Pakistani investigators have identified more than 600 marginalised girls and women from across the country that were sold as brides to Chinese men during an 18-month period, but efforts to help them are being frustrated, sources say.
- Investigators list 629 Pakistani women who were allegedly sold to Chinese men
- In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking
- Officials said investigations into trafficking have slowed due to Government pressure
Investigators put together the list of 629 women from Pakistan’s integrated border management system, which digitally records travel documents at the country’s airports.
The information includes the brides’ national identity numbers, their Chinese husbands’ names and the dates of their marriages, which occurred during 2018 and up to April 2019.
The list of women was put together in June 2019, when the investigation ground to a halt due to pressure from government officials, according to sources who spoke to the Associated Press.
The Pakistani 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.
‘No one is doing anything to help these girls’
In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking.
Several of the women initially 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.
Several senior officials said investigations into trafficking had slowed, the investigators were frustrated, and Pakistani media had been pushed to curb their reporting on trafficking.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.
“No one is doing anything to help these girls,” one of the officials said.
“The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing. Why? Because they know they can get away with it.
“The authorities won’t follow through, everyone is being pressured to not investigate. Trafficking is increasing now.”
He said he was speaking out “because I have to live with myself. Where is our humanity?”
“The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($AU81,000 and $AU204,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($AU4,000), is given to the family,” he said.
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 2015 after 35 years, along with an overwhelming preference for boys that led to abortions of girl children and female infanticide.
Human rights abuses
A report released this month by Human Rights Watch (HRW) documenting trafficking in brides from Myanmar to China, said the practice is spreading.
It said Pakistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea and Vietnam have “all have become source countries for a brutal business”.
“One of the things that is very striking about this issue is how fast the list is growing of countries that are known to be source countries in the bride trafficking business,” said Heather Barr, the HRW report’s author.
Amnesty International’s campaigns director for South Asia, Omar Warriach, said Pakistan “must not let its close relationship with China become a reason to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses against its own citizens”.
“It is horrifying that women are being treated this way without any concern being shown by the authorities in either country. And it’s shocking that it’s happening on this scale,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the list.
“The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behaviour,” the ministry said in a statement.
Pakistan’s interior and foreign ministries refused to comment.
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.
Under the $75 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, Beijing has promised Islamabad a sprawling package of infrastructure development, from road construction and power plants to agriculture.
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