| 9.8°C Dublin

Wedding planning -- chechen-style

In stronger hands, Stolen Brides would have been shocking, provocative and confrontational. As it was, thanks to a presenter who was more polite tourist than hard-hitting reporter, Stolen Brides was simply shocking.

Proceedings opened on a Chechen street, with some deeply harrowing mobile phone footage as a woman is kidnapped in broad daylight by a group of men, who drag her kicking and screaming into their car.

And then there was another mobile phone clip, this time of another woman, with different men, but the same kind of kidnapping. And then another. These clips, presenter Lucy Ash informed us, were often put up online, with traditional Chechen wedding music played overhead.

She talked to some of those affected by this traditional and brutal practice, and most saw it as a case of national pride not disgrace.

Ash brought us along to the wedding day of Zulikhan, getting married to a man who had bundled her into his car only a week ago as she walked home from college in the Chechen capital, Grozny. A man she hardly knew. And now she was getting married to him, sailing down a river in Kazakhstan, nearly 3,100 miles away from home.

Not all blushing brides are so resigned to their fate, as Ash spoke to one young girl who refused to marry her kidnapper. One week later, he grabbed her again. And this time he raped her to make sure she stayed.

This is a war-torn country where abduction and murder are commonplace. So, what's a little kidnapping in the name of tradition?

It's a practice that new Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, agrees with, having changed sides in his country's war against Russia, and subsequently been given a free hand to run the country as he sees fit.

That means Islamic law now comes before Russian law. Women must be covered. A man can have multiple wives. And grabbing your wife off the streets may be against the law, but it's traditional.

If a woman has a problem with any of this, her family has to call the Mullah, not the police. The fact that the Mullah who negotiated with Zulikhan's family so they would agree to the marriage had himself kidnapped his current wife might explain his tolerance of a practice that Sharia law forbids.

The sight of his wife gleefully recounting her kidnap -- giggling as she remembered the back of her legs being scraped as she was dragged to the car -- was surreal.

Like a gentle, sunny, benign episode of Wife Swap, it was surprising to see Cutting Edge present Four Sons Versus Four Daughters a programme that was all about hugs and happiness from beginning to end.

Unlike Wife Swap, there were no frustrated mums screaming at unruly kids, no bitching about the other family. And, unlike other Cutting Edge offerings, there were no dark investigations, no shocking revelations. Just two nice sets of parents swapping their four nice kids for three days.

Unsurprisingly, father of four girls, John, found himself reliving some of his youth, as he suddenly turned into Dennis the Menace when confronted with the fun and competitive games of four strapping young boys.

He even went so far as to make a catapult with them. And it was mother of four boys, Karen, who enjoyed her three days of makeovers, shopping and pony riding with four ballet-dancing, make-up loving girls.

There were some ruminations on nature versus nurture, but this was really little more than a light-hearted weekend away from one loving bunch of kids to go and see what life might be like had the X chromosome been a Y and vice versa.

There were no hardships, no headaches and no heartbreaks. Just unadulterated niceness. Everywhere.


Stolen brides **

Four sons versus four daughters **