Police in Handan, Hebei province, are investigating the disappearance of more than 100 Vietnamese women who married local bachelors and had been living in local villages. They vanished at the end of November, according to several news sources. At the center of the story is Wu Meiyu, from Vietnam, who married a local villager about 20 years ago. Since the beginning of this year, Wu had been saying she could introduce young Vietnamese women to local bachelors. If they liked each other, the man would pay Wu about 100,000 to 115,000 yuan based on the couple’s ages and the bride’s perceived attractiveness.
Wu has disappeared, together with all the brides she introduced. Many of the brides told their local Chinese husbands they were going out for dinner with some other Vietnamese wives. Days later, the abandoned husbands reported the loss of wives—and huge sums of money they claimed to be owed—to local police, writes China Economic Review. The Quzhou Public Security Bureau is leading the investigation, according to the New York Times.
China’s family planning policy has resulted in more male births due to a traditional preference for sons. At present, there are 118 males born for every 100 females in China and by 2020 there will be around 20m unmarried men in the country, according to government research. “Mass migration to the cities has exacerbated the problem for rural men as most eligible women born in rural areas prefer to marry wealthier, more sophisticated men from the cities,” according to the Financial Times.
It’s customary for a man living in a village near Handan to offer a Chinese bride 110,000 yuan in cash and a car worth at least 40,000 yuan as betrothal gift. A groom is also required to own a house with modern appliances. So the cost of marrying a Chinese woman could reach as much as 400,000 yuan, according to China Daily, In contrast, the price for a Vietnamese bride is about 100,000 yuan, according to the Financial Times. For those unable to afford a Chinese wife, paying for a wife from Vietnam, Cambodia, or other parts of southeast Asia can be a cheaper option.
China has an “enormous” human trafficking problem, writes the Financial Times, although reliable estimates of its scope are hard to come by. In this case, one sign that the matchmaker, Wu Meiyu, was involved in trafficking is that she apparently illegally withheld at least one of the Vietnamese brides’ identity papers, as the New York Times reported. This particular bride and her suitor had not been married legally in China, and the bride lacked did not have a marriage visa–at least yet.
More generally, to address the human trafficking problem, this blog has suggested three reforms to Chinese immigration law:
Grant work authorization to the spouses of PRC citizens: The spouses of PRC citizens are not eligible to work in China. Obtaining a work visa is not an option for many because work visas typically require a bachelor’s degree, two years’ postgraduate experience, and specialized skills that are in shortage in China. Their families’ bank balances are impacted by having only one breadwinner. They can be lonely and depressed as strangers in a new country with no access to the self-esteem of work or the social outlet provided by a workplace. The power imbalance between working husband and stay-at-home wife can stress the relationship. In some cases, this leads to domestic violence or suicidal thoughts.
Regularize the status of foreign brides who lack valid immigration papers: Many “foreign brides” from countries like North Korea and Vietnam enter the country illegally, either by their own means or through the facilitation of smugglers. According to Professor Shen Haimei, such women lack visible legal and policy support to obtain immigrant status or even an official marriage certificate. This stimulates the growth of human trafficking crime across China’s borders and has a negative effect on society as a whole. There should be mechanisms put into place for them to regularize their immigration status.
Enact Rules to Protect Victims of Human Trafficking: Victims of human trafficking in China are “exposed to debt bondage, forced prostitution, and deprivation of deprivation, according to Heidi Østbø Haugen. The Chinese government ratified the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol in December 2009. Now, conforming domestic laws need to be enacted.
Bree Feng, More Than 100 Vietnamese Brides Are Said to Have Disappeared From Hebei Villages, New York Times (Dec. 17, 2014)
Zhang Yu, Police Seek 100 Missing Brides from Vietnam, China Daily (Dec. 11, 2014)
Jamil Anderlini, Chinese Mystery of Vanishing Foreign Brides, Financial Times (Dec. 12, 2014)
Wedlock Goes South, China Economic Review (Dec. 12, 2014)