Asian mail bride – China’s Bride Trafficking Problem
China has a bride trafficking problem. The country’s longstanding one-child policy and preference for boys created a huge gender imbalance. The difficulty many Chinese men now face finding wives, combined with a lack of protections in China, is driving a brutal business of selling women and girls from neighboring countries.
The Chinese government’s main response for many years seemed to be simply to ignore growing allegations about authorities’ complicity in these crimes. But the problem is becoming too big to ignore; the government’s stonewalling is gradually being replaced by a mixture of criminal justice and propaganda responses, neither of which get to the real issue of gender discrimination.
The one-child policy, in force from 1979 to 2015, prompted many parents to feel that if they were permitted only one child, that child should be a son. This was driven in part by the expectation, particularly in rural areas, that daughters marry and join their husband’s family, while sons stay with, and support, their parents. Over generations this policy drove a demographic disaster: China now has 30 to 40 million more men than women.
Human Rights Watch investigated bride trafficking from northern Myanmar into China. Many women and girls in that part of Myanmar belong to an ethnic minority that is vulnerable due to a long-running conflict and displacement in the region. These women and girls are typically tricked by brokers who promise well-paid employment across the border in China. Once in China, they find themselves at the mercy of the brokers, who sell them for around $3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese families. Once purchased they may be held prisoner and pressured to produce babies as quickly as possible. Similar stories have been documented by journalists and researchers in Cambodia, North Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam, among others.
For years, it was easy for China to ignore the issue. The women and girls being trafficked are often ethnic or religious minorities, from impoverished communities, or, in the case of North Korea, on the run from their own abusive regime. Violence against women and girls is often a low priority for governments. And all of the affected countries have complicated relationships and deep power imbalances with China. The consequence has been that their own governments also often show little concern about the fate of women and girls trafficked to China.
That may be changing. There has been growing attention to bride trafficking in the media, and there is a growing list of home countries of victims becoming more aware, most recently Pakistan, when evidence emerged earlier this year of trafficking. Problems with China’s huge infrastructure and investment project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), have triggered tensions between China and some partner governments, and bad publicity over bride trafficking has sometimes complicated relations further.
China’s recent responses vary. In June, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s police, said that in the previous year it had rescued 1,100 Southeast Asian female trafficking victims and arrested 1,322 suspects, including 262 foreigners. The Chinese government appears to have cooperated with Pakistani authorities to quickly arrest some suspected traffickers in Pakistan. Officials in China’s Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, recently shared some data on their efforts to combat trafficking.
At the same time, the Chinese government also seems to be responding by peddling propaganda to improve its global image. In Myanmar, Human Rights Watch met an activist who had participated in a study tour to China for Myanmar women’s rights groups. In one session, a professor explained to the visitors that the problem was not trafficking but that, as the activist recalled the explanation: ‘Myanmar women don’t know Chinese culture. Once they learn Chinese language and culture, their marriages are fine.’ The expert asked the participants to, ‘Tell your government the Chinese government is doing very good things for Myanmar women.’
A recent article in a Chinese government-funded publication in Myanmar similarly described the ‘happy and pleasant road’ a Myanmar woman had experienced after marrying in China.
The Chinese public is not widely aware of bride trafficking. Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, the government has tightened its grip on the media and the internet. Speaking critically of the government has often resulted in police harassment and arrest. Combined with a continuing crackdown on women’s rights activists and civil society groups, it has become increasingly difficult for them to raise awareness and assist victims.
China in 2016 replaced its one-child policy with a two-child policy a change that leaves in place restrictions on reproductive rights that violate international human rights law. Whether its strategy is to stop the traffickers, promote China’s image abroad, or block the public from learning about trafficking, the bottom line is that the Chinese government is still failing to take on the real solutions to its human trafficking problem ending gender discrimination and violations of reproductive rights.
What do Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam have in common?
A young woman who was trafficked at age 17 by a friend’s mother who promised her a well-paid child care job and then sold her to a family in China as a ‘bride.’ Once purchased, she was confined and subjected to sexual slavery, but managed to escape after several months and return home to Myanmar.
There’s compelling evidence that all have become source countries for a brutal business – the trafficking of women and girls for sale in China as brides.
In China, the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China now has 30 to 40 million ‘missing women,’ an imbalance caused by a preference for boys and exacerbated by the ‘one-child policy,’ in place from 1979 to 2015, and ongoing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. This gender gap has made it difficult for many Chinese men to find wives and has fueled a demand for trafficked women from abroad.
Human Rights Watch documented bride trafficking in Myanmar, where each year hundreds of women and girls are deceived through false promises of employment into traveling to China, only to be sold to Chinese families as brides and held in sexual slavery, often for years. Most were pressured to become pregnant as quickly as possible; some were compelled to undergo forced fertility treatment. Those who had children and were lucky enough to escape could usually only do so by leaving their children behind. Several of the women we interviewed had been trafficked more than once.
Since Human Rights Watch began researching trafficking to China more than three years meet your future wife ago, reports have indicated that it is also occurring in additional countries and that their number is growing. These countries urgently need to act to prevent trafficking, work with Chinese authorities to recover women and girls who are victims, and assist survivors, who often grapple with devastating trauma and struggle to meet their basic needs. Concerned governments should raise this issue vigorously and often, including with their local Chinese counterparts, demanding prompt action by the Chinese government to end this trade.
And other Asian countries should watch carefully to make sure they’re not the next to be added to this list.
Chinese police rescued 1,100 Southeast Asian women in joint raids last year to crack down on human trafficking, authorities said on Friday.
Some 17 children were also saved in the operations, which were coordinated with police from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, police arrested 1,322 suspects, including 262 foreigners, on charges that including kidnapping and selling people as well as marriage fraud.
“In recent years, some domestic and foreign criminals have colluded to lure women from neighboring countries to China promising work or marriage, and even abducted some women and sold them as wives,” ministry spokesman Guo Lin said.
Cracking down on selling brides
Beijing’s decades-long one-child policy and a preference for male babies have created a huge gender imbalance, leaving the country with far fewer women than men.
The shortage has driven the demand for foreign brides, with an increasing number of women from countries like Cambodia and Vietnam being sold as wives.
In one raid, police said they’d found 11 Vietnamese women living in a safe house in China’s central Anhui province that belonged to a “marriage agency.” The agency charged 3,000 to 10,000 yuan (€386 to €1,286; $450 to $10,500) to connect a Chinese man to a Vietnamese bride.
Although marriage agencies are legal in China, they are banned from introducing Chinese men to foreign brides as part of efforts to reduce human trafficking.
Women from poorer families in Southeast Asia are often approached by brokers with promises of a job in the city and are then targeted by traffickers.
They’re often taken further into China to rural villages where the women struggle to find help.
Although China has eased its one-child policy in 2016, advocacy groups say that it will take time for human trafficking and forced marriage figures to reduce.