Trafficking in women from Myanmar: young brides held captive in China

In China, men outnumber women by 34 million. This fuels women-trafficking from neighbouring countries with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos among the most affected by the problem. Over the past five years, about 5,000 Myanmar women have been forced into marriage and 2,800 forced to have children.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) – Chinese and Myanmar authorities are failing to stop the brutal trafficking of young women, often teenagers, for sexual slavery from conflict-ridden Kachin, a state in northern Myanmar, this according to a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Released yesterday, the report notes that women are often tricked into travelling to China in search of work or kidnapped and held against their will to be sold as “brides” to Chinese men. Most of those taken hostage by Chinese families are locked up and raped, it says. Those who do escape are often obliged to leave children fathered by their tormentors.

As a direct result of its one-child policy, China finds itself with 34 million more men than women. This fuels women-trafficking from neighbouring countries, where poverty and social discrimination make women more vulnerable. Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are especially affected by the problem.

In Myanmar, ethnic conflicts, land confiscation, forced displacement and human rights violations have triggered mass migration to China.

More than 120,000 people have been displaced by armed clashes between government forces and rebel groups in Kachin and in the northern part of Shan State – conflicts that started up again in 2011. In Kachin alone there are more than 100 refugee camps.

According to a recent study, published in December 2018 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, about 106,000 migrant women have returned to Myanmar in the past five years.

Some 5,000 women have been forced into marriages with Chinese men with 2,800 forced to have babies. About 65 per cent of the women involved in forced marriages were trafficked through an intermediary or a recruiter.

HRW interviewed 37 survivors of such crimes for the report, noting that the women were sold to Chinese families for the equivalent of between US$ 3,000 (4.5 million kyat) and US$ 13,000 (19.8 million kyat) each.

Twelve of those interviewed were under 18 when they were trafficked. The youngest was 14. The human rights group noted that 22 of them were held for a year or longer.

Often, the women are drugged and taken captive, left at the mercy of families with whom they can barely communicate.

“Most were locked in a room and raped repeatedly as the families that bought them wanted them to become pregnant,” said Heather Barr, author of the report and a co-director for women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.