of the problem were sown three decades ago. In the years following the Cultural
Revolution, the People’s Republic of China put into effect its one-child
policy. Under its purview, every couple was limited to just one offspring.
While the policy itself finally ended in 2015, its effects did not. First among
these effects was selective abortion, as well as the alleged killing of infant
girls seen as a burden rather than an asset to the family.
that is or should be news to Pakistanis, who often hear of cases of newborn
girls being killed and their bodies thrown into garbage heaps in their own
Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, 2018, showed the sex ratio in China
as 0.94 female to one male. Not only is this a problem in numerical terms (the
men who were born and grew up during the one-child policy era now need brides),
it is also one in sociological terms. The same, mostly male, generation
(instead of the natural 50:50 male-to-female ratio) is experiencing greater
economic prosperity than ever before.
relations between China and Pakistan have matured into unprecedented closeness,
it seems that many Pakistani women have become unwittingly embroiled in a
crisis that shows few signs of abating. In the past several months, reports
have emerged of Pakistani women being married off to Chinese men and being sold
into prostitution once they are in China.
In the most
recent report that came to light last month, two girls, Samina and Tasawwur
Bibi, from Kot Momin in Sargodha district reported that their own
poverty-stricken parents married them off to two Chinese men. The men said that
they were Muslim and that they would keep the girls in Lahore and not take them
to China. They also said that they would help their families start some
businesses and improve their lives. None of this happened. When the girls got
to Lahore, they reportedly found that the men were operating a brothel under
the guise of a marriage bureau. The men had faked everything including their
religion. Sadly, as we hear of many other cases, the story seems fairly typical
though the details can vary.
The case of
Rabia Kanwal that was reported in the New York Times involved a woman and her
family who were lied to. Her husband said that he was Muslim and was a wealthy
farmer. According to Ms Kanwal, she was then flown to China and ended up in
Hunan province after a short stop in Urumqi in Xinjiang province. There she was
surprised to find that her husband was not the wealthy man he had pretended to
be but a poor duck farmer. Ms Kanwal said she wanted to leave, something she
was eventually able to do with the help of the Pakistani embassy. When the
Times talked to her husband, he said he was rich and claimed that he had only
become Muslim on paper for the purposes of marrying her.
another variation on trafficking, sometimes the women report actually being
taken to China where they are sold into prostitution. Pakistani marriage
brokers are also allegedly working and arranging marriages between girls of
poor families and Chinese men who are coming to Pakistan to work on various
projects. The men apparently stay in various rental properties until the marriage
takes place and then leave with the women. In raids carried out by the FIA,
several Chinese individuals have been arrested on charges of operating brothels
or trafficking women.
weeks, the media attention garnered by the issue has led Chinese officials to
denounce allegations that Pakistani brides were being trafficked to China.
Along with the statements, videos of Pakistani women married to Chinese men
were released. In the videos, the women who may or may not have actually been
married to the Chinese men declare in Urdu how happy they are. The men do not
say anything at all but stay in the frame the entire time. Whether or not the
videos are authentic, it is true that China’s woman deficit has previously led
to women being trafficked from other regional countries, such as Myanmar. In a
statement, the rights watchdog Human Rights Watch also attested that the
pattern of trafficking appeared to be very similar.
There is no
doubt that the Chinese government needs to do much more to crack down on this
problem by monitoring Chinese men who pass through immigration with Pakistani
brides. At the same time, the Pakistani government and Pakistani society in
general also need to give some serious thought to what they expect out of their
exchange with China.
It is sad
that closer relations between the two countries, with men from China coming to
Pakistan to work on the Belt and Road Initiative, has created a situation where
women find themselves vulnerable to trafficking. But it is not very surprising,
given the fact that many of the Chinese workers come from a society where not
everyone can marry (especially because of the shortage of women). The result of
all this is the victimisation of unsuspecting Pakistani women.
human trafficking dimension, Pakistanis also need to think long and hard about
their terms of cultural exchange with China. It is quite one thing to accept
Chinese money and laud Chinese projects, it is quite another to embrace a
culture that is qualitatively different from Pakistan’s own. Until now, this is
probably the least considered aspect of Pakistan’s turn towards China. Unless
it is attended to, women will continue to bear the brunt of the two governments
looking away every time they are exploited. It is about time that both governments
worked together to come up with an effective strategy to stop this practice.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching
constitutional law and political philosophy.