The effects of China's one-child policy are well known. Culturally, boys in China are vastly preferable to girls. Chinese women traditionally belong to their husband's family when they marry, so raising them may seem like a waste of resources. Once the young woman has joined her husband's family she may no longer have contact with her family of origin or be able to help them in their old age. More concerningly, she will not be able to perform all of the spiritual duties that many traditional Chinese believe to be necessary. Allowing your only child to be a girl could be disastrous not just to the parents, but to every ancestor in their geneaology. When the Chinese government instituted the one-child policy, many families felt that their best option was to abort, or kill at birth, any female babies in hopes that the next child would be a boy.
Even before the one-child policy, female children were often seen as a burden to a family. They were referred to as "slaves" and were not treated with the same regard as their brothers. In some families, they wouldn't even be given a name - merely a number to designate the order in which they appeared. As soon as possible, they would be handed off to another family as a bride or potential bride. If that family would reap the benefit of the young woman, they should bear the burden of feeding and clothing her.
Were all women in China, or in Asian countries, treated this way? Certainly not, there are always exceptions. Traditionally, however, the lot of a woman in Chinese culture was difficult.
Thankfully, as the world continues to modernize, female children are becoming more accepted. Women are able to participate in business and earn a living, and they are seen in some places as equal with men. As daughters grow up, they are proving that they will care for an honor their parents. There is still quite a bit of work to do, but the future of girls in China is taking a small turn for the better.
What about right now? What has the one-child policy caused?
Because of the one-child policy and sex selective abortion and infanticide, China is experiencing a tremendous shortage of women. Especially in rural areas, there could be 130 men for every 100 women. Nationwide, there are 35 to 40 million women missing. At this point in history, those women would be getting married and mothering children of their own.
So, what happens where there is a shortage of adult women? Men have nobody to marry. An estimated 40 million men will seek a bride from outside China. Where do these women come from?
Prospective grooms and their families are looking to their impoverished neighbors to provide them with brides. Countries such as Pakistan, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam have sent hundreds of thousands of young women to China with more to follow.
These women are attracted to Chinese marriages because they have few resources or options in their home villages. Their families are poor and marriage brokers are willing to pay a significant amount for a young woman to travel to China to become a bride. Some women will end up happily married. Their husband and his family will be thrilled to have a bride, and eventually grandchildren, for him and she will be able to leave poverty and possibly even send money home to her family.
Other women will not be so lucky.
These women, those who are able, report back to their families that they have been forced into the sex trade. Others are kept as virtual prisoners in their marital home, with intense pressure to produce a child as quickly as possible. Still others will disappear never to be heard from again. Their families, without the resources to track them down, will be left forever wondering what has happened to their daughter.
Thol Meng, the deputy head of the anti-trafficking police bureau in Cambodia, reports that a families used to be offered $500 to send their daughter to China as a bride. The prices has now increased to almost $3,000. In a country where the average annual income is $1200, that is a significant incentive to risk your daughter's life.
These brides are often trapped in rural areas. They have no idea where they are or how to communicate with people around them. They need the use of a translation app to ask for something as simple as a glass of water. Some of the women will return to their families with a child, or expecting a child, or with reports of violence and abuse. Others will ask their families to save them, but their plight will be shrugged off. After all, she is married now, what can she expect?
Some of these women will be permitted to return to their families - but only after they give birth to a child. The "husband" and his family may be willing to allow the "bride" to leave, but they will not want to give up the child. A mother will have to choose between staying with her "husband" and his family, close to her child, or returning to a life of poverty.
So, why this topic? I know I normally talk about abortion and the right to life, what does this have to do with it?
First of all, these stories show us what happens when we try to take our reproductive lives into our own hands. China decides to limit how many children are born, and then parents decide they only want a male child. Thirty years later, the balance is off and there aren't enough women to marry. Men become desperate and turn to trafficking in order to have a wife, and hopefully a child. It is hard to imagine that a relationship that started with a hefty financial transaction will ever become a healthy, happy marriage.
Second, we can't live in ignorance. These women are lost with nobody to advocate for them. Their families, if they care, can't reach them and they're powerless to help themselves.
Finally, this pattern could be impacting us in the United States without our knowledge. Do we do business with people from China? Is there a Chinese couple living in our neighborhood? We should always be alert to signs of trafficking, regardless of nationality, but if we know what is happening overseas we will be more prepared if a scared young woman actually shows up on our doorstep.
Abortion has far-reaching, terrible consequences. We may not know for years how badly it has damaged our society. My guess? The trafficking of "brides" is just the tip of the iceberg.