In the richer coastal areas of China men look to the poorer west for brides. Brides are also sought in poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and even Russia. Stanford University's Marcus Feldman told Newsweek, "With a free-market economies developing at the same time the number of available bride decreases, you will find women increasingly becoming commodities to be bought and sold." Already large numbers of brides are being smuggled into China from Vietnam and are also making their way in from Russia and Central Asia. Some girls and young women from North Korea, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have been kidnapped and taken to China and sold as brides.

Cat Barton of AFP wrote: “Vulnerable women in countries close to China — not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar — are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say. China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children. As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides — a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups. As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say. But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing "systematic" trafficking of women into China for forced marriages. "This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.” [Source: Cat Barton, AFP, June 25, 2014 +++]

Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: “The demand for foreign brides in China is rooted in that country’s population, where there are roughly 34 million more men than women — a result of the one-child policy that ended in 2015 after 35 years, along with an overwhelming preference for boys that led to abortions of girl children and female infanticide. A report released in December 2019 by Human Rights Watch, documenting trafficking in brides from Myanmar to China, said the practice is spreading. It said Pakistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea and Vietnam have “all have become source countries for a brutal business.” “One of the things that is very striking about this issue is how fast the list is growing of countries that are known to be source countries in the bride trafficking business,” Heather Barr, the HRW report’s author, told AP. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, December 4, 2019]

Salman Masood and Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times:“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. The long-term human costs of this gender imbalance have only recently come into view — and they are having an impact far beyond China’s borders. As the boys of the one-child policy era have begun to reach marriage age, the demand for foreign brides has surged, even as the Chinese government has loosened birth restrictions. [Source: Salman Masood and Amy Qin, New York Times, May 27, 2019]

Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: Over 30 years, China was robbed of millions of girls as families ensured their only child was a boy. These boys are now men, called bare branches because a shortage of wives could mean death to their family trees. At the height of the gender imbalance in 2004, 121 boys were born in China for every 100 girls, according to Chinese population figures. To cope, Chinese men have begun importing wives from nearby countries, sometimes by force. [Source: Hannah Beech New York Times, August 17, 2019]

The practice has been going on for some time. I visited Ulan Ude in Siberia not so far from Lake Baikal in 2004. I hung out with a Buryat woman there. The Buryats are an ethnic group related to the Mongols who live mostly in Russia. The woman said that her sister was in China at the time meeting a prospective husband. I don't know what the sister's motivation was or what the outcome was but it seemed that nobody was forcing her and it could presumed that she went to China in hopes of improving her life.

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the One Child Policy Wikipedia ; Family Planning in China ; Christian Science Monitor article on Too Many Boys ; National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China; Trends in Chinese Demography ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics; Marriage: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinatown ConnectionChinatown Connection ; Travel China Guide ; Agate Travel : Dating Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection ; Wedding Wedding Customs ; Divorce: Divorces in the 1990s ; Marriage and Divorce Laws in China International Family Law ; Foreigners and divorces in China

Wife Selling and Human Trafficking in Vietnam

Market reforms in Vietnam have brought back the practice of prostitution and selling women. Some girls and young women have been kidnaped and taken to China and sold as brides and prostitutes. The Wall Street Journal described 22-woman who was offered a job at a candy factory. When she showed up for work she was abducted and taken across the border to China and sold to a farmer for $350. The initial kidnapper get paid around $100 with remainder going to the brokers. Other women have been sold to brothels.

In 2001, Associated Press reported: “About 10,400 Vietnamese women have been sold to China to be wives of Chinese men or to work as maids or prostitutes, a state-controlled newspaper reported on Monday. Of the total, 1,829 women have escaped back to Vietnam with 200 children fathered by Chinese, the Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) newspaper quoted a Ministry of Public Security report as saying. [Source: Associated Press, May 14, 2001 -]

“Since normalization, there has been increased trade as well as visits by villagers across the border. Men in southern China who have difficulty marrying local women have looked to Vietnam for wives. Vietnamese wives are also popular among Taiwanese men and Vietnamese Americans. In Ho Chi Minh City alone, more than 10,000 Vietnamese women have married foreigners in the past few years, officials say. Most of the foreign grooms are Taiwanese or Vietnamese Americans. Vietnamese police have broken up several women trafficking rings in recent years. -

Vietnamese Bride Trade in China

Reporting from Dongxing, China,Ma Guihua of Inter Press Service wrote: "The easing of border restrictions between China and Vietnam has provided a boon to impoverished Chinese farmers: a steady influx of Vietnamese brides. Many of these women are brought to China by human traffickers and sold into marriage, but many are simply looking for a better life. In fact, Chinese authorities are sometimes frustrated when they repatriate Vietnamese women only to have them return to China as soon as their back is turned. "After a brief research in Guangxi I feel very much puzzled myself as to whether this is illegal migration or human trafficking," said Liu Meng, professor at the National Women's University of China. Of the eight brothers in the Deng family in Ban'ai village, some 20 kilometers from this city on the border with Vietnam in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southwestern China, four have Vietnamese wives. Deng Wenquan, 32, has a Vietnamese wife from Hanoi, for whom he paid about 400 yuan (US$48) when he took a fancy to her at a villager's home. [Source: Ma Guihua, Inter Press Service, November 14, 2002]

"She is nice and good at housework. My parents treat her well. Life is now a little better than the days without her," said Deng, who added that he would like to visit his parents-in-law in Vietnam if he had the money. Deng Wenquan seems surer of his wife than his elder brother Deng Wendong, whose first Vietnamese wife ran off (he now has a second one). "I give her complete freedom," said Wenquan. "She will stay if she wants to live with us."

"Mai, Wenquan's wife and four years his junior, is a high-school graduate. "If he were an old guy, I wouldn't have married him. I would try to report to the police," she said. Mai did not know she was going to end up married to a Chinese man when she came to Ban'ai, and says she was deceived by an acquaintance of her aunt. Still, she says she has since decided to stay on in China, despite her parents' entreaties to remain in Vietnam after she visited them in Hanoi in 1999. "They reported the trafficker to the Vietnamese people and got him arrested," Mai added. "I want to live with my parents. But I'm not sure that I could marry a good man there. This man is good to me and never beats me, although sometimes we do quarrel," said Mai, showing the photos of her family in Vietnam and China.

"Thirteen years after Deng Wendong's first Vietnamese wife left him and took their daughter with her, he got another bride from across the border. "She is 27 and was brought here by her father's sister, wife of an overseas Chinese in here," said Deng, 50, who earns a meager living from fishing and occasional rock-chipping. Deng still keeps on his wall a picture of his ex-wife, whom he bought for 300 yuan. "She's very capable [of doing housework and farming]. But I was too poor, so she gave up after living with me for seven years," he mused. Deng says he wanted a Vietnamese wife the second time around for economic reasons. "It costs dearly to get a Chinese girl for a wife," he explained. "People would look down upon you if you don't have money or a wife. Having a Vietnamese bride is cheaper but will nevertheless earn you respect. At least you have a family."

"Many residents in Dongxing City, which shares 35.77km of boundary line and 42km of coastline with Vietnam, view marriage with women brought across the border, whether by traffickers or other means, as a pragmatic matter. Many do not find this practice in border areas strange, despite the fact that buying wives is illegal and concerns by officials and activists that Vietnamese women are often deceived or forced into these marriages. From the viewpoint of the men here, they get in touch with an intermediary or matchmaker and have to give money to a bride's family in traditional society, so it is not much different paying to get a bride across the border. This trend is facilitated by the easy movement of people and goods along the border areas, since China normalized diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1989. Border residents from Vietnam come to China easily and freely on day passes, but many overstay.

A survey in Dongxing in 1999 showed that there 1,269 Vietnamese women who were illegal residents - there could well be more today. More than 80 percent of those women had elementary-school education at the most. "Most of the Vietnamese women entered China illegally for marriage, some were trafficked in," said Wei Xiaoning of the rights section of Guangxi Women's Federation. More than 30 of the 1,500 Ban'ai villagers have bought Vietnamese as wives, village chief Tang Guoqiang says, not counting the women who go ahead and live with Vietnamese women without marriage. "Most of these men are too poor or too old to marry Chinese girls," said Tang. The usual tradition is that a bridegroom has to pay 8,000-10,000 yuan to the bride's parents as a betrothal gift, a fee too big for farmers like Deng Wenquan. When talking about their wives, the men chat about how they keep house and take care of the family. They accept, in matter-of-fact fashion, that some women might decide to leave them one day. Pei Xingfu, who had confessed to kidnapping a Vietnamese woman from the highway in broad daylight, estimates that 30-40 percent of his fellow villagers marry Vietnamese women. "Thanks to the opening and reform, villagers here are better off and therefore can afford to marry Chinese brides," said Pei, also from Ban'ai village. "But I don't understand why they still want to wed Vietnamese women, even those young men at their prime age of 26-30 want them," he added, puzzled.

"The increase in cross-border marriages has also been seen in the seven other border areas with Vietnam in Guangxi autonomous region. The women's federation in Guangxi says that nearly 99 percent of the 8,002 Vietnamese women living there as of 1999 were married to locals, but none went through legal marriage formalities. Only 0.3 percent of the 9,745 children born from these unions were registered. Police have been trying to crack down on traffickers and to repatriate victims, but this has not been easy.

"We treat them as victims, take good care of them and teach them legal knowledge. But for those who have lived in China for years and would not want to be repatriated, we could do nothing but treat them as illegal entrants," said Wei Gengwang, deputy chief of Dongxing City Public Security Bureau. "When we send them home, often no sooner had our officers set their feet back, these women had already returned to China," he added. He said few buyers of trafficked women have been punished. The matter is even more complicated if a woman was first trafficked into China - without knowing she was to be married off - but after the marriage decides to stay on or refuses to return to Vietnam. Officials also find it hard to deal with situations where repatriation would mean destroying a union that has been in place for years.

"Chinese researchers say they have come across Vietnamese wives who say they are contented in China. "The purpose of the Vietnamese women in China is to find husbands or make money. If they are willing to marry someone and money changes hands, the money could be interpreted as fees paid for matchmakers," argued Liu Meng. But unlike traditional matchmaking in China, where the matchmaker knows the brides' background, those in the marriage trade of Vietnamese women know little about those they send to China. But whatever this movement of people is called, the influx of sold Vietnamese brides in Guangxi and farther into inner China raises social issues. Wei Xiaoning of the Guangxi Women's Federation says the marriages, in some cases bigamy, are not in line with China's Marriage Law and not protected by law. Unregistered children from these unions may lose out on health or other services. Meanwhile, a month into his latest marriage, Deng Wendong said his new bride "looks hard-working". But he said: "Marriage is like gambling. I can never tell whether she will stay."

Vietnamese Brides for Sale in China

Reporting from Lao Cai, a Vietnamese town on the Chinese border, Cat Barton of AFP wrote: “When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride. The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam. "My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes — he sold his own sister to China," Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told AFP at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town Lao Cai. [Source: Cat Barton, AFP, June 25, 2014 +++]

“The Lao Cai shelter currently houses a dozen girls from various ethnic minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides. "I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn't imagine it would happen to me," Kiab said. The government says it has launched education programmes in rural areas, near the border, warning young girls not to trust outsiders. +++

“May Na, from the Hmong ethnic minority, was 13 when her uncle took her across the border and forced her to marry a Chinese man. "I could not accept it. They left me at home alone and I climbed over the wall and ran away. I was wandering for more than a day, lost, sleeping in the streets, crying," she said. Eventually, Na ended up at a police station, but because she spoke neither Chinese nor Vietnamese — only her native Hmong — it took police a month to figure out what had happened and return her to Vietnam. Now 16, Na — the eldest of five children — is learning Vietnamese at the Lao Cai centre. Her uncle has been arrested, she said, but she has chosen not to return to her own family. "I was so sad when I was in China. It was a painful experience for me," she said. +++

Human Trafficking of Vietnamese Women in China

Cat Barton of AFP wrote: “Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007. "The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy," he added. It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage. [Source: Cat Barton, AFP, June 25, 2014 +++]

“Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350 kilometers, marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women. "It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us," said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the frontier illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend. +++

“In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear. "I worry so much about it, as do all the mothers in the villages, but it has happened to a lot of girls already," said Phan Pa May, a community elder from the Red Dao ethnic minority group. "I have one daughter. She's already married, but I'm worried about my granddaughter. We always ask where she is going, and tell her not to talk on the phone or trust anyone." +++

“Activists working to combat trafficking in Vietnam said police and authorities take the problem "very seriously". The shelter in Lao Cai opened in 2010 and has helped scores of female victims. "There is nothing at home for these girls, not even enough food to eat," said director Nguyen Tuong Long, referring to the dire poverty that is another key driver. +++

“Long, the centre director, says he believes the number of cases is falling. In neighbouring Cambodia, there have been some prosecutions, but An Sam Ath of rights group Licadho said the scourge is still happening, adding: "I am worried the problem will spread." Anti-trafficking groups in Vietnam say it is hard to warn girls of the risks when it is often a family member or friend carrying out the deception. Instead, they say there should be harsher penalties for traffickers — including, for example, prosecutions at local level to raise awareness in villages of potential punishments to deter people from trying.” +++

Myanmar’s Women Forced to Be Chinese Brides

Some girls and young women are kidnaped and taken to China and sold as brides. “Bride trafficking is very common here in Shan State,” Zaw Min Tun, a member of the police anti-human-trafficking task force in Lashio, a town in northern Shan, told the New York Times. “But only a few people are really aware of the trafficking.” “A study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand estimated that about 21,000 women and girls from northern Myanmar were forced into marriage in just one province in China from 2013 to 2017.” Official figures often only include cases where Burmese authorities have been able to rescue the victim, and may only represent a fraction of the true number of Burmese women trafficked into China. “A Human Rights Watch report released in 2019 described the forces that have galvanized bride trafficking from Myanmar to China: “A porous border and lack of response by law enforcement agencies on both sides created an environment in which traffickers flourish.”[Source: Hannah Beech New York Times, August 17, 2019; Lawi Weng, the Irrawaddy, December 24, 2013]

David Eimer wrote in The Telegraph, “Aba was just 12-years-old when she left her hometown of Muse in Burma to visit Yunnan Province in China's far southwest. When she crossed the border, she was expecting to spend only a few hours away from home. But it would be three long years before Aba saw her family again. Like thousands of other young girls and women from Burma, she had been duped into coming to China so she could be sold into a forced marriage to one of the growing number of Chinese men who – because there are not enough girl babies born in China – cannot find wives any other way. [Source: David Eimer, The Telegraph, September 4, 2011 ]

“During her time in China, Aba endured routine beatings, while never being able to communicate with her family or even go outside on her own. Above all, she lived with the knowledge that she was destined to be married to the son of the family that had bought her – as if she was one of the pigs or chickens that ran around their farm. "I was sold for 20,000 Yuan (£1,880)," said Aba. "I was too young to get married when they bought me. It was later that they told me I had to get married to their son. I was lucky in a way. If I had been two or three years older when I was taken, I'd be married to him now."

“Most people wouldn't consider it fortunate to be kidnapped as a child and sold into virtual slavery. But Aba is one of the lucky ones. Not only did she escape a forced marriage, but she was rescued and was able to return home. For most of the women from Burma who are sold as unwilling brides in China, there are no happy endings. Instead, they face at best lives of misery and drudgery. At worst, they are driven to suicide. No one knows how many thousands of women are trafficked into China each year to be the wives of the men known as guang gun, or bare branches, the bachelors in rural areas who cannot find brides by conventional means. What is certain is that it is a number increasing all the time. Min Naing, chief of the Special Anti-Human Trafficking Police Unit in Naypyidaw, told The Irrawaddy poor Burmese women living in border areas are taken in by promises of a good life, and well paid work, on the other side of the border.

Human Trafficking Trade Between China and Myanmar

David Eimer wrote in The Telegraph, “Desperate poverty and frequent food shortages in Myanmar make it very easy for the traffickers to trick women into leaving for China and jobs that will never materialise. Instead, the women are sold as wives. Prices for the women range from 6,000 to 40,000 Yuan (£560-£3750), depending on their age and appearance. According to the Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (Kwat), a Thai-based NGO that helps trafficked Burmese women, around 25 per cent of the women sold in China are under 18. "The men always want healthy, young women who can produce babies. The women are really just regarded as baby-making machines," said Julia Marip, the head of Kwat's anti-trafficking programme in Yunnan Province. [Source: David Eimer, The Telegraph, September 4, 2011]

Once Aba arrived in Ruili, a scruffy border town in Yunnan that is the main transit point for trafficked women from Burma, she was sold to a family who owned a cotton farm in the northeast of China. Now almost 16 and pretty with a shy smile, Aba is one of three children of a casual labourer and an unemployed mother. Thankfully, Aba escaped being paraded in public in front of potential buyers, which is the fate of many trafficked women. It is a brutal and dehumanising experience. "Sometimes they'll be sold in markets that are held in parks. The traffickers will put the women in nice dresses and make-up. It's very cruel, because the women are happy to be wearing nice clothes, which they've never had before, and then they are sold like vegetables," said Miss Marip.

Myanmar Woman Endures and Escapes a Forced Marriage in China

"I couldn't speak Chinese at first, so I couldn't understand what chores I had to do, so I would make mistakes. Then the mother would beat and slap me," said Aba. "I was afraid a lot of the time and very lonely because I had no friends to talk to. I cried a lot. In the beginning, they told me gently to stop crying. Later on, they would shout at me when I cried." [Source: David Eimer, The Telegraph, September 4, 2011]

David Eimer wrote in The Telegraph, “Escaping was not an option; she had no money and no idea where she was in China, while the family made sure she couldn't slip away. "They watched me all the time. I wasn't allowed to go out on my own." One day, she discovered why she was being guarded so closely. She was told that she was to be married to the 20 year-old son of the family. "I had no idea that was why they had taken me until then. I refused but they told me I had to marry him," said Aba.

“Virtually all women sold as forced brides find themselves trapped in what is essentially a marital prison. "Most trafficked women don't escape. We can't help them," said Miss Marip. Faced with the hopelessness of their situations, some choose to end their lives by swallowing the fatal chemical pesticides used on farms, the most common way to commit suicide in the Chinese countryside.

“But Aba did avoid a forced marriage. During a routine identity card check in her area, the police discovered that she was a foreigner and she was taken away, just weeks before she was due to be wed. "I explained what had happened to me and the police went to see the family. They told them, 'You can't buy people, they're not animals'. They asked me if I wanted to prosecute them but I said, 'no'. I just wanted to forget it and go home," said Aba.

“Three years after she had disappeared from her parents' lives, Aba walked alone across the Chinese/Burmese border and returned to her home. "My parents were very shocked to see me. They started crying and so did I. I was so happy to see them," said Aba. Her mother and father had tried to find their daughter. "They went to the Muse police and told them I had been kidnapped and taken to China. But the police asked for 6,000 Yuan (£560) to investigate and my parents couldn't afford to pay," said Aba. According to Kwat, that is the standard response of the Burmese authorities to cases of trafficked women. On the other side of the border, the Chinese police devote more energy to combating the domestic trafficking of children than they do to investigating the gangs who bring in women from overseas.

“Until last year, the tiny minority of trafficked women who do escape were treated as illegal immigrants and imprisoned until they could be repatriated. For Unesco's David Feingold, there is only so much the authorities can do anyway. "The idea that police enforcement can stop trafficking is ludicrous. The US hasn't been able to do it and they have almost unlimited resources. You have to address the underlying economic and social issues that prompt migration across borders," he said.

“Aba knows as well as anyone what they are. Four months ago, the high unemployment in Burma saw her return to Ruili illegally in search of a job. Now, she earns 650 Yuan (£60) a month working as a waitress in a restaurant. Her time as a trafficked teenager has left her speaking fluent Mandarin, which enables her to blend in with the locals. Learning Chinese, though, is scant compensation for the three years of her life that was stolen from her. "I still hate the family for what they did to me," said Aba. "I think I always will.”

Police Rescue 56 Burmese Women Trafficked to China

In December 2013, Lawi Weng wrote in the Irrawaddy, “Burma’s national anti-human trafficking police rescued 56 women taken to China against their will in the first 11 months of this year, an official said. Min Naing, chief of the Special Anti-Human Trafficking Police Unit in Naypyidaw, told The Irrawaddy that women taken to China were the largest single group among the 244 people the agency rescued in 2013 up to the end of November. Another 20 cases were women trafficked across the border into Thailand, he said. [Source: Lawi Weng, the Irrawaddy, December 24, 2013 =]

“There were 56 cases from China. They were from Shan State and were trafficked and forced to marry with Chinese men,” said Min Naing. The unit rescued over 100 people trafficked to China last year. He said that in these cases, Chinese men typically bought women from brokers in Burma and took them over the border to marry them. Many of the women were forced to work without pay, and were raped, he said. “It is rare to see they were treated like a wife after they got married. We found that some people who married them sold them to other men for sex,” Min Naing said, added that in some cases there was evidence the rescued women had been tortured while in China. =

“In November, Burmese and Chinese police collaborated to close down a matchmaking agency that was allegedly luring Burmese women in northern Shan State border towns into marriages with Chinese men. The agency’s Chinese manager was deported from Burma after authorities found that the company was recruiting Burmese brides with promises including earnings of $400 per month in China. =

“Among the other cases dealt with by the anti-human trafficking unit this year, 33 involved people under 16 years old and another 25 involved people aged 16-18. The majority of all those trafficked and rescued, 164, were women. There were 75 men and 176 women convicted of crimes in the cases, he said. Under Article 24 of Burma’s Penal Code, a human trafficking conviction carries a sentence of between 10 and 20 years.” =

In 2006, six Myanmar nationals were jailed for life or other “fixed terms” for selling 23 Myanmar girls to Chinese peasants as wives Xinhua reported. The girls were smuggled to Anhui Province in 2005.

Teenage Brides from Myanmar in China: ‘Ma, I’ve Been Sold’

Reporting from Mongyai, Myanmar, Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: “She did not know where she was. She did not speak the language. She was 16 years old. The man said he was her husband — at least that’s what the translation app indicated — and he pressed himself against her. Nyo, a girl from a mountain village in the Shan hills of Myanmar, wasn’t quite sure how pregnancy worked. But it happened. The baby, 9 days old and downy, looks undeniably Chinese. “Like her father,” Nyo said. “The same lips.” “Chinese,” she added, like a curse. [Source: Hannah Beech New York Times, August 17, 2019]

“The hamlet in Mongyai Township, high in the Shan hills of northeastern Myanmar, is little more than an army garrison, with soldiers and their families sheltering in metal-roofed shacks on dirt lanes. After finishing school in 2018, Nyo and her classmate, Phyu, who are being identified by their nicknames because they are minors, decided they wanted more than what this impoverished army outpost offered. A neighbor, Daw San Kyi, promised them waitressing jobs on the border with China, through the connections of another villager, Daw Hnin Wai. Ms. Hnin Wai had the nicest home in the village, much fancier than anyone else’s, so the waitressing offer carried weight. “We trusted them,” Phyu, now 17, said.

“Early one morning in July 2018, a van came to Mongyai to pick the girls up. The mountain road made Phyu carsick. Ms. San Kyi offered her four pills for her nausea, one pink and three white. After that, Phyu’s recollection of events is fuzzy. Someone also injected her arm with something, she said. A photo taken of her during that time shows her face puffy and eyes dazed. “Before this happened, Phyu was so happy and active,” said Daw Aye Oo, her mother. “But they gave her something to make her forget and trigger her sexuality. They beat her. She doesn’t know she is ruined.”

“Nyo, also now 17, refused to take any pills. Her memory is clearer but no less confusing. There were stops at guesthouses along the border and a story about the heavy rain closing the restaurant where they were supposed to work. There was a boat ride and more cars. After more than 10 days in transit, the idea of working in a restaurant receded from their futures, Nyo said. She and Phyu tried to run away twice, but they didn’t know where to go. The traffickers caught them and locked them in a room. Their phones had no signal.

“Men who spoke Chinese came to see them. Some pointed at one girl, some at the other. “I had a sense I was being sold, but I could not escape,” Phyu said. One of the traffickers told Phyu she was lucky. He was allowing her to choose among the men. Phyu rejected a fat man and another who was old. She cried but the trafficker told her to stop because she needed to look pretty for her potential husband. “I said I didn’t want to get married,” Phyu said. “I wanted to go home.”

“Neither girl remembers a border crossing, but suddenly they were in China. The girls were split up, each paired with a supposed husband, although no marriage paperwork was ever filled out, to their knowledge. After a long train ride, Phyu thought she had ended up in Beijing. The man who had bought her was Yuan Feng, 21. “The city had lots of bright lights and escalators. “The buildings were so tall that I couldn’t see the tops,” she said. Mr. Yuan tried to communicate by using his phone as a translation device, but Phyu refused to speak. She was locked in a room with a television. In the evenings, he would come in and inject her arm and then force her to have sex, she said. “I felt numb,” Phyu said. “He smelled sour. He smoked.”

“Eventually, she pretended to be happy, Phyu said, and the injections stopped. They went out to a shopping center, but Mr. Yuan followed her everywhere, even to the bathroom. Another time, they went to an amusement park with Mr. Yuan’s sister and her young children. He rode the rides. Phyu did not. Phyu learned some phrases in Mandarin. “‘Bu ku le’ means ‘don’t cry,’” she said. “She learned the passcode to her husband’s phone, and when he was drunk at night she called her mother through a social media app. “I was glad to see her, but she didn’t look like herself,” Ms. Aye Oo, her mother, said. “She said, ‘Ma, I’ve been sold.’”

Rescue of the Teenage Myanmar Brides in China

Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: Nyo wasn’t sure where she had been taken in China, but she was determined to find out. At first, Gao Ji, her husband, also locked her in a room without any internet. He beat her, Nyo said. But as the days passed, he began to trust her and allowed her to use social media, including WeChat, the Chinese social media platform. Mr. Gao’s mother, who lived with them, fretted that Nyo was too thin to bear children. She made her foreign daughter-in-law fortifying rice porridge, thick wheat noodles and steamed buns. “She would always say, ‘chi, chi,’” Nyo said, using the Mandarin word for “eat.” [Source: Hannah Beech New York Times, August 17, 2019]

“With her phone, Nyo secretly filmed what she could to determine her whereabouts: a drive on the back of Mr. Gao’s scooter, the license plate of the family car, the entrance to their two-story house. She geotagged each video and photo. The place was Xiangcheng County in Henan Province. Located on China’s central plains, Henan is one of the country’s most populous provinces, with about 100 million people, double Myanmar’s population. In the 2005 national census, Henan reported one of the widest gender disparities in China, with 142 boys born for every 100 girls. The area around Xiangcheng has a history of importing trafficked women. In 2019. three women from Myanmar and one from Vietnam were rescued there, Henan news media reported. In 2009, another 10 from Myanmar were found.

“It turned out that Phyu was in Xiangcheng, too, not Beijing. To girls from an isolated village in Myanmar, Xiangcheng seemed impossibly big. The house, too, was big, Nyo said, spacious enough that Mr. Gao’s parents couldn’t hear when she screamed as he forced himself on her. “I think he was rich,” she said. “Because otherwise he couldn’t afford to buy a wife and have such a big house.” In truth, it is poorer Chinese men who tend to buy trafficked women as wives. Still, even they must pay a lot. Nyo was sold for $26,000, said Myo Zaw Win, a police officer in Shan who tracked her case.

“Through a Shan woman who has helped rescue girls sold into sexual slavery in China, Mr. Myo Zaw Win started corresponding with Nyo on Mr. Gao’s WeChat account, pretending to be her brother. Then the policeman, who had been in communication with Chinese authorities, made his move. Mr. Gao had become suspicious and asked who Mr. Myo Zaw Win really was. He responded with a single word in English: “Police.”

“Two months after the girls arrived in Xiangcheng, the Chinese police knocked on their husbands’ doors. Mr. Yuan and Mr. Gao, the girls’ husbands, were detained for at least 30 days, as mandated by the law, said Niu Tianhui, a spokesman for the Xiangcheng police bureau. He said he did not know whether they spent further time in detention. “The families of the husbands are mad about the case because they spent a lot of money but lost their wives,” Mr. Niu said. A Chinese man, Zhao Moumou, was arrested on accusations of forcing the two girls into sexual servitude.

“It would be weeks before the two girls returned to Mongyai. First, they were sent to a Chinese police station, where they were charged with illegal immigration. Then they journeyed south by train to a shelter for trafficked girls in northern Shan. “When I saw Burmese letters on the signs, I was so happy,” Phyu said of the moment they stepped back in Myanmar.

“Ms. San Kyi, the neighbor who the girls say kidnapped them, is now in jail in Lashio. Ms. Hnin Wai, the other woman believed to be a local trafficker, is on the run.Ms. Hnin Wai’s husband, U Naung Naung, still lives in the spacious pink house with a portico that his wife’s trafficking commissions appear to have earned them. He says he has no idea where she is. “I didn’t know she was doing anything wrong,” Mr. Naung Naung, an army sergeant, said. “I thought she made her money working as a fortuneteller.”

“Mr. Naung Naung said he had apologized repeatedly to the families of the two girls. But Phyu’s mother, who lives just down the street from him, said he had never approached her. As her pregnancy progressed, Nyo decided she would give up the child for adoption. Then her baby was born. “I wanted to give her away but I looked at her and I loved her,” Nyo said. “Even with that Chinese animal’s lips.”

Pakistan-China Bride Trade

Salman Masood and Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: ““The Pakistani government has cracked down on brokers said to have arranged the marriages, arresting at least two dozen Chinese citizens and Pakistanis and charging them with human trafficking. The Chinese Embassy denied that Pakistani brides were being mistreated in China. But Human Rights Watch said last month that the trafficking allegations were “disturbingly similar” to past patterns in which women from other poor Asian countries — North Korea, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam — were brought to China as brides and subjected to abuse. “Both Pakistan and China should take seriously increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery,” the rights group’s China director, Sophie Richardson, wrote on its website..[Source: Salman Masood and Amy Qin, New York Times, May 27, 2019]

“Pakistani investigators said men in China paid the brokers to arrange marriages with local women, staying in rented houses in Pakistan until the weddings were performed. The men covered the costs of the ceremonies, and in some cases they paid the women’s families the equivalent of thousands of dollars, investigators said. None of that is illegal in Pakistan. The human trafficking charges come from the allegations that women were forced into prostitution or brought to China under false pretenses. In some cases, investigators say, the men were provided with forged documents indicating that they were Muslim.

“Other men sought out wives from Pakistan’s Christian minority, many of whom are impoverished and subjected to discrimination, investigators said. But virtually all of the women, Christian and Muslim alike, were drawn by the hope of better economic prospects.After news outlets in Pakistan reported the raids and the trafficking charges, the Chinese Embassy there said it supported the government’s efforts to combat crime. But it denied that Pakistani wives in China had been forced into prostitution or that their organs had been harvested, allegations in some Pakistani news reports that investigators said had not been substantiated.

Pakistan has also “been rocked by charges that at least 150 women were brought to China as brides under false pretenses — not only lied to, but in some cases forced into prostitution. Others said they were made to work in bars and clubs, an unacceptable practice in Pakistan’s conservative Muslim culture.

“Around the same time local marriage agency that many local men in the Dongzhang area had consulted for help in finding Pakistani wives was shuttered. But according to Mr. Zhang and other villagers in Dongzhang, there are still a number of Pakistani women in the area. Two Pakistani wives in a neighboring village are said to be pregnant. “There are no girls here,” said Mr. Zhang’s mother, 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.”

Pakistani Women Who Thought She’d Married a Rich Muslim Chinese Farmer

Reporting from Pakistan,Salman Masood and Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: “Rabia Kanwal’s parents were sure her marriage to a wealthy Chinese Muslim she had just met would give her a comfortable future, far from the hardships of their lives in Pakistan. But she had a premonition. “I was not excited,” said Ms. Kanwal, 22, who lives in a poor neighborhood in the city of Gujranwala, in the eastern province of Punjab. “I felt something bad was going to happen.” Arranged marriages are common in Pakistan, but this one was unusual. The groom, who said he was a rich poultry farmer, met Ms. Kanwal’s family during a monthslong stay on a tourist visa. He had to use a Chinese-Urdu translation app to communicate with them, but over all, he made a favorable impression. Ms. Kanwal went through with the wedding. But upon moving to China with her new husband in February, she said, she was disappointed by what she found: He was a poor farmer, not a wealthy one. Far worse, he was not a Muslim. Within days, with the help of the Pakistani Embassy, she was back home and pursuing a divorce.[Source: Salman Masood and Amy Qin, New York Times, May 27, 2019]

Ms. Kanwal said afterwards: “My parents said that our neighbor’s girls were happy in China, so I would be, too.” “She said she met her husband at the marriage broker’s office in Islamabad, where there were many other Chinese men and Pakistani women. According to Ms. Kanwal, he told her family that he was Muslim and recited the first tenet of the Muslim faith, which every follower must know: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.” But Ms. Kanwal never saw him pray, even when they visited the famous Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

After the wedding, they flew to Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region in western China. After a brief stopover there, they flew on to Henan Province in central China. Then, after a four-hour drive past fields of wheat and corn, they arrived at Dongzhang village in Shandong Province, where she saw her husband’s duck farm. It was not the sprawling operation of a wealthy man that she had envisioned, but a modest family farm where he lived with his parents and two brothers. “They were not even Muslim and he had faked it all along,” she said. “There weren’t even proper washrooms in their house. I got agitated and started crying.”

Her husband, Zhang Shuchen, 33, tells a different story. Over a meal of cold-tossed pig liver and stir-fried tomato and egg near his family home in Dongzhang, the boyish farmer acknowledged that he had traveled to Pakistan late last year and paid around $14,500 to a Chinese broker in the hopes of bringing home a Pakistani bride. It was his first visit to Pakistan, he said, and the poverty there reminded him of China in the 1980s and ’90s. When he first met Ms. Kanwal, he said, he liked her. But he said he was upfront with her that while he had converted to Islam on paper, he was not a true believer. “I told her I wasn’t a Muslim,” Mr. Zhang said in an interview. He added that Ms. Kanwal had taught him the first principle of the Muslim faith.

“Ms. Kanwal later stood by her insistence that she did not know Mr. Zhang was not Muslim, and denied she had taught him the first principle. Previously a logistics warehouse worker in southern China, Mr. Zhang said he now earned about $2,900 a month farming ducks, far more than the $180 or so that the average Chinese farmer made per month in 2018, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

“The New York Times was unable to independently verify Mr. Zhang’s income. But on a recent visit to the Zhang family home, a Times reporter found a newly built housing compound with multiple bedrooms and shiny tile floors. Outside the family home, Mr. Zhang’s mother, who is in her 60s, recalled being puzzled by Ms. Kanwal’s reactions. “She is religious, so when she came here I went out of my way not to give her any pork,” she said, as a small guard dog barked nearby. “I stir-fried chicken and made egg omelets for her. But no matter what I served her, she just refused to eat.”

Ms. Kanwal said the family locked her in a room for two days, trying to pressure her to stay. (Mr. Zhang denied the accusation.) She managed to email the Pakistani Embassy, whose staff connected her through to the Chinese police, who took her away and made arrangements with the embassy for her return to Pakistan. Her stay in China lasted eight days. She said it was “horrible and beyond words.” I prayed daily for hours, asking God to take me safely back to my country, to my people,” Ms. Kanwal said. This month, she filed for divorce at a family court in Gujranwala, saying in her application that Mr. Zhang forced her into “immoral activities” and that she “would prefer to die instead of living with him.”

629 Pakistani Girls Sold as Brides to China

Reporting from Lahore,Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable. The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes” in 2018 and 2019.[Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, December 4, 2019]

“But since the time it was put together in June, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt. Officials with knowledge of the investigations say that is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing. The biggest case against traffickers has fallen apart. In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for speaking out.

“It is not known how many more women and girls were trafficked since the list was put together. But the official said, “the lucrative trade continues.” He spoke to the AP in an interview conducted hundreds of kilometers from his place of work to protect his identity. “The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($25,000 and $65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($1,500), is given to the family,” he said.

“The official, with years of experience studying human trafficking in Pakistan, said many of the women who spoke to investigators told of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and, in some cases, forced prostitution. Although no evidence has emerged, at least one investigation report contains allegations of organs being harvested from some of the women sent to China.

“In September, Pakistan’s investigation agency sent a report it labeled “fake Chinese marriages cases” to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The report, a copy of which was attained by the AP, provided details of cases registered against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 of their Pakistani associates in two cities in eastern Punjab province — Faisalabad, Lahore — as well as in the capital Islamabad. The Chinese suspects included the 31 later acquitted in court.

“The report said police discovered two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one operated from an Islamic center and madrassa — the first known report of poor Muslims also being targeted by brokers. The Muslim cleric involved fled police.

“After the acquittals, there are other cases before the courts involving arrested Pakistani and at least another 21 Chinese suspects, according to the report sent to the prime minister in September. But the Chinese defendants in the cases were all granted bail and left the country, say activists and a court official. Activists and human rights workers say Pakistan has sought to keep the trafficking of brides quiet so as not to jeopardize Pakistan’s increasingly close economic relationship with China.

Pakistani Christians Targeted to Be Sold as Brides in China

Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: “An AP investigation earlier this year revealed how Pakistan’s Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland. Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back. The AP spoke to police and court officials and more than a dozen brides — some of whom made it back to Pakistan, others who remained trapped in China — as well as remorseful parents, neighbors, relatives and human rights workers. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, December 4, 2019]

“Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa, or religious school.

“Investigators put together the list of 629 women from Pakistan’s integrated border management system, which digitally records travel documents at the country’s airports. The information includes the brides’ national identity numbers, their Chinese husbands’ names and the dates of their marriages. All but a handful of the marriages took place in 2018 and up to April 2019. One of the senior officials said it was believed all 629 were sold to grooms by their families.

“An AP investigation earlier this year revealed how Pakistan’s Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland. Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back. The AP spoke to police and court officials and more than a dozen brides — some of whom made it back to Pakistan, others who remained trapped in China — as well as remorseful parents, neighbors, relatives and human rights workers. Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Image Sources: Nolls website,

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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