It was China’s short-sighted vision to curb the exploding population but repercussions are felt across South Asia with a dangerous bride trafficking nexus.
Today, the whole of Asia and especially the South Asian countries are now suffering from China’s One-Child Policy. What started as an authoritative drive 35-years ago is today showing devastating consequences on girls and women population in China’s poorer neighbouring countries. These women are treated like a sexual commodity by affluent Chinese.
In 2017, the US State Department said China is among the worst countries for sheltering human trafficking and forced labour offenders.
According to Human Rights Watch research report, trafficking in China has increased. Due to demands for brides, the numbers of trafficking have also increased from nearby countries. An author of a 2016 UN report talking about forced marriages between people in China and Cambodia said that the current gender imbalance in China will remain for upcoming decades, and the demand for marriage partners from abroad will also prevail.
The United Nations said that the women who became ‘bride victims’ were mainly from the poorer Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.
Consequences across Borders: China’s One-Child Policy
The one-child policy has developed a preconceived notion among the Chinese citizens favouring gender selection, i.e. desire for the male child. This kind of gender bias also prevails in many other Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and other male-dominated societies.
However, China’s one-child policy to control the population has exacerbated an imbalance in sex ratio. While gender-selective abortions have become a more common practice in China. The remaining men found the death of women to marry.
The increasing gender discrimination in China since 1987 has resulted in a shortfall in the percentage of women. According to some researchers, China has now 30 to 40 million more men than women.
From 1979 to 2015, the restrictions by the Chinese government on women’s reproductive rights has fueled the demands for women. This triggered bride trafficking from abroad especially from South Asian countries that are underdeveloped and economically backward.
How, why, and who abducts the Brides?
In China, the demand for foreign brides has become a lucrative business for traffickers. Most of the people in the bride trafficking nexus are known to victims. Furthermore, the traffickers target females from families badly in need of jobs and resources.
The traffickers sell trafficked brides for $3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese families.
Consequently, the brokers deceive women and girls through false promises of employment and travel them to China. Only to sell them to Chinese families as brides and confine them into sexual slavery for years. These men and their families pressure the women to conceive and impregnate them as quickly as possible. In some cases, women are compelled to go for fertility treatment.
The women who are lucky enough to escape from this malaise had gone through many physical and mental traumas and left their children behind. A Human Rights Watch report suggests that bride trafficking has flourished from Myanmar to China because of “A porous border and lack of response by law enforcement agencies on both sides created an environment in which traffickers flourish.”
Recent Cases of bride trafficking from South Asian countries
These women mainly come from Cambodia and Vietnam. Around 1,330 suspects were also arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, who documented the bride trafficking in Myanmar, each year over hundreds of women and girls are being abducted. Several of them have been trafficked more than once.
According to a Reuters report, more than 1,100 women and girls were rescued from China in 2018.
A 17-year-old girl name Nyo, from Shan State in Myanmar, trafficked by brokers who sold her and her friend to a Chinese counterpart. The man who purchased forcefully impregnated her. She was abducted by a woman from her own village, who promised ‘a waitress’ job’.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand estimated that over 21,000 females from northern Myanmar were abducted from 2013-2017. All of them were forced into marriage in only one province of China.
Examples of Abduction from Other Countries
According to the South China Morning Post in 2017, a 24-year North Korean woman crossed the borders with the help of a broker luring her with a waitress job. Once inside China, the woman was locked inside a house and forced to live with a Chinese man.
Over 21,000 females from northern Myanmar had been abducted from 2013-2017.
According to a BBC report, traffickers lure Christian girls in Pakistan to marry Chinese Christians. They are later forced into sexual slavery. Saleem Iqbal, a Christian human rights activist, said that over 700 women, especially Christian, married Chinese men in a year. In fact, there is a matchmaking center in Pakistan abducting women and girls and trafficking them to China as brides.
What do concerned countries need to do?
Mimi Vu of the Vietnamese Charity Pacific Links Foundation that helps trafficking survivors said, the source countries, i.e. Southeast Asian countries should combat the trafficking problem first. Thus, prevention should be the top priority for concerned governments.
All countries urgently need to tackle the bride trafficking problem and prevent it by working with the China government and recover those abducted women and girls. The concerned governments need to raise the issue vigorously on international forums and demand stringent laws and actions by the Chinese government to end this abominating trade.
What else can the Home Countries do?
South Asian countries must improve job prospects for women in their home countries. Furthermore, they need to enforce stringent laws meticulously at their borders to prevent the rising bride trafficking into China. Thirdly, there needs to be a major regional rescue operation.
Sebastian Boll, a Bangkok Based human trafficking expert, said, “The countries should consider legalizing marriage broker services to regulate the industry given Chinese demand for foreign brides. Overseas marriage is still an attractive option for many poor Southeast Asian women who lack education and job opportunities at home.”