“When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention."
A list has revealed a trafficking scheme where 629 Pakistani girls and women were sold as brides to China.
The list was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable.
It shows the most concrete figure for the number of women caught up in the trafficking scheme since 2018.
The list was put together in June 2019. However, since then, investigators’ drive against the networks has mostly come to a halt.
This is due to pressure from government officials who fear that it would hurt Pakistan’s ties to Beijing.
In October 2019, a Faisalabad court acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking.
According to a court official and a police investigator, several of the women who had been interviewed refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence.
Saleem Iqbal is an activist who has helped parents rescued several Pakistani girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.
He said that the government has sought to restrict investigations, putting “immense pressure” on Federal Investigation Agency officials pursuing trafficking networks.
Saleem said: “Some (FIA officials) were even transferred.
“When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention.”
Senior officials have stated that investigations have slowed, investigators are frustrated and Pakistani media have been pushed to hold back on their reporting into trafficking.
One official explained: “No one is doing anything to help these girls.
“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.”
He said he was speaking out “because I have to live with myself. Where is our humanity?”
China’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the list.
In a statement, the ministry said: “The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behaviour.”
It was revealed that Pakistan’s Christian minority is targeted by brokers who pay poor parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands, who return with them to their homeland.
Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Pakistan.
Trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen as well as Christian ministers who are bribed to urge their congregation to sell their daughters.
The list of 629 women was put together from Pakistan’s integrated border management system, which digitally records travel documents at the country’s airports.
The information includes the brides’ national identity numbers, their Chinese husbands’ names and the dates of their marriages.
Most of the marriages took place in 2018 and up to April 2019. It was believed that all 629 were sold by their families to grooms.
One official said that “the lucrative trade continues” as it is not known how many more Pakistani girls and women were trafficked since the creation of the list.
He said: “The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($25,000 and $65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($1,500), is given to the family.”
Many of the women told investigators of their ordeal, which included forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse, and forced prostitution.
One report even alleged that organs were being harvested from some of the women sent to China, however, no evidence has emerged.
In September 2019, a report labelled “fake Chinese marriage cases” was sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The report detailed cases registered against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 Pakistani associates in Faisalabad and Lahore as well as Islamabad.
Thirty-one of the Chinese suspects were later acquitted.
According to the report, police found two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one being operated from a religious school. The cleric involved fled police.
Following the acquittals, other cases involving Pakistanis and at least another 21 Chinese suspects were sent to the PM.
But all the Chinese defendants were granted bail and left Pakistan.
Activists have claimed that the country has tried to keep the situation quiet so that Pakistan’s economic relationship with China would not be jeopardised.
For decades China has been an ally of Pakistan.
Pakistan is receiving aid under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global endeavour aimed at linking China to all corners of Asia.
China’s demand for foreign brides is rooted in that country’s population, where there are around 34 million more men than women.
This is the result of the one-child policy that ended in 2015 and a preference for boys.
Human Rights Watch released a report in December 2019, documenting bridal trafficking from Myanmar to China. Surrounding countries have “all have become source countries for a brutal business.”
The report’s author, Heather Barr, told AP:
“One of the things that is very striking about this issue is how fast the list is growing of countries that are known to be source countries in the bride trafficking business.”
Amnesty International’s campaign director for South Asia, Omar Warriach, said Pakistan “must not let its close relationship with China become a reason to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses against its own citizens”.
“It is horrifying that women are being treated this way without any concern being shown by the authorities in either country. And it’s shocking that it’s happening on this scale.”