A Chinese court has sentenced six people to jail in connection with a bride trafficking case that sparked outrage across the country and around the world last year. Activists are now calling for tougher penalties to deter against this crime.
The case first made headlines in January 2022 when a vlogger found the victim, a woman in her 40s called Xiaohuamei, living in a hut with a chain around her neck in a remote village in Jiangsu province, China.
The court later heard that Xiaohuamei had been abducted as a teenager from her hometown and sold to a farmer the equivalent of around $600. A year later, she was sold on to a couple who eventually sold her to the father of the man who would torture and abuse her for over twenty years.
Her husband and abuser, Dong, forced Xiaohuamei to have eight children. In 2017, he moved her into an outdoor hut where he kept her tied up, denying her meals, medical care and access to water and electricity.
Although Xiaohuamei was reportedly capable of taking care of herself and communicating with others when she first arrived at Dong’s house, her schizophrenia worsened during her ordeal.
Was justice served?
When the case first went viral, local authorities dismissed trafficking allegations, using Xiaohuamei’s mental illness and the excuse of marital conflict to justify the conditions in which her husband kept her.
But ensuing public outrage on social media led the police to launch a criminal investigation and to Dong eventually receiving a jail sentence of nine years for his crime.
News of the verdict was not received well on social media platform Weibo, where most users felt that the sentence was too lenient. “It’s her whole life, but just nine years for him,” one user said, according to BBC News.
Xiaohuamei’s story has ignited calls for legal reform in China, including introducing harsher sentences for bride trafficking as a means of deterring buyers and traffickers.