A new report by a U.N. anti-trafficking agency has detailed the experience of Cambodian women lured to China by the promise of a better life, only to be married off to local men.
The U.N. Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Person based its August 25 report on interviews with 42 women between September 2014 and March 2015.
It found that the women, whose ages ranged from 18 to 37, were usually recruited from their own communities by brokers who falsely promised they would get highly paid jobs.
Some women agreed to arranged marriages, but they also were misled, the report said; thinking they would become wealthy, those women instead were married to poor men in rural areas.
“The research has revealed that police officers, especially at the local level, at times seem ill-equipped for this task to date,” the report noted.
Cambodian women often have their passports confiscated upon arriving in China. Those who managed to escape had to struggle to reach an embassy or consulate, which could be more than 1,000 kilometers from the remote locations where they were sent.
During the escape, some women were caught by Chinese authorities and returned to their husbands.
The U.N. report describes a perfect storm of economic variables that fuel the market for foreign brides. Cambodia's low wages and sparse job opportunities force young women to seek work abroad, while China's gender imbalance, which has left large numbers of men single, has sparked a demand for women.
Chou Bun Eng, head of Cambodia's National Authority Against Human Trafficking, said a formal agreement to combat the practice is likely to be signed with China later this year.
“We have to agree unanimously to lay out our prevention plans, help victims and investigate and punish those who commit human trafficking crimes,” she said.
The Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.
Thida Khus, director of Silaka, a training and advocacy group, said most of the women trafficked to China come from poor families.
“In China there is no legislation to protect and no mechanisms to protect those migrants, therefore people who migrate for work or to get married face many problems,” she said.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.