The Fight Over Chinese Brides And How To Get It

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She came home to discover that fighting had broken out and her family had been displaced to a camp. Two months after escaping, desperate for work, Mai Mai Tsawm went back to China. Those who had been forced to leave children behind often found this terribly hard to cope with. There is virtually no legal or social services assistance for women and girls who want to try to gain custody of children left in China. Those who returned to Myanmar after being gone for years faced difficulties in trying to rebuild relationships with family members who had given them up for dead. Seng Moon, trafficked at 16, was determined to escape with her son, and after over two years in captivity she saw a chance.

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Some women and girls said they were drugged on the way and woke up in a locked room. Others were told, after crossing the border, that the job they were promised was no longer available, but another job was, several days’ journey away. Unable to communicate due to language barriers, and with no money to make their way home, many women and girls felt no option but to stay with the person escorting them, even in the face of growing unease. But frequently they are enticements by traffickers planning to sell women and girls as “brides” into a life of sexual slavery. Seng Moon’s family fled fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin State in 2011 and wound up struggling to survive in a camp for internally displaced people. In 2014, when Seng Moon was 16 and attending fifth grade, her sister-in-law said she knew of a job as a cook in China’s neighboring Yunnan province.

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According to the World Health Organization, a normal ratio at birth is about 105 men to 100 women. China has a large and growing gap between the numbers of women and men, driven by gender discrimination and exacerbated by the “one-child policy” imposed by the government from 1979 to 2015. This gap has created a severe “bride shortage” among the age group most likely to be looking for a spouse. The sex ratio cannot be determined with precision because of a lack of information, as well as other factors including families’ concealment of births in an effort to circumvent the one-child policy.

There was some indication that there has been increased awareness over time by trafficking survivors of KWA’s efforts in this area. Inside Myanmar, both the Myanmar government—in government-controlled read review areas—and the Kachin Women’s Association —in KIO-controlled areas—provided some services for survivors. After two years of being held against her will in China, Mai Mai Tsawm escaped.

“I am the eldest sibling, so I wanted to earn money for them, so I decided to go to China,” she said. “My mother accepted the idea and she trusted my friend and thought I could believe her and thought that if I could support my siblings this would be a good way.” She was 15 when her friend drugged and sold her. She was held for three years and left behind a daughter when she escaped. “This is why most Kachin young people leave education after grade 10,” she explained.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission said data provided to them by immigration authorities showed that 226 women were trafficked to China in 2017. Given this imbalance, women choosing to marry and their families may be more selective about potential grooms, opting against men who are poorer and less educated. As China’s population is growing, any imbalance in the gender ratio at birth will cause the disparity in the number of women versus men to continue to widen. But according to the Chinese government’s 2000 census, in the period from 1996 to 2000 over 120 boys were born for every 100 girls—a group that would now be 19 to 23-years-old.

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Ja Tawng went, bringing her two children; they were trafficked twice together. In the past we just left for a short time…We thought once the Myanmar army stopped firing we could go back. But we never could go back—and slowly we had to move to the border area, because the Myanmar army targeted the civilian population. …Then Chinese traffickers started coming here to persuade the civilians. … thought they would take any risk if it would help their family, help their younger siblings. A KIO official said from 2000 through 2009 the KIO dealt with 20 to 30 cases of bride trafficking each year in the Laiza area bordering China, but that number had increased due to escalating conflict and displacement.