Noriko Hayashi, a photojournalist based in Tokyo, spent four months in Kyrgyzstan last year to document the mysterious bride kidnappings in the Central Asian country.

In early September, Hayashi, 29, became the first Japanese photographer to win the Visa d’or feature award at the Visa pour l’Image Festival in Perpignan, southern France, for a series of photos he shot depicting the kidnapping of a woman for a forced marriage.

One of the photos shows a wailing 22-year-old woman who had been kidnapped by a high school teacher she met about 10 days before, being forced by one of his relatives to marry him.

“I wanted to express through photography the reality that I suppose would have been hard to convey with words, from the perspective of a woman around the same age,” Hayashi said.

Over roughly four months from July 2012, Hayashi visited villages in Kyrgyzstan and captured the moments shortly after the woman was kidnapped, including their wedding ceremony. She took more than 6,000 photos in the villages.

“Bride kidnapping was prohibited by law in 1994, but the number of abductions has been increasing in recent years,” Hayashi said. “Although it’s obviously a serious violation of human rights, it’s rare for a man to be sued.”

A local nongovernmental organization said that more than 80 percent of the abducted women end up accepting marriage after days of resistance, and that about 40 percent of the married women in Kyrgyzstan today were kidnapped and forced to wed.

Hayashi, who is from Kawasaki, began her photography career with a newspaper called The Point in Gambia. She visited the west African country in 2006 while studying international politics at a U.S. university.

Hayashi said one reporter suddenly disappeared while Gambia was tightening controls on the press.

“I want to work as hard as the former colleagues who were all courageous and convey to the world social problems and human rights issues facing women,” she said.

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