“When I was in Pakistan, he behaved well. But after arriving here, he started beating me. Look, here I have a scar. He is inviting men here and asks me to have sex with them. I keep crying and refuse, and then he beats me,” 17-year-old Maryam sobbed to her father, Iqbal, on a video chat. She was speaking about her husband, with whom she moved to China after leaving Pakistan earlier in the year.
Horrified, Iqbal became distressed when his daughter told him how her new Chinese husband had beaten and choked her, and was trying to prostitute her to other men. Whenever she pleaded to be returned to Pakistan, her husband would threaten to remove her kidneys and kill her.
Iqbal, a poor labourer explained to RFE/FL how he agreed to the marriage because of dire poverty, but did not disclose how much money he received for the wedding.
“In our community, we have to arrange a dowry, but the Chinese do not ask for a dowry. Your daughter will live a better life and she will be sending you money from China every month. But nothing as such happened.”
Both he and his daughter are illiterate. Iqbal has no documents to prove the wedding took place, nor does he know his son-in-law’s name or where his daughter is living in China. In fact, he only met his son-in-law once – at Maryam’s wedding.
This is the human trafficking epidemic that is currently sweeping through Pakistan, targeting impoverished Christian families. Often recruited via marriage agencies, families are marrying their young daughters off to Chinese men with the premise of moving to China for a better life. Yet, it is a stark contrast to the grim reality that awaits them when they settle into their new country, where they know no one and do not speak the language. They are abused, forced into prostitution and have even had organs removed to be sold.
Despite China stating that it was corroborating with the Pakistani government, it rejected the accusations by shifting the blame to the media, stating:
“It is worth noting that several media reports have fabricated facts and spread rumours. According to investigations by the Ministry of Public Security of China, there is no forced prostitution or sale of human organs for those Pakistani women who stay in China after marriage with Chinese. The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan has clarified the rumours by issuing a statement on 13th April. We hope that the media reports should seek truth from facts, be objective and fair. We hope the people of China and Pakistan do not believe the rumours. We will never allow a few criminals to undermine China-Pakistan friendship and hurt the friendly feelings between two peoples.”
Despite this, China has been known to be involved in bride trafficking from other poor Asian countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos. Women are routinely promised better lives and jobs in China, only to arrive and find themselves trapped in a sordid web of human trafficking with little escape. And Pakistan may provide an easy and new access to penniless and susceptible women.
Human Rights Watch reported that in China, “the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China now has 30 to 40 million ‘missing women’, an imbalance caused by a preference for boys and exacerbated by the ‘one-child policy’ in place from 1979 to 2015, and ongoing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. This gender gap has made it difficult for many Chinese men to find wives and fuelled a demand for trafficked women from abroad.”
It is believed that as many as 1,000 Pakistani women – the majority of whom are Christians – may have been married to Chinese men since the beginning of the year. Christians consist of less than 2% of the population, and are often discriminated against amongst the vast Muslim majority. As such, Christian women can be easy targets, since they tend to come from uneducated and ostracised communities, where parents might be ready to accept hundreds or thousands of dollars for their daughters’ marriages.