Pakistani Brides – Sold into Sexual Slavery in China
London, UK – Imagine this. You are a Pakistani Christian woman living in a village with no prospects and no hope of your economic situation improving. Your family is extremely poor and you struggle every day, just to survive. One day, along comes a man, sophisticated and charming. He asks your family for your hand in marriage, pays a large sum of money to marry you, offers your impoverished family an ongoing monthly payment and takes you back to China with him. Your family’s problems are solved and you are looking forward to a better life and true love. Fast forward to you now trapped in a Chinese brothel and raped by multiple men on a daily basis. You have no hope of escaping and no respite from daily physical and mental abuse.
This sounds like a horrific film, yet it is the harsh reality faced today by many of the poorest Christian communities in a predominantly Muslim Pakistan. There are just 2.5 million Christians in a Muslim population of 200 million, making them socially and politically vulnerable and unsupported. In small Christian communities pastors are paid by brokers and middlemen to find brides for Chinese grooms. Once the Pakistani women are married, they are taken to China, often never to be heard from again. The ones who do manage to escape back to Pakistan tell of being isolated and lonely with no knowledge of the language and no way of escape due to their passports being kept by their Chinese husbands. Promises of jobs and happiness are unfulfilled.
Then there are the horror stories of the newly wed women being forced into prostitution by their Chinese husbands.
Natasha Masih, a 20 year old Pakistani woman who managed to escape, was humiliated and beaten by her Chinese husband who taunted her by asking her how could she escape as he had bought her and now had her passport. He raped her and continued to bring more men who also raped her.
“He used to humiliate me and beat me up…One day he raped me…The next day a new man came. They were drunk. They raped and beat me. Then he brought more men and ordered me to have sex with them.”
Human rights activists say since October 2018 at least 700-1000 Pakistani women, mostly Christian had married Chinese men in just over a year. What happens to many of these women is unknown, but Human Rights Watch says they are “at risk of sexual slavery” with some brides being as young as 13 years old. The organization states that the numbers of marriages continue to rise.
According to Saleem Iqbal, a Christian human rights activist who has been closely following this situation, the practice of Pakistani women being married to Chinese men has been going on for several years. Saleem Iqbal is focused on working to bring Pakistani brides home but he says Pakistani authorities do little to help, stating:
“…there is no visible effort from the Foreign or Interior Ministry to bring the girls back to Pakistan.”
The reason for this lack of interest or involvement has been attributed to close ties between China and Pakistan. Economically and politically the two countries have strong links, with Pakistan being one of China’s major trade partners. Recent free trade agreements between the two countries and China pledging to increase their investment in a struggling Pakistan economy means Pakistan is careful to avoid any tensions or disagreements with its ally, with the most recent development being The Belt and Road Initiative which sees the improvement of infrastructure along land corridors which equate to the infamous old Silk Road trading route. Part of this project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with China offered Pakistan a $130 million loan in 2015 to construct a link from the port of Gwadar to a large national highway.
Pakistan is also China’s biggest customer in the purchase of arms with approximately 47% of China’s weapons exports going to neighboring Pakistan. Add to the mix the strong military ties between China and Pakistan which are centered around challenging Indian and American influence in the region, and blocking Russia’s interests in the area through ongoing China-Pakistan military projects and agreements, and it is inevitable that Pakistan does not want to challenge China’s actions around the buying and trafficking of Pakistani brides.
The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers mostly from small evangelical churches who receive bribes to urge their congregations to sell their daughters with the promise of financial rewards and a better life for both the girls and their families. Chinese men offer between $3,500 – $5,000 US for a bride and families are often promised approximately $280 US per month once the bride is in China, with the assurance of a Chinese visa for one male family member in some reported cases. This money amounts to a small fortune with the Pakistani families also seeing the union as a better life for their daughters. The Chinese grooms claim to have converted to Christianity, thereby being seen by the Pakistani families as being honorable and respecting tradition. In most cases however, the Chinese men have not converted to Christianity, with relevant paperwork being forged.
In May 2019 Pakistani officials arrested 30 Chinese nationals and 10 Pakistanis suspected of being part of a prostitution ring and using a marriage agency to divert suspicion. It is widely believed that these arrests are just a small percentage of the number of traffickers actually involved, but Pakistan downplayed the actual number of people involved so as to keep China-Pakistan ties intact.
In previous years, women from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam were being trafficked to China but now the demand for Pakistani women has risen due to the close proximity of Pakistan to China, and the links between the two countries. China’s “one-child” policy between 1979 and 2015 with boys being significantly favored over girls means there are now 30 – 40 million more men in China than women. The result is Chinese men are looking further afield to find women, with the trafficking of unmarried girls and women increasing dramatically to meet this demand.
Last November, in Lahore, Pakistan, a banner read:
“Attention Christians. Matrimonial relations needed for deserving poor and noble families in China. All expenses will be paid for by Chinese families. No education needed.”
The promise of help, jobs and money is appealing. The reality is horrific.
In a harrowing video call, Rimsha, a Pakistani Christian woman was recorded desperately pleading with her family to help her come home.
“Please help me get out of here…My husband is threatening and beating me…He tells me to have sex with all his friends who come here so he can earn money. He beats me when I refuse. I called the police twice but they took money from my husband and left.”
Rimsha’s family has not yet been able to help her leave China and her nightmare continues. The number of women and girls sold into slavery by unsuspecting families continues, and the authorities in both Pakistan and China continue to turn a blind eye to this ever-increasing ruthless industry.