Sophia (as she chooses to be identified), a resident of Pakistan's Faisalabad was 19-years-old when a Chinese man came to ask her hand in marriage promising a life of comfort and money to her parents. A month into the alliance, Sophia struggled to return to her country scarred by the abuse and web of pretense spun by her suitor, reports BBC.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, there are many like her who have vowed to never look back on their past having returned home from China, but not all the brides — many of them minor — have been lucky to escape.
A Chinese 'market for wives'
Sophia is one of among several poor Christian girls trafficked to China to cater to a 'bride market' that has grown swiftly over the years. Hundreds of brokers are engaged in the process of finalising marriage deals between Chineses men looking for foreign wives, as they promise to bear all expenses and even pay the parents of the woman handsomely, in some cases. They are helped by Christian clerics who are paid to target impoverished families in their congregation with promises of wealth in exchange for daughters.
Parents are told that their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts, who show all signs of religious cooperation in their initial meetings before the match is finalised. However, once in China, the women find themselves isolated in remote rural regions, vulnerable to abuse, and unable to communicate due to the language barrier.
Given the wretched state of minorities in Pakistan — which is yet to come out of the shadows of maximal blasphemy laws — the families of such women often find themselves bereft of social security and thus, struggle for justice. Human rights activists in Pakistan believe it is the greed of the parents which leads to young girls being forced to marry against their will in return for the money offered by prospective Chinese men.
Meanwhile, Ijaz Alam Augustine, the Human Rights and Minorities Minister in Pakistan’s Punjab province accused the Chinese government and its embassy in Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the practice by unquestioningly issuing visas and documents, a claim China has so far vehemently denied citing "zero tolerance for illegal transnational marriage agencies", as reported by The Associated Press.
Recently, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency arrested eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis in multiple raids in the Punjab province in connection with trafficking, Geo TV reported. As per the report, the Chinese embassy said that China was cooperating with Pakistan in its effort to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centers. Even though, reports by The New York Times and the BBC show that such centres continue to thrive and that repeated claims by both the nations on curbing the menace were far removed from the ground reality.
Trafficked from Pakistan, abused in China
In recent weeks, Pakistan has been rocked by charges that at least 150 women were brought to China as brides under false pretenses and subjected to various forms of abuse including sexual harassment and physical violence. A few victims of this practice told The New York Times that they were forced into prostitution, or made to work in bars and clubs.
Human Rights Watch in its note issued in April said that the trafficking allegations were “disturbingly similar” to past patterns in which women from other penurious Asian countries — North Korea, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam — were brought to China as brides and subjected to abuse.
Christian, Muslim women targeted
And this is not just the case of marginalised Christian women in Pakistan, even Muslim women from poor families are being trapped in this trade which amounts to serious charges under human trafficking laws — which are being blatantly violated to allow such cartels and cross-nation syndicates to operate.
A Muslim woman from a poor Lahore neighbourhood who went to China with her husband revealed that she had to put up with repeated physical abuse because she refused to sleep with the "drunk visitors" her husband brought over. Her husband, she later found out had faked his religion and was not a practicing Muslim as claimed by him during his stay in Pakistan, the report states.
While in China, the women have to resort to the help of the Pakistani embassy for their rescue and return to the home country. Many of them are now fighting a legal battle for divorce.
Emboldened economic ties between China and Pakistan serve as catalyst to this trade
This network has been strengthened by the growing relationship between Pakistan and China and the ever-increasing economic investment being done by the dragon nation in its western neighbour through the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and latest via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinse government. Moreover, with Pakistan allowing visa-on-arrival to Chinese nationals, their population in the Islamic nation has increased ever since with many coming to the country as labourers.
No bride for China's 'only male child'
But what is actually pushing the Chinese men to seek partners in foreign lands?
Experts argue it is China's legacy of the three-decade-old 'one-child policy' that has skewed the country’s gender balance toward males. Hoards of families opted for termination of pregnancies (forced abortions) or female infanticides in their desire to have a male child before the country reversed the rule to allow couples to have two children.
“There are no girls here,” one of the groom's mother told The New York Times when asked why so many local men had gone to Pakistan to find wives. “We weren’t allowed to have more children, so everyone wanted boys," she said. And boys they had. So many that now there aren't enough girls in the country for them to marry.
China has one of the most heavily skewed gender ratios in the world, with 106.3 men for every 100 women as of 2017, according to the World Bank. in 2003, there were reports that in the Guangxi province, parents trying for sons sold their baby girls on the black market, and 80 percent of the trafficked babies in China were girls.
In Pakistan, an estimated 750 to 1,000 girls have been trafficked as brides since October 2018.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2019 16:38:52 IST