Hundreds of women and girls from across Pakistan are being sold as brides to Chinese men, a shocking new report has revealed today. So-called 'matchmaking' centres in Lahore and other cities around the country see poor families marry their daughters off to Chinese nationals in exchange for money and a visa. But work to clamp down on the growing people trafficking networks has been largely halted over fears it could harm Pakistan's lucrative ties to Beijing. Parents are told their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts, but often the grooms turn out to be neither, according to several brides and their families.
Once in China, the girls - most often married against their will - can find themselves isolated in remote rural regions, vulnerable to abuse, unable to communicate and reliant on a translation app even for a glass of water. Sumaira a Pakistani woman, showing a picture of her Chinese husband in Gujranwala, Pakistan.
Sumaira, who didn't want her full name used, was raped repeatedly by Chinese men at a house in Islamabad where she was brought to stay after her brothers arranged her marriage to the older Chinese man. Detained Chinese nationals, accused of involvement in a trafficking gang to lure Pakistani women into fake marriages, try to shield their faces while they are escorted by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency officers to court in Lahore in May.
Chinese men even cruise outside churches in impoverished areas looking for potential brides. They are helped by Christian pastors paid to preach to their congregations with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters. In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted as a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country's gender balance toward males. Recent years have seen tens of thousands of Chinese workers go to Pakistan to work on China's Belt and Road construction projects, and some returned to China with Pakistani wives.
Sumaira told how she was raped repeatedly by Chinese men at a house in Islamabad where she was brought to stay after her brothers arranged her marriage to an older Chinese man. Pakistani Christian woman, Mahek Liaqat, was also forced into an arranged marriage with a Chinese national after being taken to a multi-storey house in Islamabad along with a number of other women. Another woman, Muqadas Ashraf, was just 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man who had come to Pakistan looking for a wife in the burgeoning 'bride market'.
The list of victims, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by police since and was made in a bid to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country's poor and vulnerable women. But since the time it was put together in June, investigators' aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt.
Graffiti advertising a marriage agent is spray-painted on the wall of a warehouse in Pei County in eastern China's Jiangsu province. In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted, a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country's gender balance towards men.
Officials with knowledge of the investigations say that is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan's lucrative ties to Beijing.
The biggest case against traffickers has fallen apart. In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for speaking out. At the same time, the government has sought to curtail investigations, putting 'immense pressure' on officials from the Federal Investigation Agency pursuing trafficking networks, said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped parents rescue several young girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.
Asked about the complaints, Pakistan's interior and foreign ministries refused to comment. Several senior officials familiar with the events said investigations into trafficking have slowed, the investigators are frustrated, and Pakistani media have been pushed to curb their reporting on trafficking. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals. Documents related to the trafficking of Pakistani brides to China is displayed in Islamabad, Pakistan, detaining the extent of the trade.
Christian activist Saleem Iqbal has helped parents rescue several young girls from China. He is pictured above speaking in Faisalabad about the trade in Pakistani brides trafficked to China. Because they know they can get away with it. Trafficking is increasing now. He said he was speaking out 'because I have to live with myself. Where is our humanity? An AP investigation earlier this year revealed how Pakistan's Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland.
Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back. Police and court officials and more than a dozen brides - some of whom made it back to Pakistan, others who remained trapped in China - as well as remorseful parents, neighbours, relatives and human rights workers.
Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Li went to Pakistan to construct roads several years ago as part of China's Belt and Road initiative. He married Liaqat through an agent there and returned to China with her last winter, but the marriage broke down quickly and Liaqat returned to Pakistan several months late.
The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa, or religious school. All but a handful of the marriages took place in and up to April One of the senior officials said it was believed all were sold to grooms by their families.
It is not known how many more women and girls were trafficked since the list was put together. But the official said on the condition of anonymity, 'the lucrative trade continues'. The official, with years of experience studying human trafficking in Pakistan, said many of the women who spoke to investigators told of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and, in some cases, forced prostitution. Although no evidence has emerged, at least one investigation report contains allegations of organs being harvested from some of the women sent to China.
Muqadas Ashraf was just 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man who had come to Pakistan looking for a bride. Less than five months later, Muqadas was back home in Pakistan, pregnant and seeking a divorce from a husband she says was abusive.
The report provided details of cases registered against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 of their Pakistani associates in two cities in eastern Punjab province - Faisalabad, Lahore - as well as in the capital Islamabad. The report said police discovered two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one operated from an Islamic centre and madrassa - the first known report of poor Muslims also being targeted by brokers. The Muslim cleric involved fled police.
After the acquittals, there are other cases before the courts involving arrested Pakistani and at least another 21 Chinese suspects, according to the report sent to the prime minister in September. But the Chinese defendants in the cases were all granted bail and left the country, say activists and a court official. Activists and human rights workers say Pakistan has sought to keep the trafficking of brides quiet so as not to jeopardise Pakistan's increasingly close economic relationship with China.
China has been a steadfast ally of Pakistan for decades, particularly in its testy relationship with India. China has provided Islamabad with military assistance, including pre-tested nuclear devices and nuclear-capable missiles.
Today, Pakistan is receiving massive aid under China's Belt and Road Initiative, a global endeavour aimed at reconstituting the Silk Road and linking China to all corners of Asia. In this April 14, photo, Mahek Liaqat, who married a Chinese national, shows her marriage certificate in Gujranwala, Pakistan.
Poor Pakistani Christian girls are being lured into marriages with Chinese men, whom they are told are Christian and wealthy only to end up trapped in China, married to men who are neither Christian nor well-to-do, and some are unable to return home. The demand for foreign brides in China is rooted in that country's population, where there are roughly 34 million more men than women - a result of the one-child policy that ended in after 35 years, along with an overwhelming preference for boys that led to abortions of girl children and female infanticide.
A report released this month by Human Rights Watch, documenting trafficking in brides from Myanmar to China, said the practice is spreading. And it's shocking that it's happening on this scale,' he said. No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.
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