World Asia 08 May 2019 Pakistan's Chri ...

Pakistan's Christian girls trafficked to China market

AP
Published May 8, 2019, 2:31 am IST
Updated May 8, 2019, 8:11 am IST
Brokers offer parents huge money to give girls in marriage to Chinese men.
Brokers are helped by  pastors paid to preach to congregations with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.
 Brokers are helped by pastors paid to preach to congregations with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.

Gujranwala(Pakistan): Hundreds of young women from Pakistan’s small Christian minority have been trafficked to China as brides in recent months as their impoverished community is targeted in an aggressive new marriage market, activists and officials say.

Brokers offer desperately poor parents thousands of dollars to give girls in marriage to Chinese men, even cruising outside churches for potential brides. They are helped by Christian pastors paid to preach to their congregations with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.

 

Once in China, the girls - most often married against their will - can find themselves isolated in rural regions, vulnerable to abuse, unable to communicate and reliant on a translation app even for a glass of water. Touted as wealthy Christian converts, the grooms often turn out to be neither, according to accounts from brides, their parents, an activist, pastors and government officials, speaking to The Associated Press.

“This is human smuggling,” said Ijaz Alam Augustine, the human rights and minorities minister in Pakistan’s Punjab province, in an interview with the AP. “Greed is really responsible for these marriages ... I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor.”

 

The Associated Press interviewed more than a dozen Christian Pakistani brides and would-be brides who fled before exchanging vows. All had similar accounts of a process involving brokers and members of the clergy. “It is all fraud and cheating. All the promises they make are fake,” said Muqadas Ashraf, who was 16 when her parents married her off to a Chinese man last year. Less than five months later, she returned to Pakistan, pregnant and seeking a divorce.

In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted, a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country’s gender balance toward males. Brides initially came largely from Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Now men are looking further afield, said Mimi Vu, director of advocacy at Pacific Links, which helps trafficked Vietnamese women.

 

“It’s purely supply and demand,” she said. “It used to be, ‘Is she light-skinned?’ Now it's like, 'Is she female?'”

Pakistan seems to have come onto marriage brokers’ radar late last year. Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist, said he first began to see significant numbers of marriages to Chinese men in October. Since then, an estimated 750 to 1,000 girls have been married off, he said.

Pakistan's small Christian community is particularly vulnerable. It is among the country's poorest and has little political or social supporting, numbering some 2.5 million in Pakistan's overwhelmingly Muslim population of 200 million.

 

In Pakistan, parents often decide a daughter's marriage partner.    

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