to their tradition, girls and women are not allowed to meet or date any male members. The Roma (Gypsies) group is outcasted by the non-Roma people, leading them to have bitter feelings towards others who are not in their community. Due to the discrimination, the Kalaidzhi community is facing, the crime rate, unemployment rate, poverty levels are higher than the rest of Eastern Europe’s population. Lack of education and social benefits made them stick to their old tradition of the bride Market. They are still unaware of the violation of human rights that this tradition causes.

HOW MUCH DOES A BRIDE COST?

Men spend about $7500 to $20,000 after bargaining for a long time. Velcho Krustev, an ethnographer with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences stated in New York Times, “the man is not buying a wife, but her virginity”. “If she is really beautiful, the prices can go up”, Krustev added. He also said that there are some changes underway as the younger generation has already started picking their own partner but it still doesn’t make a bigger change. The bride price known as “Blood for the father” is a payment for his guarantee that his daughter is still a virgin. However, deals are not completed on the spot and usually take months of negotiation and similar social events.

The girls are forced to leave school as soon as they hit puberty. It is believed that they would be stolen by their admirers. After that, the girls are always locked up in their homes. This leads to a wide-scale of illiteracy of women as 1 out of every 5 women is illiterate. According to the World Bank, only 16 percent of Bulgarian men and 10 percent of women have secondary education. Furthermore, Kalaidzhis women provide the household labour of cooking and cleaning, also they are unpaid assistants to their husbands in making the pots and cauldrons. 

Until the day they are sold to their husbands, the virginity of the girls is of the highest importance among the Kalaidzhis. They believe that they will be able to negotiate for a higher price whereas non-virgin women will be sold at a lower price. It is a tradition of these families to marry off their daughter by the age of 20. This event is the only time when girls are allowed to meet men as dating is not an option since teenagers are not allowed to meet without the presence of their parents.

A study of Amilape, a non-governmental organization in Bulgaria, revealed that 52 percent of the Roma women opposed parents’ choice in their marriage life and choosing a partner based on how much money he pays. A very few young Roma people have accepted the old tradition of selling brides.

What does the future look like?

However, the change in society has been partly brought by the people who look up to the new world and modern education to secure their future. People are communicating with outsiders with the help of cell phones and the internet. The end of this tradition will be the end of the Kalaidzhis themselves.  

 Women want to come out and live their life with freedom. They want to choose their husbands as they are aware of the fact that other Bulgarian women are not dominated by these cultures. Even though coverage by the media has brought a lot of attention to the community, the government’s lack of participation to ensure their education and human rights have kept the tribe where it was at the beginning. People can just hope that women will have more liberty in the community but with the lack of political support, it will take a long time from now.

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