China’s significant gender imbalance has become a major factor in the growing phenomenon of trafficking and forced marriage of foreign women and girls, particularly in rural areas.
Fueled by the country’s notorious one-child policy, preference for male children, and sex-selective abortion, China’s gender imbalance has led to a huge unmet demand for marriage; researchers estimate that there are 30 to 40 million women unaccounted for in China.
Poor Chinese men, facing huge societal pressure to marry but who may be unable to marry Chinese women due to their economic status and increasing numbers of Chinese women leaving rural areas for job opportunities in cities, sometimes look abroad to find women to marry.
While not all marriages to foreign women are forced or illicit, this demand creates an opportunity for deceptive brokers to present women from abroad with job opportunities but instead, can result in them being trafficked into illegal and often abusive marriages.
These traffickers will typically lure women into China with the false promise of a good job or a better future before selling them in abusive situations that can also include forced labor and sex trafficking.
The South China Morning Post reports:
“Each year, deceptive or coercive brokers transport thousands of women from Asian and African countries to China, where they are subjected to sex trafficking, living as a concubine, forced childbearing, and forced labor in domestic servitude under the false pretense of marriage… Through corrupt immigration channels, unscrupulous brokers facilitate marriages with prospective “husbands”, who pay thousands of dollars to recruit and transport women and girls.”
Victims of these forced marriages come from all over the world, including women fleeing from North Korea and those from vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in Myanmar.
Those who flee their captors and report their abuse to Chinese authorities are often jailed, deported, or even forcibly returned to their captors.
While some countries are responding by strengthening preventive efforts against trafficking, others have taken a different approach, banning marriage migration for certain demographics.
Campaigners argue that the latter response could potentially cause more harm than good by encouraging illicit, undocumented, and highly vulnerable channels that are exploited by traffickers.
Instead of banning migration routes, experts argue that countries should train their immigration and law enforcement officials to identify and intervene in possible cases of forced or fraudulent marriage.
Source countries should also commit to providing access to education, employment, identity documentation, and improved livelihoods for groups vulnerable to forced and fraudulent marriage.
While source countries must address socioeconomic push factors within their own borders, forced marriage campaigners are calling on China to take action against perpetrators and better protect victims.