Bride trafficking in one-child China

Carolyn Moynihan
31 Jan 2011
Reproduced with Permission

The trafficking of women for forced marriage and prostitution is a growing problem for China, but a predictable one given its population policy and resulting demographics

The official China Daily reports that Chinese police have "cracked 9,165 trafficking cases and rescued 17,746 women since April 2009 when the Ministry of Public Security launched a special campaign". Many are lured to neighbouring Asian countries -- Malaysian police had detained a total of 5,453 Chinese women suspected of prostitution by the end of November -- but they can end up as far afield as Europe and Africa.

Significantly, though, forced marriages within China are behind most of the trafficking, especially in the poor areas of Southwest China's Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. Behind this trend is the huge gender gap created by the one child policy, where poor families reliant on sons for labour aborted pre-natally detected female babies. (Infanticide also appears to have been practiced and the surrendering for adoption and "selling" of babies abroad masterminded by profiteers.) The average male-to-female ratio at birth in 2005 was 120 to 100 -- worse in some areas.

A study published in the British Medical Journal two years ago concluded that there were 32 million more males than females under 20. China could expect to see "very high and steadily worsening sex ratios in the reproductive age group over the next two decades," said the report, an outcome likely to increase social tensions as millions of men will be unable to find brides.

Because of this problem it seems likely that brides will also be trafficked into China from surrounding countries, although this would bring political conflict with governments whose birthrates are generally falling.

But what about the trafficking of Chinese women overseas for prostitution -- where does that fit into the picture? My theory is that, since traffickers are only interested in money, once they have got into the business -- perhaps through bride trafficking -- they will sell women in the richest markets. How could poor farmers or factory workers in south China who want a wife compete with men in the world's cities who are willing to pay for just sex?