abc: Seng Moon was 16 when she was trafficked from Myanmar’s Kachin State to south-western China and sold to a Chinese family as a bride.
Her family back in Myanmar had been living in a camp for internally displaced people after fleeing the fighting between Myanmar’s Government and the Kachin Independence Army, which broke out in 2011.
The now 21-year-old recalled her sister-in-law telling her at the time that she knew of a job as a cook in the neighbouring Yunnan province in China, and that the wage was much more than she could ever earn in the camp.
Her family decided they could not pass up the opportunity and she was soon headed to China in a car with her sister-in-law.
The last thing she remembered was being given some car sickness medicine by her sister-in-law before waking up with her hands tied behind her back.
She was eventually bought by a Chinese family who locked her in a room for two months.
“Each time when the Chinese man brought me meals, he raped me,” Seng Moon said.
“After two months, they dragged me out of the room.
“The father of the Chinese man said, ‘Here is your husband. Now you are a married couple. Be nice to each other and build a happy family’.”
Seng Moon’s story is typical of the 37 trafficking survivors interviewed for a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released today, titled “Give us a baby and we’ll let you go: Trafficking of Kachin ‘Brides’ from Myanmar to China”.
The 112-page report details the trafficking of women and girls as young as 14 into s3x slavery from Kachin and northern Shan States, where they have managed to return.
The report says China’s now-abolished one-child policy — which had resulted in an estimated 30 to 40 million “missing girls” in China due to a preference for boys — has largely driven demand for marriageable women.
Twelve interviewees were younger than 18 when they were trafficked; the youngest was 14.
Heather Barr, acting women’s rights co-director at HRW, said the Myanmar and Chinese governments should be doing more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist the victims, and prosecute traffickers.
“One of our big concerns is that it doesn’t feel like this issue is much of a priority for law enforcement on either side of the border,” she told the ABC.
“In Myanmar, when families go to the police saying that their daughters have been trafficked, they’re often turned away even from the specialised anti-trafficking police.
“Sometimes they’re asked for bribes, and if they can’t afford to pay them, then the police are not prepared to do anything, or sometimes the police do the absolute minimum — they’ll say ‘we’ll make a phone call to the police in China’.”
But in China, women who did escape and make it to the police stations were often “treated like immigration violators”, Ms Barr said.
“[They’re] locked up for a few days or a few weeks and then deported without any kind of real effort to investigate the crime and to arrest the traffickers and buyers,” she said.
According to trafficking survivors in the report, traffickers included people they trusted like family members and relatives who promised them jobs in China but instead sold them for $4,240 to $18,380 to Chinese families.
A Kachin Independence Organisation official who had worked in anti-trafficking told HRW in 2018 that the brokers from Myanmar received a percentage of the price from the Chinese brokers who sold them to Chinese men.
The official said the price was determined by how pretty the woman was.
“It’s like trading jade — if jade is a good quality we make a call and trade from one broker to another,” he said.
“Same thing with a girl, traded from one broker to another.”
Experts say women trafficking isn’t just a problem for Myanmar, but for several poorer countries bordering China including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Mimi Vu, director of advocacy and partnerships at Pacific Links Foundation, told the ABC that Vietnam was one of the most affected areas for bride trafficking.
While it’s difficult to know how many women are trafficked to China each year, she said officially there were about 1,000 returnees a year, but that number was nowhere near the total number of women trafficked.
“Vietnam is also China’s most populous neighbour in South-East Asia, we share a similar history, culture and ethnic minorities who live along the borders are the same … so all the conditions are there for the Vietnamese to get trafficked in,” she said.
“On top of that there is a reputation in China of Vietnamese women being desired because they’re known as hardworking.
“Also you can’t get away from the skin issue — [the Vietnamese] have the lightest skin out of all the surrounding neighbours and skin colour plays a part in this whole package of desirability.”
While women are being trafficked across China, Pan Wang, senior lecturer in Chinese and Asian studies at the University of New South Wales, told the ABC that there was strong demand in rural areas where men had the most difficulties finding a wife.
This is because those areas traditionally favoured sons and China’s one-child policy meant many mothers reportedly aborted female foetuses.
Dr Wang, who is also the author of the book Love and Marriage in Globalising China, said there was a preference for boys in the villages because they relied on labour for income.
“Culturally, villages are more traditional and they have a strong son preference to carry on the family line and the family’s wealth,” she said.
Ms Barr added that in many communities in China, sons traditionally stayed with their parents and supported them in old age, while daughters lived with their husband and in-laws.
In addition to being sold as brides, Ms Vu said women have also been sold for other purposes.
“You have to look at the value of a woman as a product,” she said.
“She can be sold as a wife to give birth, domestic help, prostitute, slave labour, and that can all be bundled up in one package.
“We’ve had young women come back who were sold to a family, and after they gave birth to a son, they were then sold on to another family.
“So that initial family who bought her recoups their investment.”
Ms Vu believed the problem of women trafficking was only getting worse after almost 40 years of the one-child policy — which has now been replaced by a two-child policy.
She said female babies born now won’t be of marriageable age for many years, and the strong preference for sons over daughters also needed to change.
Experts agreed that reducing the number of women being trafficked across the border would take a multi-pronged approach.
The HRW report recommended that the Myanmar and China governments needed to give greater attention to “bride” trafficking, including targeted efforts towards prevention, rescue and assist victims, and detect and prosecute perpetrators and buyers.
Governments also needed to collaborate and strengthen efforts at and near the border to raise awareness of the risk of trafficking, it said.
The ABC contacted the governments of both Myanmar and China for comment, but neither had replied.
Source: Published by abc