Trafficking Women for Forced Marriage in China

9 May

Trafficking of women has been prevalent within China for many centuries and only began to be addressed with emancipation of women under communism in the 1950s (Zhao, 2003). The phenomenon revived however in the 1980s relating to kidnapping of women for forced marriages and has spread across China, with some counties and villages having 30% to 90% of marriages result from trafficking (Chuang, 1998; Zhao, 2003). This is seen as the result of multiple issues associated with diminishing populations of women in rural areas as well as issues relating to expense of non-forced weddings (Chuang, 1998). Women and children trafficked can range from ages 12 to 50 and are usually taken and sold by organised chains of gangs, ‘specialist households’ and ‘specialist villages’ (Chu, 2010; Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008).  Prices can range between 6,000 to 40,000 Yuan, equivalent to £560-£3750 depending on age and appearance (Eimer, 2011). Consequently traffickers make a huge profit which annually can reach US$7 billion, more than that earned from arms and drug trafficking (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008; Zhao, 2003).

A long history of gender ratio imbalance within China has accounted for the tradition of trafficking women for forced marriages (Zhao, 2003). Imbalance however increased after implementation of the one-child policy in 1979 with 120 boys to every 100 girls, meaning by 2020 24 million men will be unable to find wives (Eimer, 2011; Zhao, 2003). This is associated with cultural preferences for sons leading to selective abortions, abandonment and infanticide of female babies (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). Consequently it is estimated 50 to 100 million women are missing from China (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). Migration from rural to urban areas also generates trafficking of women for marriage (Zhao, 2003). As men are expected to remain on rural farms, a vast majorities migrating are women, thus exacerbating gender imbalances (Zhao, 2003). Migration also made trafficking far easier as women can be lured with promises of well-paid jobs in cities (Zhao, 2003). As a result trafficking is most pronounced among internal migrant populations with over 150 million having been trafficked (US Department of State, 2011).

Another element aiding trafficking for forced marriages has been increasing social and economic polarisation (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). Previously under Mao Zedong women were granted the legal right to vote, education, employment, and marriage and inheritance rights (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). From 1978 onwards however a move to free market economy increased wage disparities between rural and urban areas and led to greater inequality for women (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). Consequently there is a large population of young, illiterate and impoverished women easily targeted for trafficking (Zhao, 2003). Traditional patriarchal structures have also reinforced gender inequality in rural areas where women are seen as productive and reproductive tools forced to submit to male authority (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008; Zhao, 2003). Patriarchy also aids trafficking as women are likely to submit and men see no shame in purchasing a wife, which in most cases is cheaper than bride dowries (Barbezar, 2009; Zhao, 2003).

Within China it is estimated 90% of trafficked victims are women and children from Anhui, Guizhou, Henan, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and are most likely to be sold to men in under developed provinces such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, Henan and Inner Mongolia where gender imbalances are even more severe (Chu, 2010; Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). This trafficking is recognised as causal in emerging social problems. Mass suicide from swallowing chemical pesticides has begun to occur among women in forced marriages (Eimer, 2011; Zhao, 2003). It is also estimated that for every woman kidnapped at least three family members will end up walking the countryside with no support and thus turn to crime to survive, with over 7000 arrests each year associated with this (Zhao, 2003).

China is also a destination country for women and children trafficked from neighbouring countries including Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, Russia, and North Korea (US Department of State, 2011). From Vietnam alone an estimated 22,000 women have been trafficked into China for forced marriages (Chalk, 2006). Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, however is now the main source of brides for China (Eimer, 2011). Burmese government stated 80% of human trafficking cases in Burma over the last five years involved women being transferred into China for forced marriages (Hodal, 2012; Metro, 2013). Police Colonel Nyunt Hlaing from Burma’s Transnational Crime Department Anti-Trafficking Unit stated “China’s one-child policy is the main cause of the problem” (Metro, 2013).


Fig. 1: Figures associated with the trafficking of women for marriage from Burma to China. Source: Metro, 2013

China is on Tier 2 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 meaning the government is not meeting minimum standards for anti-trafficking enforcement but is attempting to (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). This has been done through firstly adjusting laws to create severe punishments for traffickers including up to fifteen years in jail or the death penalty (Zhao, 2003). Secondly the 2008-2012 China National Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children was developed and included foundation of local and nationwide hotlines to report trafficking cases as well as working with INTERPOL and foreign governments to improve border law enforcement (Barbezar, 2009; US Department of State, 2011). Consequently in 2000 Chinese authorities located over 300 trafficking gangs in Yunnan alone arresting over 3,500 traffickers and in 2010 reportedly 10,385 women and 5,933 children were rescued from trafficked situations (Chu, 2010; US Department of State, 2011). Concerns arise however due to corruption and compliance by local officials over issues of trafficking and forced marriages (Edwards and Tiefenbrun, 2008). Additionally Chinese police tend to investigate domestic trafficking more than foreign trafficking (Eimer, 2011)

To conclude it would appear that affects from the one-child policy and recent rapid urbanisation, compiled with traditional values has created an alarming market for the trafficking of women for forced marriages. Whilst much has been done to address this issue it seems more is needed to achieve a positive effect.


Barbezar, S. 2009. ‘Trafficking of Women and the Harmonious Society: The Chinese National Plan of Action on Combating Traffikcing in Women and Children within the Context of Chinese Patriarchy and Reform’, Human Rights and Human Welfare

Chalk, K. 2006. ‘Taking the journey together: A united response to trafficking in the Mekong region’, World Vision Asia-Pacific Communications

Chuang, J. 1998. ‘Redirecting the Debate over Trafficking in Women: Definitions, Paradigms and Contexts’, Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 11, pp. 65-107

Chu, C. 2010. ‘Human Trafficking and Smuggling in China’, Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 20, No. 68, pp. 39-52

Edwards, C. and Tiefenbrun, S. 2008. ‘Gendercide and the Cultrual Context of Sex Trafficking in China’, Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 731-780

Eimer, D. 2011. ‘Burma’s women forced to be Chinese brides’, The Telegraph, 4 September,

Hodal, K. 2012. ‘Duped women fight back as Burma gets to grips with human trafficking’, The Guardian, 24 December,

‘The Burmese brides trafficked into China to marry total strangers’, 11 February 2013, Metro,

US Department of State, 2011. ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’, Country Narratives, pp. 121-125

Zhao, G-M. 2003. ‘Trafficking of women for marriage in China: Policy and practice’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 83-102

One Response to “Trafficking Women for Forced Marriage in China”

  1. benalirabeh98 February 6, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    Reblogged this on benali rabeh98.

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