After an extensive investigation into the trafficking of Pakistani women as “brides” to China, the government of Pakistan has cracked down on investigators instead of traffickers.
Pakistani investigators discovered traffickers have sold at least 629 women and girls—hundreds of whom were impoverished Christians—to China since 2018. The marriages are more like slavery and often result in abuse or forced prostitution. Since investigators compiled a list of victims in June, the Pakistani government has pressured investigators, stalling anti-trafficking efforts. Meanwhile, the situation for women is worsening.
“No one is doing anything to help these girls,” one Pakistani official said. “The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing. Why? Because they know they can get away with it. The authorities won’t follow through, everyone is being pressured to not investigate. Trafficking is increasing now.”
Rimsha, a 27-year-old Christian from Lahore, was one such bride, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Marriage brokers claimed the Chinese groom owned a factory and “promised a happy life” in China, Rimsha’s mother said. In June, Rimsha messaged her family pleading with them to rescue her from her husband’s sexual abuse.
“He is asking me to have sex with all his friends visiting the place to earn money,” Rimsha said in a tearful video sent to her family via a messaging app in early June. “He is beating me when I refuse. Please help me.”
Pakistani authorities have investigated and arrested anywhere from a dozen to 75 people involved in trafficking this year. Some received bail, while other cases collapsed. The case against 31 Chinese nationals fell apart in October after their victims refused to testify. An unnamed court official and police investigator said threats or bribery silenced the women. Senior officials attested the government suppressed news reporting on the crisis.
Christian activist Saleem Iqbal in Punjab blamed the government. “Some [federal investigators] were even transferred,” he said. “When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention.”
China is financing a $62 billion economic corridor with Pakistan that includes projects involving infrastructure and energy. In March, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan proved reluctant to criticize China, refusing to call out human rights violations against 2 million detained Uighur Muslims.
Traffickers often target impoverished Christian families and churches, even bribing pastors to buy women and girls. The religious minority is one of the poorest communities in Pakistan, and traffickers often would lie to the women, telling them the grooms were wealthy Christian converts.
“This is human smuggling,” Punjab province Human Rights Minister Ejaz Alam Augustine said in May. “Greed is really responsible for these marriages. … I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor.”
China has a high demand for brides from outside the country because its one-child policy has resulted in a dearth of eligible young women. Human Rights Watch warned in April that allegations in Pakistan were “disturbingly similar” to documented accounts of trafficking women to China from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (also known as Burma), North Korea, and Vietnam.
Chinese officials repeatedly denounced the allegations as “lies.” The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad said last week that “the Chinese government will protect legitimate marriages and combat crimes.”