Pakistan turns blind eye to trafficking of girls and women to China

Pakistani girls and women sold off as brides to Chinese men and whisked off to an uncertain and often brutal future in China. Photo source: AsiaNews.it

The list of names was very long, some 629 Pakistani girls and women sold off as brides to Chinese men and whisked off to an uncertain and often brutal future in China. It was put together by Pakistani investigators seeking to destroy trafficking gangs exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable, Associated Press (AP) reported.

However, since it was compiled in June, investigations have just about stalled because of pressure from government officials concerned about hurting ties with Beijing, sources say.

The most high-profile case against the traffickers collapsed in October, when a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged with trafficking offenses. 

The AP report, citing official sources speaking on condition of anonymity, said that several of the women interviewed by police refused to testify because of threats or bribery.

Pressure has also been applied on officials from the Federal Investigation Agency pursuing trafficking networks according to Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped rescue several girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.

“Some (FIA officials) were even transferred,” Iqbal told AP, adding, “When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention.”

One official, who requested anonymity, said, “No one is doing anything to help these girls.” 

The official said, “The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing. Why? Because they know they can get away with it. The authorities won’t follow through, everyone is being pressured to not investigate. Trafficking is increasing now.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the list.

It said in a statement, “The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behavior.” 

Pakistan’s Christian minority has become the new target of brokers who pay poor parents to marry off their daughters to Chinese men take them back to China. Many are then isolated, abused or forced to work as sex slaves.

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Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

The gangs comprise Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian clergymen, mostly from small evangelical denominations, who receive kickbacks to urge parents in their flock to sell their daughters.

The list of 629 women was compiled from Pakistan’s border management system, which records travel documents at airports. Information includes the national identity numbers of the brides, the names of the Chinese husbands and their marriage dates.

Most marriages took place in 2018 and up to April 2019. Officials believe all were sold by their families.

“Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between four and 10 million rupees ($439,00 and $1.09 million) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($23,000), is given to the family,” one official said on condition of anonymity, AP reported. 

He said many of the women who were interviewed spoke of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and even being forced to work as prostitutes.

The Federal Investigation Agency sent a report labelled Fake Chinese Marriages Cases to Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, in September. It contained details of cases against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 Pakistani associates in Faisalabad, Lahore and the capital, Islamabad. 

They included the 31 Chinese suspects later acquitted in court. The other 21 were granted bail and skipped the country 

The report also said police uncovered two illegal marriage agencies in Lahore, including one at an Islamic centre and madrassa targeting Muslim girls.

Rights activists have accused Pakistan of trying to cover up the trade in brides so as not to hurt Pakistan’s close economic ties with China.

China has long been an ally of Pakistan, especially with regard to Islamabad’s tenuous ties with India. Pakistan has benefitted from Chinese military hardware that has included nuclear cooperation

Meanwhile, Pakistan is receiving economic aid under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, to recreate the old Silk Road and connect China to all of Asia. This includes a $588.3 trillion infrastructure development package.

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The demand for foreign brides in China is a result of slanted demographics caused by state policy, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“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 which was in place from 1979 to 2015, as well as ongoing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights,” wrote Heather Barr acting co-director for HRW’s Women’s Rights Division. “This gender gap has made it difficult for many Chinese men to find wives and has fueled a demand for trafficked women from abroad.”

Apart from Pakistan, brides are being sourced from across Southeast Asia, as well as Nepal and North Korea, HRW said in a recent report.

Omar Warriach, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for South Asia, condemned how officials in Pakistan and China were “turning a blind eye” to the trade.

“It is horrifying that women are being treated this way without any concern being shown by the authorities in either country. And it’s shocking that it’s happening on this scale,” Warriach told AP. UCAN

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