Pakistan provides ‘brides’ to China! No Jokes!

8/13/2019

Manzoor Ahmed--

A little known incident in a colony in Sargodha, Pakistan threatens to open up the pandora’s box in Pakistan of it being a market for ‘brides’ for Chinese men. Just a few weeks ago, reports suggested that a resident of Khizarabad Colony, Sargodha allegedly sold his two daughters to some Chinese nationals. A compliant has been filed by one Muskan Gul, who told the police that his father, who works for a Chinese company sold his daughters and four other girls to Chinese nationals in Sargodha. The issue has been taken up with the Interior and Foreign Ministry by the local authorities. Of course, given past experience, it is unlikely that too much will happen further.

For a country already reeling under international pressure for its poor record on minorities, this news would only compound the situation. Local Police had apparently interviewed the girls who had escaped from the Chinese nationals and testimonies had been recorded. Since 2017-2018, the Chinese presence in Pakistan has led to the growth of a peculiar social malaise. This involves Pakistani women, Christian and Muslim, being sold as brides to Chinese husbands and then forced into prostitution and becoming victims of organ trafficking. In recent weeks at least 150 Pakistani women were brought to China as ‘brides’ under false pretences and subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual harassment and physical violence.

According to Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) would-be Chinese husbands obtain fake religious certificates in order to convince Pakistani families to give away their daughters as brides. The origins of this problem can partially be traced to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which aims to bring investment and economic prosperity to Pakistan. One of the side effects of large-scale influx of Chinese nationals in the form of workers, engineers and other personnel into Pakistan has been that societal tensions have arisen. There are some 3,000 Chinese nationals resident in Pakistan in connection with CPEC or some other Chinese investments.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that China's legacy of the 'one-child policy' which has skewed the country’s gender balance toward males and is responsible for this new tendency for Chinese males, to look for females overseas. According to the World Bank, China has one of the most heavily skewed gender ratios in the world, with 106.3 men for every 100 women in 2017. Pakistan is an easy target because many Chinese nationals are already working there. However, Pakistan is not the only case of such reported bride markets and all across South and South East Asia, cases have been reported.
In 2018, a number of reports appeared in the Pakistani media of Pakistani men marrying Chinese women (mainly Uyghurs) in Xinjiang. These were businessmen who travelled from Pakistan to Xinjiang for trading. Many did marry and settled in Xinjiang. Many of them had to in due course come back to Pakistan to renew their visas. At this point, their wives disappeared! Reports suggested that many of these Chinese wives had been sent to re-education camps dotted all over Xinjiang. There are more than 200 Pakistani businessmen whose spouses had disappeared and while diplomatic efforts are on to trace them it leaves many families without hope.
The Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution in early 2018 calling for the government of Pakistan to take urgent steps for the release of over 50 Chinese wives of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) men detained in Xinjiang province of China. Over 50 citizens of GB, most of them affiliated with import and export businesses between Pakistan and China, are married to Muslim women in Xinjiang province.
The resolution states citizens of the both China and Pakistan frequently visit each other’s countries via the Khunjerab Pass and that there have been many cases of intermarriages between the people of GB and Xinjiang province. But, the resolution also says that in 2017 the Chinese police started arresting those Chinese citizens who were married to foreigners and among those who have been taken into custody are the women who have married to Pakistani men.
Subsequent to this reports surfaced of Chinese men duping and marrying Pakistani women, and taking them to China. There have been several reported instances of Pakistani women, particularly from the minority Christian community who have been promised a life of comfort and money in China, but have ended up in very pathetic conditions in China. BBC News has reported several instances of Pakistani girls who had been lured to China. Some of them managed to return to Pakistan and have recorded instances of abuse and torture. Not all these ‘brides’ have managed to escape.

A few victims told The New York Times that they were forced into prostitution, or made to work in bars and clubs. In the last couple of years, the demand for Pakistani women in China’s ‘bride market’ has intensified. The traffic in brides is handled by brokers in Pakistan who arrange deals between Chinese men looking for foreign wives. The brokers promise to bear all the expenses and even pay the parents of the women in order to get them to agree. In some cases, they are helped by local Christian clerics who are paid to ascertain poor families who come to the Church with promises of wealth in exchange for daughters.

The Chinese are passed off as wealthy Christians who have recently converted and this charade is played out, till the marriage is consummated and the bride is in China. In China, the women find themselves isolated in remote rural regions. Abuse is common and escape difficult on account of the language barrier. In Pakistan, an estimated 750 to 1,000 girls have been trafficked as brides since October 2018.

Pakistan’s Punjab province Human Rights and Minorities Minister Ijaz Alam Augustine has accused the Chinese government and its embassy in Pakistan, of turning a blind eye to the practice by issuing visas and documents without questions. China has thus far vehemently denied this claim citing "zero tolerance for illegal transnational marriage agencies". Geo TV recently reported that Pakistan’s FIA had arrested 8 Chinese nationals and 4 Pakistanis in raids in the Punjab province in connection with trafficking. According to this report, the Chinese embassy said China was cooperating with local authorities in its effort to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centres.

This problem came to light due to extensive reportage in prominent Western media outlets like The New York Times and the BBC that show such marriage centres continue to thrive and that repeated claims by both the nations on curbing the menace were far from real. Pertinently, it is not only marginalised Christian women in Pakistan, but even Muslim women from poor families who are being trapped in this trade. Given this situation, the only thing that prevents a full-scale Pakistan-China diplomatic row from breaking out is the overwhelming economic Chinese presence in Pakistan. Lest we forget, the CPEC aims to turn round Pakistan’s economy. Such instances of Pakistan being a ‘bride market’ are therefore easily brushed under the carpet under the guise of ‘win-win’ cooperation. This is sad because these are stories of ordinary human being caught in the game of geo-politics.