Mogila: The first Saturday in
Lent feels like any other market day in this tiny village in
central Bulgaria, but fruit and vegetable stalls are nowhere
to be seen among the milling patrons.
Instead, young eligible bachelors from the Roma
community are here to find themselves a wife at a traditional
More than 2,000 Roma travellers converged on Mogila on
one of the first sunny weekends of spring, the air abuzz with
conversation by men, women and children decked out in their
finest clothes for one of the year`s social highlights.
The "bride market" -- held four times a year on
religious holidays during the spring and summer -- is a chance
for the nomadic tinkers to meet, catch up on gossip and
notably play matchmaker for adolescent sons and daughters.
Theirs is a deeply Christian orthodox and rigidly
patriarchal society where young people are only allowed to
marry within the group.
Teenage girls are strictly segregated from boys, with
many even taken out of school at age 11 or 12 so there is no
chance they could "bring disgrace" on their family.
So, for adolescents of both sexes the "bride market"
is a rare occasion to have fun and flirt like normal
The custom may raise eyebrows among women`s rights
groups, given concerns about forced marriage and underage
Research on the custom is scarce, and the tinkers
themselves are suspicious of outsiders and reluctant to talk
about the money that changes hands or reveal the exact ages of
the girls involved.
One of the few who has studied the bride markets for
several years is Alexey Pamporov, an expert in demographics
and sociology at the Open Society Institute in Sofia -- a
branch of philanthropist George Soros` non-governmental
organisation focused on improving conditions of marginalised
He insists they have nothing to do with forced
marriages or selling under-age girls for sex, precisely
because the tinkers are such a close-knit and deeply religious
"We can`t speak of forced marriages. The girls are not
abused in any way and their consent is required in 100 percent
of the cases," Pamporov said.
He concedes that underage marriages may have been
common in the past, but says they are much rarer nowadays. And
money received for a bride plays more a symbolic role as a
sort of dowry, proving that the young man would be able to
provide for his future family, he added.