Rights group looks into China’s bride trafficking


Human Rights Watch (HRW) has conducted an investigation on 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 USD3,000 to USD13,000 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.

China’s one-child policy, in force from 1979 to 2015, drove the majority of Chinese parents to choose a son over a daughter.  Over generations this policy drove a demographic disaster: China now has 30 to 40 million more men than women, men who cannot find a bride in their own country.

Seen as an opportunity by unscrupulous people, the situation is driving a brutal business of selling women and girls from neighbouring countries.

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, said HRW.

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.

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, said the rights group. 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. (Source: HRW)