In China, thanks to the decades of the one-child policy, there were estimated to be over 33.5 million more men than women in 2016. That means that there are tens of millions of Chinese men who have no hope of ever finding a wife. At least within the borders of China. But there are a number of countries bordering China which have women which could provide wives for Chinese men if only they could be enticed to cross the border. Or threatened. Or kidnapped. I’ve blogged about the trafficking of women and girls to China a few years ago – a modern day tribute to the dominant power in the region.
Unfortunately, the situation has not improved recently and the US State Department has reported that the Myanmar-China bride trade was “increasing”. Furthermore, the prospects of either country successfully stamping out the trade is remote – officials in both countries either look the other way or actively participate for money. And Myanmar is not unique, according to the ABC:
“[Myanmar] is one of several south-east Asian nations where trans-border rackets smuggle unsuspecting women to China and sell them for a hefty fee.
‘The women usually get tricked into this’ said Thar Shee, an anti-human trafficking project manager at the Yangon Kayin Baptist Women's Association. The local NGO helps returned survivors of the trade reintegrate in Myanmar.
Thar Shee explained that brokers often target poorer neighbourhoods in big cities. Sometimes they only need to promise jobs that pay 200,000 kyat ($188) a month in China — enough to tempt many young women living in dire economic conditions.
There are numerous consistencies in the multitude of cases handled by the Kayin Baptist Women's Association. Once inside China, the women are entirely confined to their husband's property. There's no access to a telephone or computer, for fear of them contacting home. And on the few occasions the women visit public areas, they are closely watched by a chaperone.”
The Yangon Kayin Baptist Women’s Association has cases of women being taken to China from as young as 15 up to 47. But teenagers and children are particularly vulnerable because they are easier to coerce and are more valuable: a teenage virgin can fetch up USD20,000. 41 per cent of child trafficking cases in Myanmar that are investigated by local police involve forced marriages to China.
The stories provided by the women who escape are horrific. Hnin Wai was in China for three years. Her arm was broken when she tried to escape and she was sold twice to two different men. She was often beaten, forced to work and was basically locked up for three years to prevent her escaping again. When she failed to fall pregnant to her second Chinese husband, other family members took turns at raping her.
Nandar was 17 when she enticed by promises of a job as a hairdresser in China. As soon as she got to China it became clear that she was part of the illegal Myanmar-China bride trade. She was taken to a house where she was displayed as wares for men to come and examine her and then sold to “an older man” for about USD11,630. It turned out that she had been purchased for that man’s intellectual disabled son. She was alone in China, could speak no Mandarin and soon bore a child. She eventually taught herself Mandarin by watching television and then managed to call the police who came to her aid. She was able to return to Myanmar. But she was unable to take her child because she couldn’t prove that her baby was hers. She had to leave the child with the father’s family.
As Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch says:
“This is a classic example of China selfishly solving its own demographic problems through the suffering of its neighbours’ women and girls.”
The suffering that the one child policy has inflicted is still growing to this day. And this suffering is not confined to China.