Families of poor girls targeted as officials remain silent not to offend Chinese.
Faisalabad: At first, in her desperate calls home to her mother in Pakistan, Natasha Masih couldn’t bring herself to say what they were doing to her.
All the 19-year-old would say was that her new husband, a Chinese man her family sold her off to in marriage was torturing her. Eventually she broke down and told her mother the full story, pleading with her to bring her home. The husband had hidden her away in a hotel in a remote corner of China and for the past weeks was forcing her to have sex with other men.
“I bought you in Pakistan,” she said her husband told her. “You belong to me. You are my property.” Her mother turned to the only people she knew who could help, her small evangelical church in a run-down slum of the Pakistani city of Faisalabad. There, a group of parishioners beg-an putting together an elaborate plan to rescue the girl from the hotel 1,100 miles away.
Natasha was one of hundreds of Pakistani girls who have been married off to Chinese men in return for cash payments to their families, most of them Christians, a community that is among the poorest of poor. The Associated Press reported previously how Christian pastors and Pakistani and Chinese brokers work together in a lucrative trade, aggressively pursuing Pakistani girls who are tricked into fraudulent marriages and find themselves trapped in China with sometimes abusive husbands.
Since then, police investigations have uncovered that many of the women are forced into prostitution in China. A picture of the extent of the trafficking networks has emerged from a series of arrests and raids in recent weeks by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, as well as testimony from victims, many of whom were previously too frightened to come forward.
The AP spoke to seven girls who had been forced into prostitution, four of them still in China.
Families are told their daughters will be wed to well-off businessmen and given good lives in China, and the marriage trade is depicted as a benefit for all sides — impoverished parents receive money, while Chinese men find brides in a country where men outnumber women.
But investigators are increasingly convinced that the majority of the girls are sold into prostitution, two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigations said.
“The girls who are interviewed say they were tortured” — using a euphemism for rape and forced prostitution, said one of the officials. “They are afraid for their families and for the disgust they fear they will feel. ... Make no mistake, this is trafficking.” However, even as investigators are uncovering the scope of the trade, the Pakistani government has sought to keep it quiet.
Senior government officials have ordered investigators to remain silent about trafficking because they don’t want to jeopardize Pakistan’s increasingly close economic ties with China, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Beijing is investing billions in Pakistan as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, a global endeavor aimed at reconstituting the Silk Road and linking China to all corners of Asia. Under a $75 billion project, Beijing promised a sprawling package of infrastructure development, from road construction and power plants to agriculture.