Coordinating our efforts against forced marriage in China

Every year, many Cambodian women are being sold a dream. It’s a dream of a better life in China: a rich husband, a comfortable office job, a world away from their provincial, and often poor, villages. In reality, brokers are working on both sides of the border to sell these women into marriages they find are far below their expectations, and into a life in rural China strikingly similar to the one they were trying to escape.

This issue is now being reported in the mainstream and international news, but Chab Dai have been dealing with cases such as these since early 2014. So how can we respond effectively to this growing problem?

A market for marriage

Reports blame China’s one-child policy for reducing the number of women in the country and creating a ‘market’ for men seeking a bride from overseas, wherein men often pay huge sums for a Cambodian wife. Across the border, prospective brides are approached by locals, even people they know and trust and are told that the money will go to their family.

But after the deal is done, the families rarely see the amount they were promised, and the women often end up trapped in an abusive marriage, in a foreign country where they may speak little of the native tongue. Passports are usually taken from them, posing a problem in itself, since train travel in China – a potential means of escape - requires valid ID.

How we help

Cases usually reach Chab Dai’s Case Support team via our helpline number, either from the women, the Cambodian Embassy in China or referrals from our partners. Chab Dai have managed to help repatriate 13 women from China, but coordination remains a problem. Even if the women make it to the Cambodian Embassy, they can end up stranded there for months or placed in a government shelter under sometimes unliveable conditions.

On a visit to China, Justice and Client Care Senior Manager Chan Saron commented:

“What we need is someone working on the ground, directly with the survivors. There is a gap for a coordinating organization between the survivors, the local Chinese authority, Cambodian embassy in China and government institutions and NGOs in Cambodia.”

Commitment to collaboration

Aware that this is an issue experienced by many of our partners and stakeholders, Chab Dai recently held a Round Table discussion aimed at sharing information and forming a collaborative response. World Vision, AIM, IOM and others were at the table with us, relating lessons learned and suggestions for the future.

We discussed the need for a centralised, Chinese hotline number that women can more easily access and shared ways we can better advise women on their escape routes, including how to get back their passports for the train journey, or travelling by alternate transport.

Together, we identified the most common areas these women usually come from, suggesting we could geographically target our prevention programmes to ensure key communities are informed about this issue.

The meeting closed with a series of positive action points, including working towards an MOU with the relevant government departments, as well as tackling the lack of funding by creating a basket fund between NGOs.

But the most important take-away was an ongoing commitment to collaboration. Only an organised effort between NGOs, the government and other key institutions will effectively handle, resolve and even prevent these cases from happening. Let’s hope the next few months and years will see those gaps on the ground in China filled, a more proactive and cohesive response from both sides of the border and more Cambodian women returned home safely.

Image by Stephen Durham used under Creative Commons license.