Recent reports published with the international media during the last few days, describe a horrifying reality for many women and young girls from Vietnam who are smuggled into China, being sold as brides often with their own families as the facilitators.
Vulnerable women in countries close to China, such as North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy. China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children compared to female. As a result millions of men now cannot find a Chinese bride which is a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.
Apart from forced marriages, women are also being targeted for forced labour and other illegal activities. Many of the cases reported as forced marriages actually involve prostitution but the social stigma that this carries forces them to report these cases as forced marriages.
According to the United Nations inter-agency project on human trafficking (UNIAP) in China, trafficking in women and children remains a significant problem in several provinces. According to UNIAP this includes forced prostitution 19 per cent; entertainment industry, hairdressing or massage parlours 9 per cent; brick kilns 9 per cent; manufacturing 4 per cent; domestic labour 3 per cent; forced begging 3 per cent; others 11 per cent.
Due to an inadequate number of dedicated shelters to assist trafficking victims, they generally return to their homes without access to counselling or psychological care. Victims in China are not being provided with access to long-term care. Provincial governments in the southern border provinces, lacking resources, often rely upon NGOs to help provide services to victims
According to the practice followed, foreign victims are generally repatriated, sometimes involuntarily. They are provided little access to rehabilitative, financial, or legal assistance. Many of the victims face retribution. While government regulations stipulate that repatriated Chinese and foreign victims of trafficking no longer face fines or other punishments upon return, authorities acknowledged that some victims continued to be assigned criminal penalties or fined because of provisions allowing for the imposition of fines on persons travelling without documentation.
Additionally, the lack of effective victim identification measures and police corruption in China in some cases cause victims to be punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
"The new demographics and economics of the area have caused trafficking for women and children to escalate at unprecedented levels"
The new demographics and economics of the area have caused trafficking for women and children to escalate at unprecedented levels. The international community and the EU more specifically, being the most active and efficient political player in the international scene, need to intervene and request greater regional cooperation and binding policies from the countries involved.
The EU and China, on its part, need to realise that development and cooperation is not a trade only one way policy, but also involves social development and protection for those most vulnerable, such as women and children, because this is the only way to reach social peace, sustainable and equal development within all levels of society.
Protection for women and the fight against women trafficking, which are key policies of the EU institutions, should also be a priority in the EU agenda on Asia, along with other initiatives such as regional development and investments.