Trafficked ‘brides’

Updated May 09, 2019

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THE FIA’S crackdown this week on a sex trafficking ring has exposed a sinister modus operandi that feeds off the dark underbelly of society in both Pakistan and China.

The latter’s decades-long one-child policy as well as cultural preference for male offspring has resulted in its ‘missing women’ phenomenon, forcing many Chinese men to look for spouses abroad.

This has had the unintended consequence of creating a fertile hunting ground for human and sex traffickers.

The arrest of several Chinese and Pakistani suspects in Lahore come days after Human Rights Watch raised the alarm on reports of a “disturbingly similar” pattern documented in some other Asian countries: human smugglers posing as ‘matchmaking’ services to source their hapless victims, luring women from marginalised backgrounds with claims of a better future for them.

Indeed, in recent weeks, Pakistani media reports have shed light on how many women (reportedly even minor girls) — mostly from poor, Christian families — were conned into ‘marrying’ Chinese men and migrating to China, only to be trapped in a vicious cycle of isolation, abuse and exploitation.

In a country where poor minority women face triple-fold discrimination — and whose disappearances would presumably raise scarcely an eyebrow — it is hardly surprising that con artists would specifically target them.

Given the Punjab FIA director’s statement to the media that this ring of foreign smugglers and local facilitators had been active for at least a year — as well as the likely presence of similar networks — it is pertinent to ask whether the authorities had any awareness of or interest in this criminal activity before it was publicly exposed by the press and HRW.

Though both are often vilified, it is precisely when the media and human rights groups are free to perform their duties unobstructed that abuses are uncovered — paving the way for the state to deliver justice.

They serve complementary, not antagonistic, functions.

As investigations continue, Pakistani officials must not succumb to a xenophobic temptation to target law-abiding foreigners and their legitimate business dealings in this country.

Across the border in China, our foreign mission must actively coordinate with local authorities to trace and verify the status of women who may be there against their will, and provide all necessary consular support.

At home, awareness-raising campaigns among at-risk communities are essential to help prevent them from becoming victims of such predatory schemes.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2019