Pakistan is one of the few countries that have enthusiastically participated in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, the people of Pakistan seem to have invited unwanted troubles together with the infrastructure projects, as several Pakistani women are said to have been trafficked across the border as brides to Chinese men.
Most of the women being trafficked are Christians. Pakistan’s Christian population is estimated to be around 2.5 million, many of whom live in the Punjab Province. A Christian activist, Saleem Iqbal, calculates that almost 750 to 1,000 women have been married off to Chinese men since October 2018. Since most Pakistanis are impoverished, they tend to be easy pickings for the Chinese who offer them money in exchange for their daughters. The families are promised that their daughter will have a good life in China. Believing these lies, the parents arrange for their girls to be wed to Chinese grooms.
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On average, arranging for the bride brings in up to US$5,000 for the parents and the intermediaries. In addition to brokers, even pastors are said to be involved in the trade. The pastors apparently lie to the family that the Chinese men have converted to Christianity to marry their girls and that God is happy about the marriage. Once the girls arrive in China, they quickly find out that their husbands are not Christians. Most of them are then forced to live in rural villages, cut off from their families. Some are even abused, with no hope of returning back.
Muqadas Ashraf is a Pakistani woman who was married to a Chinese man on the promise that she would have a comfortable life. However, the reality turned out to be the opposite. Her husband never let her out of the home and forced her to undergo various medical tests. She later found out that the tests were to determine if she was pregnant. When she asked him to take her to a local church, he apparently hit her. Fortunately for Muqadas, she was able to get back to Pakistan after her family threatened the man with a police complaint.
However, most trafficked women have no hope of returning back to their country since their families believe that what happens to them is now none of their business once married. Human Rights Watch warned in its latest report that Pakistani women were at increased risk of sexual slavery in China. Bride trafficking to China is said to be driven by its skewed gender ratio. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, 115 boys are born for every 100 girls. The country has 33 million more men than women.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) recently busted a bride trafficking racket in the Sindh region. In Punjab, around 39 people were arrested, most of whom were Chinese. Six girls doomed to be trafficked to China were rescued. These girls were told lies about getting married to Chinese men when in truth the traffickers were planning to sexually exploit them and even sell their organs.
“We are definitely vigilant here and keeping an eye on all relevant quarters and areas in this regard… The racket has been busted in Punjab were in fact in some cases victims approached the authorities, which led to further investigation and detection of a gang. Here we have not received any complaint, but still, we have started our job and making intelligence-based moves,” Sultan Khawaja, FIA’s Sindh zone Director, said in a statement (Dawn).
The Chinese embassy in Pakistan has extended its support in dealing with the matter. Several Pakistani politicians have also spoken out against the trafficking of their women. However, many believe that the government of Pakistan is too dependent on Chinese funding (like the Belt And Road Initiative) and military support that it may not take any strict action on the matter.