News / Asia

Trafficking in Foreign Women Rises in China

A young woman sold to a Chinese family and forced into marriage
A young woman sold to a Chinese family and forced into marriage
David Morton

More than three decades after it began, China's one-child population control policy has some unintended consequences. Because of a traditional preference for boys, thousands of couples abort female fetuses, and the Chinese government says that last year, 119 boys were born for every 100 girls.

The shortage of young women is pushing some families turn to human traffickers to find wives for their sons. The traffickers often go to neighboring Burma, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea to buy or kidnap women.

Members of Burma's Kachin Women's Association comfort three young women sold to Chinese families by human traffickers.  The women, aged between 16 and 18, came to China with the promise of a better life. But they found themselves sold as brides to men in rural areas for as little as $700, and kept as virtual prisoners.

VICTIM 1: "A woman in my village told me she could get me a good job in China.  That night, we stopped at a sugar cane plantation, where I was given some noodles to eat, after that, I don't remember anything. When I woke up I didn't know where I was, and I wasn't allowed to contact anyone."

VICTIM 2: "My uncle came with two others and the Chinese police, and tried to take me back, but the villagers wouldn't let them, so the police arrested my husband. But the villagers said that they had paid money for me, and wouldn't let me go, and my uncle told them, you need to talk to the people you paid money to, because these are our children."

Trafficking of women is not uncommon in Nabang. The town overlaps China's border with Burma. Thousands of women enter China every year, hoping for a job, only to find themselves trapped.

Organizations like Health Unlimited do their best to help, but as the head of operations, Dr. Tu Lum, explains, it is an uphill battle.

"The status of women is very low and girls are not well educated," he explained.  "People [in Burma] are so poor, and they will always rush to any place if they hear there is a job opportunity. So many people get cheated like this."

Stopping the traffickers is virtually impossible. Chinese authorities have little influence on the Burmese side, while China's one-child policy has led to a shortage of marriage-age women in poor rural areas. Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, explains.

"Because these villages are so poor, all these men have difficulties getting married, and this forces them to solve the problem using money," she said.

Although China bans human trafficking, those who help victims say many more women are likely to be trapped in the country each year as unwilling brides.

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