The marriage between a local Christian woman and a Chinese Christian man six months ago in the eastern Pakistani city of Faisalabad had all the signs of a perfect match.
She was 19, he was 21. She was a trained beautician, he a businessman selling cosmetics.
Her family didn’t have much money but the groom generously offered to pay all the wedding expenses.
The proceedings took place in strict accordance with Pakistani customs. This pleased her parents, who felt that their daughter’s new Chinese husband respected local traditions.
There was a formal proposal, followed by a henna ceremony, and finally the “baraat”, where a procession arrives at the bride’s house, vows are exchanged and the bride leaves to start a new life with her husband.
But within a month, the woman, who only wants to be known as Sophia to protect her identity, would be back at her parents’ home. She escaped what she now believes was a racket to traffic Pakistani women into a life of sexual servitude in China.
Saleem Iqbal, a Christian human rights activist who has been tracking such marriages, said he believed at least 700 women, mostly Christian, had wed Chinese men in just over a year. What happens to many of these women is unknown but Human Rights Watch says they are “at risk of sexual slavery”.
In recent weeks, more than two dozen Chinese nationals and local Pakistani middlemen, including at least one Catholic priest, were arrested in connection with alleged sham marriages.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) told the BBC that “gangs of Chinese criminals are trafficking Pakistani women in the garb of marriage into the sex trade”. It said one gang posed as engineers working on a power project while arranging weddings and sending women to China for fees ranging from $12,000 to $25,000 per woman.
Christian women – who come from a mostly poor and marginalised community – are seen to be particularly targeted by traffickers, who pay their parents hundreds or thousands of dollars.
China has denied that Pakistani women are being trafficked into prostitution, saying that “several media reports have fabricated facts and spread rumours”.
But it admitted this week that there had been a surge in Pakistani brides applying for visas this year – with 140 applications in the year to date, a similar amount to all of 2018. A official from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad told local media it had blocked at least 90 applications.
A rise in cases of suspected bride trafficking from Pakistan to China has come amid an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of Chinese nationals into the country. China is investing billions of dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a network of ports, roads, railways and energy projects.
The two countries are close allies and a visa-on-arrival policy for Chinese nationals has also encouraged entrepreneurs and professionals not directly linked to CPEC to flood into Pakistan.
Some are believed to be making the journey to find a bride. Researchers say that the legacy of China’s decades-long one-child policy and accompanying social preference for boys has been to create an imbalanced society where millions of men are unable to find wives.
For years this has fuelled bride trafficking from several poor Asian countries, including Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia – where activists say many women are promised jobs in China but then sold into marriage. It appears that easy access to Pakistan may have created a new trafficking hotspot. [Sourced from BBC]
Comprehension questions …
Q1. How was Sophia’s golden dream shattered so soon after her marriage to a Chinese young man? How did the Chinese young man manage to hoodwink the Pakistani woman’s family to give their daughter in marriage to him?
Q2. What work Salem Iqbal does to curb such immoral practices? What has been the result of his campaign?
Q3. Why do women from Christian families fall prey to Chinese traffickers?
Q4. Why is there such a surge in Chinese young men seeking Pakistani brides? What are the socio-economic factors that worsen this problem?
Q5. Apart from Pakistan, where else the Chinese men go to seek out women to marry?
Answers will be posted on May 21.
Q1. Sophia’s marriage was a disaster. Instead of marital bliss, she found her ‘loving’ husband pushing her to flesh trade. In horror, she had to flee her new-found home in China to escape to Pakistan. Quite clearly, she along with her unsuspecting parents had been duped by the Chinese man who appeared so loving, caring, and generous to Sophia’s poor parents. He agreed to have the marriage conducted in traditional Pakistani way, and gave a handsome amount to them to meet the marriage ceremony expenses. He had projected himself as a salesman of cosmetics. Sophia and her parents were swayed by the man’s charming manners and let him take their daughter to China as his lawful wife.
Q2. Salem Iqbal is a human rights activist who wants to stop innocent Pakistani girls from being trafficked to China for flesh trade. He tracks suspect marriages, and brings the plight of the trapped girls to limelight. He has succeeded in his effort to a large extent.
Q3. The Christian community in Pakistan are generally very poor. This makes them so vulnerable to predators who lure them with promises of a happy married life in China.
Q4. Due to the humongous China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Chinese citizens have descended on Pakistan in droves. Among them, there are many bachelors who can’t find a bride in their own country. Long years of One-child policy in China has distorted the demographic equilibrium of the country. These well-meaning bachelors seek out young girls for marriage. However, some crooks do sneak in from China, and succeed in luring away poor Pakistani girls, only to push them into immoral activities soon after they land in China.
Q5. Chinese young men seeking brides visit other adjoining countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia etc. where poverty is rife, and living conditions are difficult.