BEIJING (ChurchMilitant.com) - Foreign girls and women are being trafficked into China for involuntary marriage and sex slavery, with Beijing gaining the reputation of becoming the human trafficking capital of the world.
At the heart of this human rights violation is China's 35-year one-child policy, in which Chinese couples were permitted by their government to bear and raise only one child. Since many preferred boys, considerably more girls were killed before, and sometimes after, birth.
The one-child policy was relaxed in 2015, but the repercussions and unintended consequences continue. With millions more preborn girls than boys killed by abortion, a serious disparity between the sexes resulted. There are now 34 million more men than women in China.
Human Rights Watch has investigated bride trafficking from northern Myanmar into China. Many women and girls in that part of Myanmar belong to an ethnic minority vulnerable due to a long-running conflict and displacement in the region.
Typically, these women and girls are tricked by brokers who promise lucrative employment in China. Once there, they find themselves at the mercy of the brokers, who sell them to Chinese families for anywhere from $3,000 to $13,000. Once purchased, they may be held prisoner and pressured into marriage or to produce babies as quickly as possible.
These girls and young women often come from ethnic or religious minorities in their respective countries, are often impoverished, and are easily manipulated by promises of a better life. Families too find the payment price enticing.
Violence against women and girls is not a high priority for these governments; and most of the affected countries have relationships with China that include significant power imbalances. Hence, little concern about the fate of these women and girls trafficked to China has been expressed publicly.
The Associated Press (AP) recently reported that Pakistani investigators have found 629 young girls and women trafficked and sold into China to be brides for Chinese men. To compile the list, investigators looked at Pakistan's border system, which digitally records travel documents at national airports.
The list covers the marriages of 629 women and girls that took place between 2018 and April of this year. Investigators believe that all were sold by their families to Chinese men.
An unnamed official who spoke with the AP explained that selling women as brides to Chinese men is a "lucrative trade." He told the Associated Press, "The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($25,000 and $65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($1,500) is given to the family."
"No one is doing anything to help these girls," another official said. "The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing."
Pakistan's Christian minority, which comprises 2–3% of their population, is often impoverished and hence an easier target for international marriage brokers. According to the AP, some local pastors are also involved in the selling of Christian girls and argue that the trade is helping economically.
The AP interviewed one former bride, Muqadas Ashraf, who was 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man in 2018. She returned to Pakistan less than five months later. She claims the promises made to the girl and her family are based on lies.
"It is all fraud and cheating. All the promises they make are fake," said Ashraf, who was pregnant at the time and sought to divorce her husband.
It appears that Pakistan is not only a victim to sex trafficking and bride-purchasing, but is also a perpetrator. The U.K.-based charity Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) recently reported that in addition to the trafficking of Pakistan's young women to China, Pakistanis have been abducting Christian and Hindu girls and forcing them into Islamic marriages within Pakistan.
The parents of a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, abducted in July and forced into an Islamic marriage, are now battling the justice system in an attempt to rescue their daughter from her captors. CLAAS has been working on behalf of the family after their 14-year-old daughter, Benish Imran, went missing on July 2.
Under Pakistani law, such unlawful marriages are punishable by up to seven years in prison. However, the kidnapping and abduction of Christian and Hindu children by Muslim men and forcing them to convert to Islam is not taken as seriously, remaining a systemic problem in this predominantly Muslim country.
As for the human trafficking between Pakistan and China, China's foreign minister claims he knew nothing about this. In an official statement faxed on Monday to the AP's Beijing bureau, China's Ministry said: "The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behavior."
In 2017 Colombian authorities arrested members of a transnational network that trafficked women from Colombia to China. Nine alleged leaders of a sex trafficking network were arrested on Aug. 24 during an operation that spanned four of Colombia's biggest cities: Bogotá, Medellín, Pereira and Cali. The young women had been promised well-paying jobs as models or saleswomen in China.
The Chinese public is not widely aware of the bride trafficking problem in their country. The Xi Jinping government has tightened its grip on the media and internet, and a continuous crackdown on religion, women's rights activism and civil society groups has made it increasingly difficult to raise awareness and assist victims within China.