Chinease woman – Marriage just a click away for China’s desperate single men
Marriage to a Vietnamese bride is just a click and a few thousand dollars away on a blizzard of Chinese websites promising to solve the “single problems” of China’s men.
A decades-long one-child policy has created a yawning demographic disparity in China, with tens of millions more men than women.
Sites like Zhongyuelove.com make their margin plugging that gap, linking lovelorn Chinese men with Vietnamese women, pressed by poverty at home to marry thousands of miles away.
“Vietnamese women are a blessing for this group (unmarried Chinese men),” the website says, using an image gallery of women in their early 20s backed up by poetic words on the prospective brides to seize the interest of China’s bachelors.
“They (the women) are pure, beautiful, traditional,” it says “and possess the gentleness and virtue of Chinese women but also the romantic exoticism of a foreign bride.”
Its matchmaking fee for connecting bachelors is around $4,000 which includes non-refundable ‘blind dates’, an unspecified ‘pre-marital medical exam’ and wedding photography if all goes well.
The fee does not cover wedding gifts to the bride’s family or transportation fees for the bride and groom.
For those concerned by the possibility of failed marriages and the shady brokering system that attracts conmen on both sides of the border, Zhongyuelove has an ‘FAQ’ section.
It offers reassurance on the visa process for a foreign bride and warns would-be grooms to be up front about their income, living situation and any disabilities.
The ‘sensitive questions’ tab delves deeper with blunt queries about the beauty and ethics of Vietnamese women as well as discussions over the likelihood of them running away after the marriage and the fees have been paid.
Matchmaking is common inside China, but the overseas bride business has exploded in recent years with men fearing a lifetime of singledom while ‘bride prices’ doweries for Chinese women rise sharply.
There are no official figures but experts believe tens of thousands of women from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia pour into China each year for marriage.
Many go willingly, connected via websites as well as informal and illegal networks of brokers on both sides of the border.
Others are tricked to move for work, kidnapped and forced into marriage.
Websites like www.0084520.com offer and ranks the would-be brides for ‘popularity’ while running a photo ticker of happy marriage ceremonies, complete with Vietnamese conical hats and Ao Dai tunics, bouquets of flowers, smiles and alcohol.
Several other sites, all with QR code logins and endless photos of women to scroll through, tantalise with the promise of love for China’s forgotten men.
“If you always get the cold shoulder or are rejected, then we welcome you to come to Vietnam… and enjoy a different matchmaking experience,” reads the blurb on one.
A marriage-broker scandal in Pakistan is testing its relations with Beijing at a time when concerns over billions of dollars of Chinese investment in its neighbor is creating a negative backlash toward China.
Chinese men, with the help of collaborators in Pakistan, have married young Pakistani women after making cash payments to their families and brought them to China. There also are unconfirmed claims that some women were forced into prostitution or used for organ harvesting.
The scheme, targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged Pakistani women, illustrates how some illegal operators on both sides of the border are taking advantage of the vast number of Chinese workers pouring into Pakistan for the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a flagship project in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Alarm over Pakistan’s rising debts to China and complaints by local Pakistani officials that their cities are not benefiting from the massive Chinese investment have pressured the countries’ bilateral ties in recent months.
Interviews by the Nikkei Asian Review with sources familiar with the matter reveal that the practice of men from China paying to marry Pakistani women has continued for the past couple of years. Multiple sources also said some women were forced into prostitution.
Two months ago, Pakistani immigration officials arrested a Chinese man forcibly taking a woman, who claimed to be his wife, from Islamabad’s airport to China.
The targets of the scheme, initially, were Christian women from northern Punjab Province, particularly Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. Sources told Nikkei that Chinese men pursued women from underprivileged sections of society, luring them with financial incentives.
After marrying, the women were mistreated in Pakistan while their husbands awaited completion of necessary documents related to the weddings, the sources said, adding that once the women were taken into China, contact with them was lost. Figures on the number of brides brought to China by the scheme are unavailable.
The human trafficking issue gained widespread attention last week when Pakistani television broadcaster ARY News raided a compound in Lahore, where several Chinese men were discovered with six Pakistani wives, two of whom are 13 years old.
The men paid 400,000 rupees ($2,820) to each of the women’s families, who were also promised 40,000 rupees in monthly payments and a Chinese visa to a male relative of the bride, ARY News reported. Some of the women entered into forced marriages, and one contacted the broadcaster, which led to the expose.
Beijing’s embassy in Pakistan said that Chinese laws and regulations prohibit cross-national matchmaking centers, and that China is cooperating with Pakistani authorities to crack down on the illegal establishments. © AP
Local collaborators of the racket are Pakistanis who had established illegal marriage bureaus, which advertised that Chinese men are in need of Pakistani brides and would provide them with a bright future. Similarly, reports of Vietnamese women being abducted for marriage and taken to China have circulated for years.
Malik Siraj chinese mail order bride Akbar, a Washington-based journalist and analyst, said that so far “all the cooperation between Pakistan and China has been solely seen from the lens of trade and economics without looking at other avenues where criminals could take advantage of the CPEC hype, which has made movement between people from both countries easier.”
He predicted that the reports of the illegal marriage racket in Pakistan will soon be termed as “fake news” and an effort to alienate Pakistanis against China.
Religious leaders in Pakistan’s Christian community have come forward after the frequency of the marriages increased. Rev. I.B. Rocky, who is associated with St. Phillip’s Church in Lahore, told Nikkei that his church has held many awareness sessions to tell people not to marry off their daughters to Chinese men in exchange for money.
“Certain Chinese people come to Pakistan under the guise of CPEC and marry Christian women after payment of money and then exploit them,” Rev. Rocky said, adding that because of clerics’ work, Christian families are no longer victim to illegal matchmaking.
Operators of the scheme then turned their focus to Muslim women in the same manner. But according to Islamic rules, Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, leading Chinese men to produce certificates of Islamic conversion in order to wed. However, during the ARY News raid, the men could not prove their religious conversion.
Local operators have told the parents of Muslim women that Chinese men are willing to pay large sums to marry in order to obtain Pakistani nationality, but the Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1951 bars granting citizenship to a foreign man who marries a Pakistani woman.
Tariq Sardar, an official at Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior, told local media that private marriage bureaus were involved in the fraudulent marriages, adding that Pakistan is in contact with China about the issue.
Shunila Ruth, a member of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and a member of the standing committee on human rights, has claimed that Pakistani women taken to China after marriage were used for organ harvesting, a charge that Beijing denies.
The Chinese embassy in Pakistan issued a statement on April 13 conceding that while some unlawful matchmaking centers earned illegal profits from brokering cross-national marriages by victimizing Pakistani and Chinese youths, it termed the reports of organ sales as “misleading and groundless.”
The embassy added that Chinese laws and regulations prohibit cross-national matchmaking centers, and that China is cooperating with Pakistani authorities to crack down on the illegal establishments. Chinese ambassadors in Pakistan previously have publicly celebrated cross-border marriages of Pakistani women with Chinese men and promoted them on social media.
An article in China’s Global Times this week reported that Chinese authorities raided two matchmaking centers in Shandong Province, which were involved in illegal marriages in Pakistan.
The report also quoted a Chinese marriage broker who said it was difficult for local men to find wives because of China’s gender imbalance, a result stemming largely from a preference for male children during the country’s one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2015.
Philip Dubow, a Lisbon-based researcher focusing on crimes associated with the BRI and who previously was affiliated with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, told Nikkei that “although the Pakistani expose shines a much-needed spotlight on this long-ignored dilemma of matchmaking, the accusations of forced prostitution and organ harvesting, although possible, seem rather sensational.”
He added that “at the moment we can be reasonably sure that the marriages in question were fraudulent, due to their incompatibility with local laws.”
Dubow said the matter needs to be further investigated. “Beijing and Islamabad must cooperate with one another in order to stop human traffickers and exploitive matchmakers alike from using the Belt and Road Initiative to further prey upon vulnerable populations.”
When Natasha Khokar was married off to a Chinese man last year, she was promised a life of wealth in a posh home. Instead, she was locked up in a shanty with not even a quilt or a toilet.
“It was like a bad dream,” said Khokar, 27, describing her short marriage, which a local broker fixed in September after promising her Christian family a groom of the same faith and 200,000 rupees ($1,413). They got neither.
“It’s all behind me now,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from her home province of Punjab, where she returned in December after her uncle paid her airfare home.
Khokar is one of hundreds of Christian women in Pakistan who have been trafficked to China to meet a growing demand for foreign brides – the legacy of Beijing’s one-child policy, which has seen families abort female foetuses for decades.
Khokar was only able to escape because she called a journalist in Pakistan who threatened to broadcast her story. Khokar’s broker then agreed to let her go, although she said he threatened to kill her if she did not “keep my mouth shut”.
Since last year, a network of illicit marriage brokers has been targeting mainly members of Pakistan’s impoverished Christian minority, promising hundreds of thousands of rupees in exchange for their daughters, campaigners say.
But once in China, the reality is often starkly different, said Saleem Iqbal a Christian activist based in Punjab’s capital city, Lahore, who has counselled dozens like Khokar and sheltered runaway brides.
Many end up isolated in remote parts of China, dependent on translation apps and abused and pressured into having babies, which Iqbal and Khokar said they suspected would be trafficked.
“All that my husband wanted was to get me pregnant. He said then he would send me back,” Khokar said.
Some women narrate horrific accounts of being tortured, beaten and forced into prostitution, Iqbal said.
“The more you probe, the more terrible tales, lies and deceit you will hear,” he said, adding that he became aware of the trafficking operation in October and reported it to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
On Monday, the FIA announced that it had arrested 12 suspected members of a prostitution ring trafficking young Pakistani women to China.
The government did not intervene until it had “foolproof evidence”, said Ejaz Alam Augustine, Pakistan’s minister of human rights and minorities affairs.
“Once we had spoken to the victims who pointed us to the gang involved in this, we asked the FIA to intervene,” he said.
Since Monday, the FIA has cracked down on scores of similar operations, arresting numerous Chinese nationals, brokers and pastors in four cities across Punjab, said Jamil Ahmed Khan Mayo, head of the investigation.
“We are interrogating more people and soon there will be more arrests,” he said.
The arrests came a week after Human Rights Watch said Pakistan should be alarmed by recent reports of trafficking of women and girls into sexual slavery in China.
It said the allegations were disturbingly similar to the pattern of trafficking of “brides” to China from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and North Korea.
Chinese men typically pay brokers between $10,000 and $20,000 for a foreign wife, a 2016 United Nations report said.
Pakistan’s minister Augustine said that despite several letters to the Chinese embassy alerting them to bride trafficking, their authorities had done “absolutely nothing”.
The Chinese embassy in Pakistan did not respond to the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s repeated requests for comment.
But not all Pakistani women who marry Chinese men under false pretences are unhappy.
One 27-year-old woman who declined to be named said she loves the Chinese man she married in September, even though he lied that he was a Christian.
“He really takes good care of me,” said the woman, who is expected to have a baby in August.
Khokar – now divorced and back to her old marketing job, earning 30,000 rupees a month – is simply glad to be home.
“Nothing like living and feeling safe in your own, clean home,” said Khokar, adding that she plans to bring her marriage broker and pastor to justice. (Reporting by Zofeen T. Ebrahim in Karachi, Editing by Annie Banerji and Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience.