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BEIJING: Chinese police rescued 1,130 abducted foreign women in the second half of last year in coordinated operations with five Southeast Asian countries, the Ministry of Public Security said on Friday.

Police arrested 1,322 suspects, including 262 foreigners, for allegedly luring and kidnapping women after promising jobs or marriages, the ministry said, in what appears to be the largest such operation to date.

“In recent years, some lawless locals and foreigners have conspired to abduct women from neighbouring countries and sell them as wives in China,” public security spokesman Guo Lin said at a news conference in Beijing. “It’s a serious violation of these women’s rights and interests.” Demand for foreign brides in China has mounted in recent years.

It’s fuelled by Beijing’s one-child policy, which skewed China’s gender balance for decades before the government changed it three years ago. Many men in the Chinese countryside struggle to find wives, especially if they lack a car, house, or well-paying job.

Marriage agents that match couples are legal and accepted practice in China, and transnational marriages have become increasingly common. However, Chinese law bans marriage agencies from introducing foreign brides to deter trafficking.

Along China’s porous southeastern borders, smugglers lure women by pretending to be attractive men on social media and flirting with them, or by promising well-paid jobs in hotels or restaurants. When they cross the border, smugglers often drug the women, take money, phones and identifying documents, and drive them farther into China.

Trafficked women end up isolated in rural villages, most unable to speak with anyone around them due to language barriers. Dis­oriented and cut off from family back home, they struggle to get help.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2019