Burmese brides trafficked into China to marry total strangers


Regular Member
Nov 7, 2011
By Graeme Green In London.
'I was afraid. I had no choice. I had no way to go home,' says Su Thandar from Burma.

When she was 17, she was trafficked against her will from her home near Yangon to China where she was forced to marry a man she'd never met.

'I was very unhappy. I tried to run away three times. But the Chinese police arrested me and sent me back to my husband. Very often, I was beaten by my husband. I have a scar,' she says, lifting her chin to show me. 'I cried a lot. I wanted to go home.'

Su (not her real name), now 22, is one of hundreds of women trafficked from Burma across the border into China where they are forced into illegal marriages and to have children.

A recent report from the Burmese government said 80 per cent of human traffic cases in Burma over the last five years involved women being smuggled to China for forced marriage.

Women are trafficked across other borders too, to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Many are exploited as sex workers or labourers. But the majority are sold as 'brides' to China, the trade driven by China's one-child policy, which has created a gender imbalance and a shortage of females to marry. A trafficked 'bride' can be sold for between 30,000 Chinese yuan (£3,000) to 50,000 yuan (£5,000).

'The situation is very serious,' said Wah Eh Htoo, who works for the charity World Vision in Burma.

'We know many rural Chinese men are desperate to find a wife, so they can have descendants.

'Because of the one child policy, Chinese people prefer to have a male, rather than a female. There's a big gap. That's why rural Chinese men are trying to get a bride from other countries, like Burma, Vietnam or Cambodia. Burma is one of the main ones.'

Police Colonel Nyunt Hlaing, from Burma's Transnational Crime Department's anti-trafficking unit, said: 'China's one-child policy is the main cause of the problem,

'If a village man has 30,000 yuan, a Burmese or Lao woman can be easily acquired. In some cases, the Chinese men are disabled and have no way to be married with Chinese women, so their parents try to search out Burmese women for child-bearing for the next generation.'
According to the government report, 731 trafficking cases (many cases include multiple victims) were reported between Jan 2006 and Aug 2011, including 585 cases in China.

A total of 1305 people were rescued over the past five years, including 780 from China. It's suspected the reported figures are the tip of the iceberg.

'China needs to do more to stop this,' said Colonel Hlaing. 'But they're not very effective for the moment because of the great demand.

'If Burmese women are found, the police arrest them, seize them for one month in prison and deport them to their place of origin.

'Therefore, most of the women who married Chinese men are prohibited to go out for any purpose. Very few stay in good conditions. They're beaten by their husbands, father-in-law, mother-in-law, relatives"¦ and are provided insufficient food.'

This is what happened to Su. She came from a poor family and was tricked by a neighbour who offered to help her get a job in a fabric factory in China to send money home.

She was handed over to traffickers and sent to China. The job evaporated. After days of travelling, she met a man at a train station.

'With sign language, I was told he would be my husband. I didn't understand. But a Chinese lady, the wife of a trafficker, phoned me and explained in Burmese I had to marry this guy.'

Su lived with her 'husband' for five years, somewhere in Yunnan Province, and had two children, a boy and a girl. 'I thought I was a child, not child-bearing age, but I had no choice,' she says.

She tried to escape several times, teaming up with other trafficking victims living as 'brides' in the area.

'I met three Burmese women in the same village. There were a lot of trafficking victims around the other villages.'

Eventually, she succeeded. It took six days to reach Burma and alert the authorities. She was forced to leave her children behind.

Even today, she isn't sure of the exact location where she was held. Her father died while she was away and she lost the family home. She now works as a cleaner in Yangon.

She's talked to her children on the phone and is trying to find a way to see them, but it's difficult.

I hear other accounts of girls as young as 14 trafficked to China. Victims are often beaten, intimidated, imprisoned and tortured, isolated and unable to speak the language, receiving no medical treatment.

One striking aspect of the women's stories is that 65 per cent of the people who trafficked them were other women.

'Here, people are very desperate because of poverty,' said Wah Eh Htoo. 'Women become brokers because they can approach the young women and cultivate their trust. It's quite shocking. But people are desperate to get out of poverty.'

As well as poverty in Burma, the demand for brides in China needs to be tackled and the criminals who traffic women need to be stopped.

Burmese police authorities are trying to have discussions with Chinese authorities to set up task forces in border towns, Colonel Hlaing said.

It is hoped a memorandum of understanding can be reached. But much more needs to be done: action, not just discussion. So far, there seems to have been reluctance from China to confront the problem. The Chinese embassy in London did not respond when asked to comment.

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