China’s ‘One-Child Policy’ Gender Disparity Drives Illegal Trafficking of Burmese Women

China’s ‘One-Child Policy’ Gender Disparity Drives Illegal Trafficking of Burmese Women
Laborers work at a garment factory in Yangon, Burma on Nov. 1, 2018. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

For decades since 1979, Beijing strictly enforced its one-child policy, and families that didn’t comply were subjected to heavy fines, forced abortions, and sterilizations.

The policy was eventually lifted in 2016, but it’s left the country with a huge gender disparity.

In February 2016, China’s state-run daily Global Times reported that 290 million males were born in China from 1980 to 2010, which is 36 million more than the number of females born during the same period. The gender inequality is more severe in rural China, where traditional beliefs prevail that boys are better able to do grueling farmwork. Liu Yanwu, a sociologist from China’s Wuhan University, estimated that about 20 million men in rural villages are now unable to find wives because of the skewed ratio.

The 20 million is set to increase to 30 million by 2020. “It will become a prominent problem that plagues China in the 21st century,” Liu told the Global Times.

On Dec. 7, a report jointly published by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, a nonprofit advocacy group established in 1999 to help ethnic minorities living in the northern Burmese state of Kachin, shows that China’s gender-imbalance problem has spilled into neighboring Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The report, titled “Estimating Trafficking of Myanmar Women for Forced Marriage and Childbearing in China,” estimated that about 7,500 women from the Kachin and Shan states in northern Burma have fallen victim to forced marriages with men in China—mostly in areas bordering Burma—between 2013 to 2017. Roughly 65 percent of these women (4,900) were trafficked through a recruiter or broker in Burma or China.

Additionally, the majority of the 7,500 women were forced to bear children for the men.

The report involved researchers conducting interviews and household surveys in 40 sites throughout Kachin, Shan, and southern China’s Yunnan Province, which borders Burma, from June 1, 2017, to March 31 of this year.

Researchers were able speak to Burmese women who were either married to a Chinese man or bore a child without being married. Researchers also spoke with Burmese religious leaders, Burmese marriage and labor brokers (a middleman who advises about job opportunities in another country), and Burmese community leaders.

Through these interviews and surveys, as well as population census data from Burma and China, researchers were able to estimate the numbers of victims of forced marriage, forced childbearing, and the number of trafficking cases.

About 65,000 Burmese women were living in China as of 2017, according to the researchers. Among that population in China, 2,500 were in forced marriages and 2,300 of the married Burmese were forced to bear a child.

“Victims of forced marriage suffer a range of rights violations and exposure to physical and psychological risks,” said Courtland Robinson, associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School and the report’s lead author, according to the school’s official website.

Some of these violations included sexual violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors by their Chinese husbands, according to the report.

“He doesn’t have a good attitude. But he is the father of my child, so I am staying [in China],” said a Kachin woman, in one of the interviews in the report. She added, “We are struggling in a difficult situation. He would have an affair, use opium, and beat me as well.”

Burmese women are subject to forced marriages because their families sometimes face extreme financial hardship in Burma. Marrying a Chinese man could bring in money to ease their families’ financial burdens.

According to the report, Chinese usually pay 30,000 yuan ($4,339) for a woman, but the price could be as high as 300,000 yuan ($43,339), for younger girls, who are considered to have greater potential to become pregnant. Some Burmese women were sold into marriage many times, “just like animals,” an unidentified Chinese teacher told the researchers.

Putting these Burmese women at higher risk is that a lot of these marriages are unregistered with Chinese authorities, meaning that they’re unlikely to receive help if they try to voice any grievances.

The report calls on the Burmese government and Beijing to take action. One of the suggestions is for the Burmese government is to provide training for border officials and local police on anti-trafficking. As for China, the report said the Chinese regime must strengthen and enforce laws and regulations against forced marriages, forced childbearing, trafficking, and domestic violence.