Vulnerable Pakistani girls dreaming of a life away from poverty have been caught up in a racket ran by Chinese nationals in Pakistan luring the women into sex slavery in China under the pretext of marriage.
Many have been promised a life of luxury if they get married to a Chinese national, but once they agree, after they are married, they are being forced to participate in prostitution in China.
Pakistan has arrested dozens of Chinese men and their agents in a crackdown this week against traffickers targeting young women, mostly belonging to the country’s Christian minority.
The arrests were made in various cities of the central province of Punjab since Sunday, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said on Thursday.
Half a dozen women between the ages of 17 and 25 were also rescued during the operation in Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and the capital, Islamabad.
The operation was launched after several Pakistani women were allegedly lured by the prospect of marriage with Chinese men, trafficked to China, and forced to become prostitutes there.
Most of the women were rescued by Chinese authorities after the Pakistani embassy in Beijing alerted officials about the trafficking, FIA’s Saeed Abbasi told dpa news agency.
“Chinese gangs have been working in a very organised way,” said FIA’s Tariq Rustam Chohan, who was leading the action in the eastern city of Lahore.
Chohan said at least 30 Chinese citizens and more than a dozen of their local agents had been arrested in Lahore alone.
The Chinese embassy said last month Beijing is cooperating with Pakistan to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centres, saying “both Chinese and Pakistani youths are victims of these illegal agents”.
Human Rights Watch has called on China and Pakistan to take action to end bride trafficking, warning in an April 26 statement of “increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China”.
Last month, a Pakistani news channel spotlighted growing concerns about the issue in Pakistan, claiming it had gained entry to a matchmaking centre in Lahore where poor families would marry their daughters off to Chinese nationals in exchange for money and a visa.
According to an Associated Press report, brokers are aggressively seeking out women for Chinese men, sometimes even cruising outside churches to ask for potential brides.
It said they are being helped by Christian clergy paid to target impoverished parents in their congregation with promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters.
Parents receive several thousand dollars and are told their new sons-in-law are wealthy Christian converts.
Rabia Bibi considered herself the luckiest woman on Earth when she tied the knot with a Chinese man living in Pakistan.
Her parents gave her away during a respectable wedding ceremony in January at Gujranwala, 95km from Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore.
Soon afterwards the couple left the country for a new life in China. Sadly, the marriage would not last. Rabia, 22, became the victim of persistent physical abuse at the hands of her new husband, which eventually prompted her to seek refuge at a local police station.
She made contact with Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in Beijing, which agreed to facilitate a return to her home country.
Hundreds like her have not been so lucky.
Rabia’s disclosure of her ordeal to Pakistan’s security services eventually led to the arrests of an international gang of Chinese “bride traffickers”.
Law enforcement agencies have accused the group of working with Chinese men to force girls like Rabia into prostitution. In extreme cases, the gang extracted organs from the women to be sold on the black market, police believe.
The Chinese gang had been operating out of Pakistan with the help of a local facilitator, which lured Christian girls from humble backgrounds in exchange for a fee paid by the parents of up to US$5,000, as well as a monthly stipend of US$300.
“The Federal Investigation Agency [FIA] has arrested an international human-trafficking group comprising 10 Chinese nationals along with local facilitators,” Jamil Ahmed Khan, a senior official with the organisation, told the Post.
The authorities were unable to give the exact number of brides trafficked, but said it was in the hundreds, and investigations were ongoing.
One investigator looking into the case said the girls were lured into phoney marriages before being sent to a base in an upscale area of Lahore where they were taught Chinese before leaving Pakistan.
“It was the most organised gang. They were also involved in the human organ trade. We have irrefutable evidence against them and their local facilitators,” said Mohammad Azam, the FIA’s assistant director.
Alarm over the case prompted the Chinese embassy in Islamabad to issue a statement saying Beijing would work with Pakistan authorities to curb such illegal activities.
“Chinese and Pakistani authorities are constantly in touch over the issue. China has recently arrested some members of the network in China. The network comprises both Chinese and Pakistani nationals,” local media quoted Zhao Lijian, deputy chief of Beijing’s diplomatic mission, as saying.
Pakistani Cities such as Lahore, Islamabad and Faisalabad have all been affected by the Chinese gangs operating to recruit women via marriage.
One girl, who has been called N* to protect her identity spoke about her ordeal after she was found at a bungalow in an upscale neighborhood in Lahore. She was there along with other young girls.
N and the other girls shared the property with 10 Chinese men. They treated the girls as nothing more than sexual objects.
All of the girls were lured to the bungalow by the same woman using the same offer.
N said: “She offered us a chance, a dream of a better life far away from hardship.
“All we had to do, she told us, was marry a Chinese national and soon we would be living a life of luxury in China.”
Although the prospect of moving to another country seemed daunting, it could be the one chance that the Pakistani girls could get at escaping poverty.
The girls consented to move into the bungalow as they were driven by the dream of life without hardship.
“We were told our stay here would be temporary.
“We were told we would only have to wait a few months. Once our nikahs with our Chinese husbands were solemnised, we would be in China in no time.”
N believed the woman as she was kind to beggars, however, she soon realised her motive.
“I learnt from the woman who brought me here that I had been bought by one of the Chinese men. She did not say for how much.
“All this time and even now, this house is a prison for us girls. We are only allowed to move from one room to another. We cannot move freely. I cannot live like this.”
N was able to escape the house but the other girls were still there and had to answer to one person referred to as ‘The Boss’.
The Boss orders the girls to wear makeup and dress in western clothes at all times. The Boss also acts as a translator between the girls and their Chinese “husbands”.
Another girl, M* said: “When we want to convey something to our husbands, we leave a message in a cellphone The Boss uses.
“The Boss translates our messages to Chinese using an app and conveys them to our husbands.”
“Similarly, if our husbands want to tell us anything, they type their messages in Chinese on the cellphone and The Boss translates them in Urdu for us.”
M explained that she and other girls were forced by their “husbands” to sit with other men so that they could give them sexual favours.
She added that a Pakistani man who provides administrative work for the Chinese men raped some of the girls at the house.
Despite this, M and the other girls remained confident that they will go to China for a better life.
Some girls do end up going to China following their marriage but they are forced into prostitution.
The promise of marriage in order to lure girls into sexual slavery is an elaborate scheme by Chinese gangs.
The gangs are paid between Rs. 300,000 (£1,600) and Rs. 500,000 (£2,700) from Chinese nationals for one girl. A small amount is then paid to the girls’ family.
Many gangs involve women who run brothels and ‘supply’ the girls. Lawyers also prepare legal documents in order to legitimize the girls’ marriage.
Some Chinese men even claim they have been converted in order to trick Pakistani girls into marriage.
A*, a girl experienced this. Once she was married, she was kept in a house in Islamabad and her husband began teaching her Chinese.
She filed a complaint when she found out that he was planning to lure her into prostitution.
As more cases have come to light, law enforcement agencies have started to take action against Chinese gangs.
Lahore DIG Operations Ashfaque Amed Khan said: “Immediate action is being taken on A’s complaint received from Lahore.
“All divisional superintendents have been directed to immediately act upon her complaint and arrest the accused and those who facilitated them.”
Dr Waqas Abbasi, Director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), spoke to The Express Tribune and said that there have been both Chinese and Pakistanis have been arrested.
More than 36 people have been arrested according to reports.
The Islamabad Bride
A young woman living in Islamabad, Yamna Bibi, aged 24, was married off to a Chinese man after her father, Basheer Ahmed, a poor 60-year-old partially handicapped man, was approached by matchmaking agents.
“They said that they had a proposal from Chan Yen Ming, a Chinese national who had recently been converted to Islam, for my 24-year-old daughter Yamna Bibi.
They said that Chan was ready to bear all expenses for the wedding and that he would even allow Bibi to work in China.”
In January 2019, the marriage took place between Bibi and Ming. The father felt a burden had been lifted for one of his daughters. He said:
“It was a huge relief for me. After the marriage, Bibi stayed in Islamabad for a month and a half, awaiting her travel documents.
“We remained in contact with her during that time. After she received her documents, she flew out to China.”
Ahmed was under the impression his daughter would get a job and be able to send some money back because they were struggling financially.
However, once Bibi arrived in China the story changed. She called her father one day crying on the phone. Recalling the call he said:
“My daughter told me that we had been cheated.”
“Chan was not a businessman as the agents told us, and he tried to force Bibi into prostitution. When she refused, Chan beat her up.”
Then when Ahmed approached the matchmakers their response shocked him:
“I informed the matchmaking agents in Islamabad.
“Their chief was called David but his real name was Wei Lin Ping. I contacted Wei to inform him about the situation.
“But I was shell-shocked by his reply. He told me that Chan had spent 2 million Pakistani rupees (€12,568, $14,121) on my daughter, and that if I wanted my daughter back, I must pay back an equal amount of money.”
Eventually, in this case, Ahmed managed to get his daughter back in May 2019 by getting help from the Pakistan embassy in China.
Xin Xianhai allegedly established a gang in which they smuggled Pakistani girls into China.
This comes after the FIA conducted raids in Faisalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi and arrested some gang members.
An intelligence report stated that some Chinese nationals had rented a house in Eden Garden, Faisalabad. They claimed that they were working on a development project.
However, even after it was finished, they stayed there. The report also mentioned that the police had provided them with security.
Xianhai invited his brother-in-law, Wang Peng to Pakistan in August 2018.
The alleged gang leader, his wife and father-in-law operate a marriage bureau in China where they send pictures of Chinese men to their local agents.
They then share the pictures with Pakistani families in order to persuade them into the marriage.
For each successful marriage, the gang received between Rs. 1.8 million (£9,700) and Rs. 3.5 million (£19,000).
Xianhai and Peng tracked down the girls through their local agents. The agents were paid if a marriage was arranged.
The wedding was paid for according to the intelligence report and financial assistance was also provided to their “in-laws”.
The Chinese grooms would stay in the Eden Garden house and would pay daily rent to Xianhai until they returned to China with their “wives”.
A number of “weddings” were fixed by an agent named Tariq Masih in 2018.
A woman named only as Maria was wed to Jiang Hai Bin on October 13. Mariam with Chin Chin Cown on November 5. Hina Sabir was married to Hung Hua on December 9 and Sobia Muqadas was married to Ling Chaochen on December 10.
Another girl named Natasha Robin got married to Lee Changli on September 23, 2018.
She was in China for a few days before returning to Pakistan. She claimed she was forced into sexual activities and was tortured if she refused.
Another agent, Nadeem was paid hundreds of thousands of rupees to identify Pakistani girls for Chinese men.
He arranged the wedding of Saira with Dong Hya Hain, however, she divorced him and returned to Pakistan.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on April 26, 2019. They called on China and Pakistan to take action against bride trafficking.
This followed evidence that Pakistani girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China.
The FIA explained that some Chinese nationals were arrested during a marriage ceremony at a hotel in D Ground, Faisalabad.
During the interrogation, the gang members revealed that the gang had connections with some of the locals.
They explained that their connections had played an important role in convincing poor Pakistani parents to get their daughters married to Chinese nationals on the pretext that their life in poverty would end.
More gang members who specialize in Pakistani bride trafficking into China are being arrested daily but the ordeal continues for many young women who are victims of the scam.
There is a growing population of Chinese citizens in Pakistan, fuelled by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $60bn project that is seeing Chinese companies build roads, power plants and industrial zones across the South Asian country.