Thanks to a shortage of women created in part by China’s one-child policy, the country has become a hotbed of human trafficking. Desperate men pay exorbitant rates to marriage brokers who trick women into coming across the border and sell them like slaves.
Despite the country’s failure to crack down on the practice, the U.S. State Department last year moved China from Tier 3 status (where it can be sanctioned on non-trade and non-humanitarian aid) to Tier 2 watch list (countries that consistently fail to meet minimum standards, but make promises for future compliance) in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. This year’s report is due out this month.
More than 30 years since its inception, the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy, coupled with its long-standing preference for male babies, have created a significant gender gap. The advent of sonograms allowed families who wanted a son to abort unwanted girls, a practice that became more frequent with the one-child policy. Experts now say China’s skewed sex ratio contributes to the trafficking of women and forced marriage.
China has noted a significant disparity between male and female births annually since 1986. In 2013, theChinese government reported that 117.6 boys were born for every 100 girls.
“Over half a million female infants are missing,” Terence H. Hull, an epidemiologist at the Australian National University, wrote in a recent study. As a result, by 2020, the National State Population and Family Planning Commission of China predicts eligible males will outnumber females by at least 30 million.
Chinese grooms typically pay a “bride price,’’ or reverse-dowry, in which men pay a woman and her family in order to marry her. With fewer potential brides, prices have soared to as much as $64,000 plus a suitable home and obligatory gifts. One 2011 study on bride prices found a 70-fold increase in prices between the 1960s and 1990s. Even the more affluent bachelors will save almost 30 percent of their salaries for several years in order to marry.
With the supply of available brides dwindling, coupled with an ever-increasing bride price for those remaining, a rise in unsavory alternatives seemed predictable. According to the Beijing News, the low incomes of men in rural China lead many bachelors to illegal marriage brokers. Desperate farmers pay as much as $18,500 for an imported wife, complete with a money-back guarantee in case she flees.
The Diplomat reported nearly 90 percent of North Korean defectors are coerced into the sex industry or forced marriages. Most end up in China. According to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, when the Chinese authorities catch these victims, they send them back to North Korea where they face “concentration camps for forced labor or the death penalty.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security reported the majority of the more than 5,000 women who have been trafficked across its borders in recent years also ended up in China. Last year, more than 100 Vietnamese brides in a rural Chinese community disappeared in what appears to have been a scam to extract bride prices from desperate bachelors.
Another consequence of China’s gender gap is an increase in sex trafficking and brothels. One studyrevealed 14.7 percent of unmarried Chinese men admitted having paid for sex in 2000—about double the rate for married men. These men feed a growing market for female trafficking. An estimated 4 to 6 million sex workers live in China. Women from the Philippines, Mongolia, and North Korea, come to China in search of jobs but find themselves coerced into prostitution instead.
“I am very concerned that China fooled the State Department,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., during a congressional hearing last week. “China does not take responsibility for the government-made disaster and provide these women with aid. … Yet we gave China a pass, turning our backs on these suffering women.”