Dec 8, 2020
State Department Event Transcript: “Trafficking of Women and Girls in China via Forced and Fraudulent Marriage”
The US Department of State held a virtual event on the “trafficking of women and girls in China via forced and fraudulent marriage” on December 8. Read the transcript of the event here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Tina Mulford: (00:00)
All right. Well, greetings and welcome everyone. My name is Tina Mulford. I’m with the Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom. Thank you so much for joining us. This week we mark two occasions, Human Rights Day, and the conclusion to 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, both of which occur this Thursday, December 10th. It is in this spirit that we bring you today’s event, Trafficking of Women and Girls in China by a Forced and Fraudulent Marriage.
Tina Mulford: (01:25)
Now, before we begin, I need to make one technical announcement. We are pleased to offer today’s event in live interpretation in both English and Urdu. Everyone must select a language. At the bottom of your screen, you’ll see an interpretation icon, it’s a globe. You’ll need to click the icon and select either English or Urdu. Now, for example, English speakers, you must select English in order to ensure that you hear the interpretation later in our program. And now to formally open our event, I am privileged to turn things over to the US Department of State’s ambassador at large, to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, John C. Richmond. Prior to his current role, Ambassador Richmond had a distinguished career in the global battle for freedom. He co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute that exists to decimate modern slavery at its source, and his work to combat human trafficking has earned numerous honors. Mr. Ambassador, you are a true champion, combating trafficking in persons. Ambassador Richmond, I turn it over to you.
John Richmond: (02:36)
Tina, thank you so much. I’m so grateful to be able to be here, to join Ambassador Curry and Ambassador Brownback, and esteemed members of the Academy, including Professor Leery, whom I respect so greatly, and members of civil society, to address this unique form of human trafficking.
John Richmond: (02:56)
We’re here to discuss how human traffickers exploit people all over the world in forced and fraudulent marriage in China. Experts tell us that China’s former one-child policy and other state-sanctioned population control policies have created a legacy of gender imbalance that drives the demand for brokered marriages between Chinese men and women from around the world. As we note in the Trafficking and Persons Report that comes out every year in June, every year, deceptive and coercive brokers transport thousands of women and girls and men from Southeast Asia, Africa, all the way to China, where traffickers subject them to sex trafficking, sexual assault, forced childbearing, and forced labor and domestic service under false pretenses of marriage to local men.
John Richmond: (03:54)
Chinese men often take out large loans to pay these predatory marriage brokers. A portion of the money is often used to create false travel and identity documents. So some girls under the age of 18 are able to pass through immigration services undetected. The brokers sometimes with local accomplices and sometimes in person, actually deceive women with promises of happy, financial security. More deceptive brokers, Lord with job offers in China only to turn them over to husbands once they’re across the border. To recover the debt, “Husbands.” Sometimes subject women to forced prostitution, to domestic servitude and sometimes impregnating them and forcing them to bear children, even transferring them to a new husband in an exchange for money. Many of these victims are actually trafficked twice, first by the broker and later by the husband.
John Richmond: (04:56)
What makes this trend even more tragic is the apathy of some law enforcement authorities. When survivors of these horrors escape and attempt to report their abuses. For instance, we once met a brave woman from an ethnic minority in Burma, a trafficker operating as a broker deceived her with a job offer in China. She traveled there only for a Chinese family to confine her for over a year and force her to bear a child. When she finally escaped, she ran to the closest police station and they returned her to her traffickers and her husband and the abuse continued for months until she finally fled again. She was able to cross back into Burma, but Chinese authorities refused to help her relocate and reunite with her son. Some local law enforcement officers that have helped these women by giving them money for transportation or temporary shelter.
John Richmond: (05:54)
But these ad hoc, at best, services, they do nothing to hold. The perpetrators accountable. Traffickers are operating with near impunity. The truth is that authorities in China often side with the traffickers or the husbands, preventing the women from accessing justice, protection services or compensation. Rather than arresting the traffickers, some police actually arrest the victims as they flee and force them to return to their traffickers, sometimes in exchange for bribes to the man’s family. This story isn’t unique. It happens so commonly that many countries mistakenly believe that it’s the only form of trafficking that exists. And there’s an unfortunate domino effect here. That is, many countries have put all their effort into stopping this form of trafficking and fail to address all the other types of trafficking in their own countries. But some countries are getting on track. They’re billing systems and processes to strengthen the preventative efforts against this form of trafficking. Governments must avoid overly restrictive policies and preventative measures. We want to stop this form of trafficking, but we do not want to put additional controls that harm people.
Speaker 1: (07:23)
John Richmond: (07:25)
Indeed, governments must train their immigration officials to identify forced or fraudulent marriages before they happen. And this involves knowing the trends, learning from survivor experiences, being able to spot signs of deception and catching falsified identity documents. It also involves training officials to connect with law enforcement and protective networks, government bodies providing social services, NGOs, people who provide psychosocial care. So the traffickers are brought to justice and victims are made whole. Countries should also be ready to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence local accomplices who facilitate these crimes. And they should raise awareness of fraudulent recruitment in schools. We know that brokers prey on vulnerable communities. This includes internally displaced, ethnic and religious minority groups, and communities hit hard by conflict and natural disasters. And as now we are learning, also public health crisis. So government should work harder to protect the human rights of these vulnerable communities, so that it can lessen the push factors that cause them to seek opportunities in China.
John Richmond: (08:45)
But before I conclude, I want to acknowledge the challenges that some countries face when trying to work with China on this issue. We know the audience isn’t always receptive, but I urge governments to continue to press China to do more. To identify, to protect, assist, and certainly not participate, in this horrible crime. We want them to ensure the rights of parents are protected. We want them to punish the perpetrators. We want them to work hard, to prevent it from happening in the first place, including by demand targeted awareness raising and enforcement. And we will continue to do this in our reporting and our engagement on the world stage.
John Richmond: (09:34)
I’m so grateful for all of you convening this important discussion, and I look forward to hearing from survivors, look forward to learning about your experiences and all the ideas that are going to be shared. Together, we are in this fight to win. We want to make sure that the cause of freedom is paramount. That we put freedom first and that this form of trafficking and quite frankly, every form of trafficking is absolutely decimated. And that everyone is free to select where they live, where they work and who touches their bodies. Thank you.
Tina Mulford: (10:12)
All right. Thank you Ambassador Richmond. Those were powerful remarks. And we’re grateful that you kicked off our event with such strong statements. As you mentioned, these are challenging topics to address and for the victims, it’s challenging to talk about. And that’s why now we’re going to transfer over to our survivor testimony portion of the program. Now our first survivor testimony today comes from a woman in Vietnam. Her testimony will be read by Luong Lee. She’s the anti-trafficking coordinator with Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which is a Vietnam based NGO, which is assisting children and families. Our second survivor testimony comes to us from the Kachin Women’s Association, Thailand, which is an NGO based in Chiang Mai, Thailand that works to protect and empower Kachin women and children from neighboring Burma. Luong, thank you for offering to assist with the testimony. We look forward to the comments you’ll share. Over to you.
Luong Lee: (11:11)
Thank you, Tina. Yeah. So my name’s Luong, I am now reading the testimony from Yin, one of our survivor. My name is Yin, I’m 20 years old, from Southern Vietnam. My mother was a single mom, I never knew my father. When I were 10, my mother left me with my grandparents and I never saw or heard anything about her again. My grandparents worked as street vendors selling food in order to have enough money to raise me. But money was always short. And at 11, I dropped out of school to work to support my grandparents. The year I turned 17, I was working at a coffee shop about 10 kilometers from my home. That’s when I was tricked to marry a Chinese man. I went home to visit my family. A distant relative came and asked me if I wanted a job with a high salary. I accepted the offer and followed the relative.
Luong Lee: (12:25)
As soon as I crossed the border into China, I was told that there were no jobs and I was forced to marry a Chinese man. Otherwise I would have to pay back the cost of the trip. I was sold to a man who was extremely poor and could only afford a [inaudible 00:12:45]. I tried to get internet to call for help, I successfully contacted the relative and she rescued me from the first marriage. But I then found out that she immediately showed me to and ad man. I found a way to escape again. Brutally I was so a third time to an ad man in different province of China. My third husband and his parents were suffering from mental illness. They locked me in the house and helped their son to rape me. I was desperate and I jumped out of the window from the second floor and knocked myself out.
Luong Lee: (13:33)
When I woke up, I could not feel anything in my legs. The husband’s family found me and took me back inside and kept me there for a month, ignoring my cries a pin. The husband continued to rape me, even though I was severely injured. During that time I could not move or go to the toilet. My abdomen started to swell, making them think that I was pregnant. They brought me to a local hospital for examination, they took me home right away when they knew I was not pregnant. But my condition got much worse. And the family had to take me to the hospital again, knowing that it was my last chance to get there rescued, I screamed and cried out hysterically for someone to help me. The Chinese doctor became very suspicious and combed the police. Once they knew I was Vietnamese, the police required the hospital to keep me so they could investigate my case.
Luong Lee: (14:43)
The doctor told me I had a spinal cord injury and needed surgery. After the operation, although it was successful, the doctors advise it to me that I need long-term physical therapy, the police and hospital arranged me to stay in a small vacant room at the hospital to get medical care and participate in the criminal investigation process. During my time in the hospital, I [inaudible 00:15:17] had to take care of myself. I spent almost a year at the hospital to complete the investigation before being repatriated to Vietnam. I was relieved to know that as a result of this investigation, the Chinese husband and his father were sentenced to seven years imprisonment for human trafficking and sexual violation. The Vietnamese police contacted Blue Dragon to help repatriate me and provide reintegration support. Blue Dragon collected me at the border and brought me back to Hanoi.
Luong Lee: (15:55)
A social worker took me to her hospital in Hanoi. I still strongly believe that my legs would recover. Unfortunately, the doctor reported there was no chance I would ever be able to walk again. This broke my spirit. I could not accept the fact that I was disabled for life. My future was so uncertain. My grandparents were too old to take care of me. Blue Dragon invited me to stay in their shelter for survivors of trafficking and supported my daily living and medical needs.
Luong Lee: (16:36)
They also supported me to attend some therapy to improve the functional performance of my legs and strengthen other parts of my body, so I could manage my disability. Blue Dragon psychologist provided intensive therapy to help me come to terms with my situation and recover from the trauma of my abuse in China. I blamed myself for my experiences. I shouldn’t have trusted my relative that easily. I was so naive. I also should not have jumped from the second floor. I would have a space with the Chinese family if they did not hit me or he did not abuse me that much. After five months, I felt more confident, I register for a graphic design training course, I complete the training course in August, 2020. And I have already had a job at the photo design center upon graduation. The Vietnamese police carry out the investigation of my case. However, knowing that I had returned the relative ran away to avoid prosecution.
Luong Lee: (17:53)
I am now participating in different activities to support people with disability, abused children, and survivors of human trafficking. I am positive about making my life meaningful to society. Yeah, that’s her testimony.
Tina Mulford: (18:14)
Luong, thank you so much for sharing Yin’s story with us. It’s I think a stark reminder that trafficking itself is sometimes only the catalyst to many other abuses that follow and the physical and psychological trauma that these individuals face for the rest of their lives. So thank you again for sharing. We’ll now transfer to our next survivor testimony. It is a documentary video. And just as a word of advice, the first few moments of the video, there is no sound. It’s all text. So you’ll just read the text until the sound kicks in. So pause for one moment as a key up the video.
Speaker 2: (19:58)
[foreign language 00:19: 41].
Lagwi Zung Myaw: (20:02)
[foreign language 00:23:00].
Speaker 3: (20:02)
[foreign language 00:23:27].
Lagwi Zung Myaw: (25:42)
[foreign language 00: 01:37].
Tina Mufford: (26:41)
I would like to thank again the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand for that video. It was beautifully shot, but just another harrowing story. We’ve now heard survivor testimony from a woman originally from Burma, a survivor’s story from a woman from Vietnam. And with that, we’d like to transition to our next stage of the program.
Tina Mufford: (27:05)
As we transition, I’d like to remind anyone who perhaps joined us late or didn’t do so at the beginning to please select a language for interpretation. You can do so by clicking on the interpretation icon at the bottom of your screen. It should be a little globe. So for example, English speakers, you would need to select English, which will ensure that you can hear the English-language interpretation of our Urdu speaker.
Tina Mufford: (27:33)
And now to kick off our panel and for a few remarks, I’d like to turn things over to Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, to give remarks and to moderate our panel of experts. I’ve known Ambassador Currie for several years and have been thrilled to see her leadership drive important issues at the State Department, where she has also had roles leading the Office of Global Criminal Justice and serving as the US Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and also as Alternative Representative to the UN General Assembly. Her career-long focus and expertise on human rights, political reform, development, and humanitarian issues with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region is truly inspiring. Ambassador Currie, the floor is yours.
Kelley E. Currie: (28:23)
Thank you, Tina, for that very kind and overly generous introduction. I have to also thank Tina and Ambassador Richmond and the others responsible for this event today. My friend Ambassador Brownback, who [inaudible 00:28:40] the idea for doing this event among the three of us. This wouldn’t have happened without the leadership that I have from colleagues and from great partners here at the State Department.
Kelley E. Currie: (28:53)
As the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, I am fortunate to be able work with wonderful colleagues here at the State Department to highlight challenges such as the one that we’re focusing on today, which is the trafficking of women and girls into China from surrounding countries.
Kelley E. Currie: (29:10)
I want to thank everybody who’s joining us today for this important discussion. This truly is one of the under-reported issues that when we think about the challenge that we face and the results of Chinese Communist Party rule and the human rights abuses that flow from that, this is not always the top of mind. But it’s an issue that affects nearly every country around China, and every country on its border suffers from the problems that are inherent inside China due to Chinese government policies and Chinese Communist Party determination to control everything, including the reproductive cycles of the people of China.
Kelley E. Currie: (29:58)
It’s also very fitting that this event coincides with 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women this year. This is a campaign that we do every year here at the State Department and my office is proud to lead. It starts on November 25th, which is the Day of Action, and then goes through Human Rights Day on December 10th. And this year, this event is part of our efforts to raise awareness and to work for the protection and the end of violence against women, including trafficking. The testimonies that we’ve heard today highlight what the pull factors are for this kind of trafficking, this bride trafficking into China and this kidnapping and coercion of women into the sex trade, essentially, through marriage. And it should really erase any question about why the United States is so committed to working on these issues and why we have taken such a strong stand on the issue of trafficking of women and girls and the need to support and assist them.
Kelley E. Currie: (31:06)
It also highlights the important role that our civil society partners such as Blue Dragon and the Kachin Women’s Association play in providing essential services and being able to reach these hidden victims of Chinese oppression in countries around the region.
Kelley E. Currie: (31:26)
When we think about why this is happening, the locus has to come back to the history of China’s one child policy, which has created a dramatic and nearly unresolvable gender imbalance in the Chinese population. Because of a historical and cultural preference for male children, millions of girls were murdered as a result of the implementation of the one child policy over the past 70 years. And the gender imbalance is conservatively estimated at more than 30 million missing girls who should have been born during that time period, but were not.
Kelley E. Currie: (32:09)
And so this has fueled the demand for large-scale trafficking of women into China, whether it’s for bride trafficking or for enslavement in the sex industry in China, which is enormous. Sadly, this problem seems to only be getting worse despite official pronouncements by the Chinese government since 2016 that they have ended the one child policy because of the historic deficit and the gender imbalance across the population for the past two generations as a result of this preference, as a result of the forced abortion of children, the result of gendercide, from the abandonment of female babies. This crisis will only get worse, we anticipate.
Kelley E. Currie: (33:04)
With Burma, there’s also the added element of how Chinese foreign policy creates conflict and repression in a neighboring country and shields that country’s perpetrators from the consequences of their behavior. One of the main drivers, as KWAT mentioned, for girls to leave Kachin State and Shan State and the neighboring areas there is the conflict that has been taking place in Kachin State between local communities and the Burmese government.
Kelley E. Currie: (33:40)
And since this conflict began to escalate again after the breaking of a ceasefire in 2011, the Chinese government has worked very hard in the international community to shield the Burmese military, which is its close partner, from the consequences of their repression and their abuse in Kachin State and Shan State. And this has created a permissive environment for a terrible trafficking problem.
Kelley E. Currie: (34:08)
And the discussion that the video demonstrated is just the tip of the iceberg. But, again, it shows that this is not just a matter of China’s internal policies affecting the Chinese people, but how Chinese foreign policy also creates drive and push factors for trafficking. We’re seeing this also when we hear from families of women and girls who are trafficked into areas as brides. And we see what happens when the Chinese media finds out about these cases or even the failure to prosecute or take these matters seriously by the Chinese authorities. Recently, there was a very prominent case of 629 brides trafficked from Pakistan where the trafficking ring was busted and the authorities shut that down, but that did not really change the media narrative about what was happening and why.
Kelley E. Currie: (35:11)
And despite the fact that the Chinese Communist Party crushes any dissent that it disapproves of or any communication and is able to censor the internet very effectively, they seem to be turning a blind eye to many practices and websites that facilitate trafficking, including online services such as [inaudible 00:12:32], which offers a money-back guarantee if the brides that they traffic to men in China are not virgins, and free replacements for brides who’ve run away. This is just appalling that these things are allowed to happen.
Kelley E. Currie: (35:51)
And so what concerns us the most is that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to bride trafficking. According to the Chinese government’s own estimates and own census reporting, from 1996 to 2000, the birth imbalance was 120 boys to every 100 girls born in China. That cohort is now entering marrying age of 20 to 24 years old. And the natural sex ratio at birth is 105 boys to 100 girls. So we can see that this problem is only going to accelerate over time.
Kelley E. Currie: (36:31)
We need to listen to survivors and help them find their voice, so I’m proud that this event today was able to do that. And I, again, extend our appreciation to our partners from Blue Dragon and KWAT for helping us to make these voices heard and allowing us to hear from these incredibly courageous survivors. And it gives me hope that more women will be able to escape, that law enforcement in the countries surrounding China will take this problem seriously and do more to help these women, and that the countries themselves will also support civil society organizations that are working to assist survivors and to prevent these abuses from happening in the first place by making sure that women and girls are aware of the dangers of trafficking and that they have alternatives.
Kelley E. Currie: (37:24)
With that, I want to thank everyone again, and I’m ready to, I think, kickoff our important discussion with our expert panelists. Tina, I’m sorry. I know we’re a little out of order because of my technological problems today, so I want to make sure I’m doing this right.
Tina Mufford: (37:41)
You are absolutely right. We are now ready for the panel discussion and we continue the floor with you to moderate the discussion. Thank you.
Kelley E. Currie: (37:50)
Great. Thank you. We’re really fortunate today to have several leading experts from civil society who are joining us to give us their insights. For our first two panelists, again, you’ve already seen them. They are from our partners at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam, Michael Brosowski and [Luan Le 00:15:10]. Blue Dragon recovers kids from danger and reunites them with their families when possible, providing recovery services. And they’re now going to give some brief remarks.
Michael Brosowski: (38:22)
Thank you, Ambassador. I appreciate your introduction. I’d like to start out by giving some background and context to Blue Dragon’s work. We started in 2002 as a charity helping street children here in Hanoi, where we’re based. We didn’t set out to be an anti-trafficking organization, but after some years of our work, we came across cases of trafficking within Vietnam where children were being trafficked from rural areas to urban areas for sweatshop labor. And so we became involved, and some years after that, one of the young women from our street kids program was trafficked to a brothel in China. And so that was how we got involved in this larger issue.
Michael Brosowski: (39:10)
Today, we typically deal with cases of Vietnamese girls and women who are deceived and taken into China, believing they’re going for work or with a friend, and instead are sold into what we as a shorthand term call forced marriages, although they’re strictly not speaking marriages.
Michael Brosowski: (39:32)
Now, given that today’s webinar is being organized by the Strategic Religious Engagement Unit, one question that naturally arises is, is religion a significant factor in the trafficking of Vietnamese girls and women? Now, the short answer to that is no, but there is some nuance to that.
Michael Brosowski: (39:51)
Typically, the victims that are targeted because of a vector of vulnerability, and a very common vulnerability is to do with belonging to an ethnic minority group. Vietnam has 53 officially-recognized ethnic minority communities, making up 15% of the population, and they are well over-represented in the trafficking statistics.
Michael Brosowski: (40:18)
And each of those 53 groups may have its own religious beliefs. As distinct from an organized religion, they may have their own spiritual or religious beliefs. And they are not the reason that they are targeted for trafficking, but it just happens incidentally that those Vietnamese people being trafficked to China are more likely to hold religious views of a minority group.
Michael Brosowski: (40:45)
One thing that we hear in the testimony that Luan read a little while ago is that those religious beliefs often buoy or support the victims of trafficking while they’re held captive to cope with their situation. And so religion is a factor, but it’s not necessarily a cause of the trafficking. And on that note, I’ll hand over to Luan to explain a little more about the victims of trafficking that we encounter.
Luong Lee: (41:16)
Yeah, thanks, Michael. Human trafficking happens everywhere in Vietnam. Anyone can be victims of trafficking. A university student, a single mom, or a high school boy. 80% of trafficking cases in Vietnam are to be sent abroad. And accounting for 70% are on the borderlines between Vietnam and China, to Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and other countries. Yeah.
Luong Lee: (41:46)
Based on Blue Dragon database, we have worked with more than 1,500 victims so far. So we learned that about 48% of victims are trafficked by their friends, boyfriends, or acquaintances. Yeah. About 40% of them met their traffickers on social media. The trafficker gained their trust, invite them to hang out or go shopping, then sell them into prostitution or other slavery situations.
Luong Lee: (42:23)
Though there are some groups who are more vulnerable, they are women and children and people from ethnic minority groups because of poverty, unemployment, and low level of education, so they are easily targeted by traffickers who offer them job opportunities. Yeah.
Luong Lee: (42:45)
Although only ten percent of victims lured to get married with for foreigners, however, two-thirds Vietnamese victims are ended up in first marriage in China. We count it first marriage. However, they’re never husband and wife. Yeah. The woman and girls are actually victims of domestic servitude.
Luong Lee: (43:13)
They are taken to cross the border illegally. They don’t have any legal papers, so there are no marriage certificate, no rights for those women. They are locked in the house, cut all connections with outside. They are raped by the husband or sometime have to serve other men in the family. They are forced to work hard on the farms, in the factory, or as a sex worker to pay back the money that the family has paid to buy them.
Luong Lee: (43:48)
There are many reasons to prevent the victims to be rescued. They are isolated. They cannot make [inaudible 00:20:57]. They have no money. They don’t know the language and worry about their future at home, especially when they have a child with the Chinese husband, so they decide that they have to leave for their children in China.
Michael Brosowski: (44:18)
You can see from Luan’s comments the complexity of the situation that these women and girls find themselves in. And I reflect back on what Ambassador Cotton said in his introductory remarks as well, hinting at some of the complexity where the buyers of these women in China may be Chinese men who think that they are paying a marriage broker. They don’t realize they’re paying a trafficker.
Michael Brosowski: (44:45)
And so when these girls and women are free and return to Vietnam, they come back with all layers of trauma to cope with. I think all of us participating in this call can understand the complexity that these women face. So Blue Dragon, as a not-for-profit working in Vietnam, we specialize in providing care for those survivors.
Michael Brosowski: (45:15)
And we have a model that that’s quite comprehensive. We consider ourselves like a one-stop shop for services for trafficking survivors. So we have lawyers on staff who provide legal advocacy and represent trafficking survivors in court when their traffickers are arrested. We have psychologists and social workers. We have shelter. And we facilitate the return of the girls and women to their family homes when that’s possible, which it very often is. So there’s quite a range of services.
Michael Brosowski: (45:52)
And while we do that, while we provide those services, there’s the bigger question for us of, how do we reduce this phenomenon? How do we reduce the incidence of trafficking?
Michael Brosowski: (46:02)
How do we reduce the incidents of trafficking? And we’ve been very fortunate to have funding through the JTF body of the US State Department up until now, in which we’re actually working on a project, looking at that question of what interventions work, what can we do that changes the situation that means less women are trafficked, and we’re developing some answers. It’s a work in progress, but we are starting to see results from that. We’re also separately to that working with the Vietnamese government at the moment on a major revision of the national trafficking law. It’s up for its annual 10 year review and Blue Dragon will take part in that. I would finish by saying we’re very fortunate to see strong interest and concern from both the Chinese and the Vietnamese governments on this issue. They’re both aware and concerned. And for us that creates a good condition that we’re able to deliver services and able to look forward to a time when this phenomenon of the trafficking of girls and women for forced marriages might one day be a thing of the past. So I want to finish on that note of optimism and I’d like to hand it back to you ambassador.
Kelley E. Currie: (47:28)
Thank you so much for that excellent presentation and for sharing with us about your work. Next, I would love to turn the floor over to our next panelist, who is a Pakistan based human rights defenders, Saleem Iqball, at Great Risk. Saleem has tirelessly advocated for Christian minorities, who in Pakistan, who are then also at risk of being trafficked to China. So Saleem is going to be giving his remarks in Urdu. So as Tina mentioned, we wanted to make sure that you are able to understand them, so please make sure you have the interpretation turned on, on your screen. So with that, I’m going to turn things over to you Saleem. Thank you.
Saleem Iqball: (48:13)
Thank you so much [foreign language 00:02:34].
Thank you very much. First of all, I’d like to thank the panelists for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue, which has been in the news in Pakistan, and has been very difficult for Pakistani Christian girls, especially and because all these women who were targeted, they were targeted for their status as uneducated Christian women who are living in poor households and come from poor communities and do not have much autonomy in the society to protect themselves.
Saleem Iqball: (49:51)
[foreign language 00:04:00].
Many of these women were targeted because of their faith and many of the community leaders, especially the pastors in Pakistan facilitated the brokering of and price setting of how much money would be paid for each proposal to be given for Chinese men to later pay for.
Saleem Iqball: (50:40)
[foreign language 00:05:02].
These girls who were targeted were coming from obviously poor families, but some of the government officials along with pastors who were the first ones to identify which households have young women who are coming from uneducated backgrounds and who could be targeted. The government officials form drains of trafficking brokers. And along with police advocates, pastors, all of them were bribed and paid a price to recruit a young female who could be married to a Chinese man. The promises that were made were not just that the man is a Christian man who is from China and is just looking for a wife and will provide a good life in China, but also that the family will be taken care of when the woman is taken to China. And since they come from a poor household, they did not want to turn down these offers, which seemed amazing for them to be taken care of afterwards as well.
Saleem Iqball: (52:20)
[foreign language 00:06: 30].
It’s turned into an organized crime because the fake marriage certificates were generated, but when we went and checked for the authenticity, [inaudible 00:53:13] said that the certificates were in fact real, but the fact that it was that the government officials were being paid because in Pakistan, it’s not so easy to just get married to anyone, you need to do a lot of checks, but it was apparently really easy to just pay $600 to the family and the Chinese… Sorry. Yes. And the marriage were basically being commenced and completed within the first 10 days of the contact. And the Chinese men took care of the financial burden of the marriages as well. They were not religious or they were faking their identities as religious people because in Pakistan, religion is a big factor of somebody you would like to marry to. And if the families had known that they do not actually believe in Christianity or are not Christians or coming from the families they promise to, they would have never sent their girls to be married.
Saleem Iqball: (54:10)
[foreign language 00:54:25].
The girls were kept in groups of 20 to 30 people in one apartment complex, and the Chinese men would then come there and select the wives. They would like to take with them to China and get their passports, all official documents with the help of government officials involved in the rings and bring them to China. The lives were then uncovered when the girls arrived and saw their houses, which were completely different than the photos that they were shown. And the girls’ mobile phones were snatched. They were beaten, forced to have sex with multiple men and the men who were in the houses, they were always drinking and beating them and mocked the girls for practicing religion. The girls were not even allowed to pray anymore.
Saleem Iqball: (56:18)
[foreign language 00:10: 39].
One of the girls who was kept in one of these houses, she contacted me and realized that everything was a bit strange in that it could unfold and become something else. She just had some skepticism. And I got in contact with her. I tried to uncover the story, but none of the national media was interested back then. I got in touch with a journalist from Canada who broke the story with AP News and that’s how we could draw attention to everything that was happening. Soon afterwards, I started getting threats from government officials, somebody called [inaudible 00:11:50], who is at a very high official position in Pakistan even threatened me on national TV saying that you are destroying the Pak-China friendship and you don’t know the big consequences that could have for you and your family in the coming years.
Saleem Iqball: (58:05)
[foreign language 00:58:14].
To get a loan for some money and arrange a press conference by myself to break the news to the media and say that it needs to get attention because Christian girls are especially being targeted. Nobody’s coming out to help and a lot of people are involved in it and nobody’s able to do anything. I was threatened and I was told that official agencies would come and pick me up and nobody would even know where I would be even taken because Chinese gangs as well were involved in it.
Saleem Iqball: (01:00:27)
[foreign language 00:13: 38].
When they arrived in China, they shared their experience with me in a WhatsApp group chat, which I’m still a part of. And they were sharing that they have been sold off to different men. They are forced to have sex with multiple men and they would like to come back to Pakistan as soon as possible, but the government did not help. The Chinese authorities did nothing. And later, when the news really took off and everybody knew about it, some girls could come back whose families could send them money, but there are almost 300 girls that are still there in China and we have no contact with them. And I’m sure they are in a miserable situation right now.
Saleem Iqball: (01:01:08)
[foreign language 01:01:18].
Many of the men who were arrested when the news came out at first, both governments had no interest, neither the Pakistani government, nor the Chinese government, but due to the media pressure, the government had to arrest some men. But later on, the men were first arrested, but even the FIRs against them were cleared and they’re not being charged at all anymore. They are free in the society and it’s really sad to see that our justice system does not provide justice to these girls.
Saleem Iqball: (01:03:24)
[ foreign language 00:16: 51].
Many of these girls who returned to Pakistan, they were either pregnant or they were about to deliver children and they could not afford or have abortions anymore. And in the Pakistani society, they are now shamed for having done such a thing as being trafficked into China and they live in this image for being a dishonor for their family and for the society at large. The government did not facilitate any trauma helping schemes for them or any integration programs, and these girls are extremely vulnerable right now because many of them who came back were married by their families to get rid off of them. And then later they were deposed and had to marry again.
So it’s within a year that they had to marry in three or four times with multiple men in Pakistan and their families want to get rid of them as well as their in-laws as soon as they know what has been their history and what has been their past, want to get rid of them. I would like to request that if international community could somehow support the integration of these girls back into society by providing them with counseling, psychosocial counseling, as well as skilled support, which could provide them with some empowerment to be able to live their lives and forget their past and whatever happened with them.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:05:43)
Saleem Iqball: (01:05:44)
[foreign language 01:05:37]. Thank you so much. [foreign language 01:05:43].
I’d like to thank everyone for this opportunity. And I would like to request all governments that laws should be implemented and enforced because the men who were left out and are free in the society could target the same women again. There’s no action being taken against these girls and something should be done.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:06:10)
Thank you so much for that powerful and very detailed explanation of the horrific situation that these girls have lived through. It’s just terrible. Thank you so much for your work to highlight and uncover this situation. Now I’d like to turn to our final panelists, Professor Mary Grall Leary, who is joining us from a Catholic university and who will talk about the legal challenges associated with bride trafficking. Thank you Professor Larry.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:06:43)
Thank you ambassador and thank you to everyone who arranged this really important conversation. It’s an honor for me to be here, but it’s really an honor to be in the presence of folks like our last two speakers or last three speakers who are on the front lines doing this important work. And I want to thank the organizers for elevating the voices of survivors. It is so essential in these discussions to have them elevated because those voices, I honestly believe as we look at this issue, people hear these voices, they have a deeper understanding about what we are discussing. So I’m just an academic. And I come in at the end. I’m not on the front lines, but I think I’m going to try to sort of put what we’ve heard in some sense of an international legal context, talk about some of the challenges, and make some suggestions.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:07:37)
To do so, I want to offer an allegory. As I prepared for today, I went back 20 years. This is a little bit of an American perspective, but I think many of you working around the world can have your own version of this. And I remembered being a young domestic violence prosecutor sitting in court, and we had a legal structure for dealing with violence. It was called the criminal law. It was called charges like battery, assault, threats. And yet I’d be sitting in court in a domestic violence situation or a child abuse situation and somehow there was something in the air. Somehow it was different because we were dealing with family members and these matters, which have no legal significance were filtering into the process. And I found myself standing in court thinking, “Oh, I’m not familiar with the, he knows her exception or he’s married to her exception to the law.” And I would suggest to you that that is where we find ourselves today. We have a human trafficking legal framework in the Palermo protocol.
Speaker 4: (01:08:48)
I got a bad connection with her too.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:08:55)
And hundreds of countries who have their own legal structures and yet, as we’ve heard today, we’re not seeing that legal structure-
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:09:03)
We’ve heard today we’re not seeing that legal structure comply.
Ambassador Brownback: (01:09:04)
Is that coming through, this [crosstalk 01:09:05] come through to you?
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:09:09)
Some observations about that and sort of try to make a case on how our legal structures in the Palermo protocol and the push/pull factors that we’ve heard talked about apply clearly in these sorts of cases. It was 15 years ago that Kevin Bales talked about Louise Shelly’s… Ms. Mufford, am I ready to go? I’ve been cut off. All right. So, I keep going. All right, Ambassador, thank you. And you described it in this way, “People are pushed out of poor countries where economic opportunity is lacking and pulled into countries with a higher level of prosperity.” Well, what we’ve heard today is if we replaced some of those words with marriage, okay, we’re seeing the exact same things. And these push factors, we typically talk about a lack of employment or poverty, but as was pointed out by our speakers, often times, this happens, because of the gender of the potential victims as well as being part of a religious minority or some other minority.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:10:22)
So, it is exasperated their lack of opportunity. Research tells us as well that this is exasperated in rural lower educated folks where their advancement is even further limited. And Johns Hopkins did a study of forced marriage into China from Myanmar. And they talked about forced marriage as “a coping strategy for families living in poverty and financial insecurity”. In addition to what we’ve heard today, I just want to add a couple of other things that have emerged from the research. Another factor in this push factor is the concept of bride price so often found in some countries in which there’s a custom to pay the bride’s families. Well, that becomes an economic incentive, and understanding we have to be delicate here about customs, but what we’re seeing happening is this is compounded when Chinese men are able to offer a much higher bride price. So, as we heard from the last speaker, this can become very compelling to the families. Another push factor that we’ve alluded to, but I think should be underscored is the idea of corruption. We’ve heard several examples of where we can find that corruption, government officials, but also there’s been lots of discussion about clergy members or “clergy members” actually facilitating these matters and being paid significantly to do so, as well as government officials and embassy staff who look the other way when they see these kinds of numbers come through for visas. I think that also when we think about push factors should discuss the cultures in which women are devalued, and women are passive and families traditionally make decisions for their marriage. All of that can add to these push factors and put tremendous social pressure on these victims/survivors to marry. And one last push factor I want to discuss is this idea of displacement. Again, we’ve heard about it a lot, but it’s worth noting that the UNODC’s 2018 global report noted that forced marriage is much more prevalent in high conflict countries.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:12:39)
And as Ambassador Richmond pointed out, the tip report noted that when governments subject religious minorities to forced marriage, that and detention that increase… Excuse me. To detention, that and displacement, that increases this as well. The pull factor as Ambassador Eckels-Currie really touched on with the gender imbalance. I just want to add, if I could, to that. Some of the research talks about how it’s not just seeking women, but these “husbands” have a social pressure to take care of their elders, so that the whole family becomes incentivized to find a “wife” to come over to not only produce children, but to take care of the household. And these men are often, those “husbands” are often in rural, poorer communities who don’t have the opportunity to obtain a wife in a more traditional way, because of this gender imbalance and gender imbalance.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:13:42)
Adding to that, the loose borders. Vietnam and China, apparently you only need a border pass, not a passport. And one thing that hasn’t come up yet that I think is worth mentioning is the particular vulnerability of North Korean women into China. One thing that the research has availed to us is that the traffickers/husbands will often threaten them with return, which means not only potential death for them, but also for their family. So, what a powerful control mechanism that is. Now, I’m sensitive to time, so I was prepared to go through all of the factors in the Palermo protocol of which you are all well versed. And I won’t do that so that we can get to hear more from our survivors and frontline workers, but I did want to highlight a couple of things. In terms of convincing the world this is a trafficking problem, sometimes people point to the Palermo protocol and say, “Well, forced marriage is not in that list.”
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:14:45)
And I think it’s important to point out that the preparatory documentation indicated it was discussed at length, the special rapid tour advised that slavery like should include this language. And the ultimate decision was to have the Palermo protocol as it is more open-ended, so that we could add these kinds of forms of exploitation as they arise. But there are other international documents that do talk about survival marriage and forced marriage as these forms of exploitation. I just want to touch on two other points, if I could, Ms. Mumford, and you can cut me off if it is time. But one is we’re all familiar with the action means intention framework. We’ve talked a lot about marriage and about marriage and “husbands”.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:15:41)
I just want to underscore what we’re seeing in forced marriage is marriage used in recruitment, either as used in recruitment, the allure, as we’ve heard about sometimes, and with the promise of a better life, or what we see is people allured for other reasons, and then put into these “marriages”. It’s worth noting the trafficking in persons report this year discussed how illicit brokers facilitate these marriages as South Asian women into China with these brokers receiving fees up to $30,000. Last point about religious minorities, if I could before I throw out some suggestions. The abuse of power or position or a position of vulnerability in the Palermo protocol is so essential here. We’ve talked about that power differential in a number of ways. I’d just like to add to that when we’re talking about child brides or these young women.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:16:47)
What we see is in many of these cultures with the bride price, they get a higher price, the younger the bride. So, there’s that incentive there, but the children are that much more vulnerable in that power differential. In terms of where do we go or what are a couple of challenges and a couple of suggestions as we turn to the panelists. The challenges, of course, some of these harmful practices can be disguised in cultural practices and disguise the forced marriage. So, really being aware of that. Also this perception in the air that marriage is a private matter that government’s not wanting to get involved in. And the real power of control over women who are concerned about their children, we haven’t heard as much discussion about that, but the research does tell us that the ability of these “husbands” and families to control the destiny of these children is a powerful force for these trafficked women.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:17:50)
What are some solutions we can think about? Well, several countries, such as Australia and in India have included forced marriage in their definition of trafficking to sort of close the door to this debate. Secondly, actually more and more training, as Ambassador Richmond talked about to identify and to prosecute these cases for what they are, trafficking and not other matters. Also technology, our last speaker talked about this, the role of technology in recruitment and control is huge here, and really hasn’t been discussed on an international level. And then lastly, really working with NGOs. I’ve got several examples of some other great work that’s going on, other than what we’ve heard of, but I just want to quote the UNODC here and their study of forced marriages. They had an insightful comment.
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:18:42)
They said, “NGOs,” in their research, “NGOs possessed more information on forced, abusive, and exploitive marriages compared with criminal justice authorities.” We really have to incorporate them into the solutions, because they are part of the populations at risk, part of the populations that are involved in this and have the information to assist law enforcement and the trust from the victim community to move forward. Thank you, Ambassador. I hope I made it in time.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:19:14)
Thank you, Professor Leary. As you do know though, however, we have run a little bit short on time and I see that Ambassador Brownback has joined us. And so while I would have loved to have a nice time for us to have some Q&A, unfortunately I think we are not going to be able to do that today, but I do want to extend, again, my deep appreciation to our panelists for their incredible contributions. I think we’ve all learned a lot from your presentations today. And I again want to commend you for the incredible work that you’re doing. I will give you each a couple of minutes, if you have any comments that you wanted to share, I’ll start with our friends from Blue Dragon, and then we’ll turn it over to Ambassador Brownback, if that’s okay with you, Tina.
Tina Mufford: (01:20:02)
That’s great. Thank you.
Michael Brosowski: (01:20:07)
So, some final comments from Blue Dragon. I finished our little presentation just by trying to add a note of optimism. And I do think that cooperation is the key to going forward. I think that the US government has led the world in setting the tone, in placing human trafficking as a priority for every country. And I think that the US therefore is uniquely placed to continue leading this conversation. And I think the challenge for us is how to bring in governments of countries around the world that maybe have less understanding of, or let’s see, place their significance on the trafficking of persons. But I think it’s something that we can do collaboratively as a globe. I’m glad I’m not a politician or a diplomat having to work out how to do that, but I remain fiercely optimistic. Would you add anything, Luong?
Luong Lee: (01:21:17)
Yeah. So, from our experience, yeah, cooperation, not only between countries, but between… Within Vietnam, for example, we are NGO and we work very closely with Vietnam law’s enforcement agency, not only to rescue [inaudible 01:21:36] for victims however too we see the witness in the law, we see the witness, in their capacity, and we provide support, yes, on the way to all [inaudible 01:21:50] end human trafficking and supports their victims. Yeah.
Michael Brosowski: (01:21:54)
Yeah. Thank you for inviting us today.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:21:56)
Of course. So, Liam, did you have anything that you… Any final words that you wanted to add?
[foreign language 00:13:02].
Thank you very much for this opportunity.
[foreign language 01:22:11].
Thank you very much for the opportunity, and I really wanted some action to be taken on trafficking into China, but as well as I would like to highlight the forced marriages, which is a common practice in Pakistan, which actually perpetuate this practice of trafficking to be curbed in Pakistan, because girls coming from minority backgrounds face it the most. And if the US government could do something to tackle that issue, it would, in the long run, also help to stop trafficking.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:22:49)
Thank you, Celine. Professor Leary, did you have anything, any final, or you’re good?
Professor Mary Grall Leary: (01:22:57)
How about I quote the Pope? How about that for a final word? That seems appropriate. Pope Francis recently said, “We’re facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competencies of any one community or country, and we need mobilization of comparable size to that of this phenomenon.” And I think that that’s the answer. And I think we’ve heard from our colleagues, these NGOs working in partnership, that’s how we can respond to it.
Kelley E. Currie: (01:23:24)
I think that is a fitting note to transition to my good friend, Ambassador Brownback, to take us home and close us out on this important webinar. But I would be remiss without thanking Ambassador Richmond and the team in JTIP and the team in Irv brought this wonderful panel to life and brought this event to life today. Thank you so much. And without further ado, by my great colleague, Ambassador Sam Brownback, our ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
Ambassador Brownback: (01:23:56)
Thank you very much, Ambassador Kelley. Appreciate it. Appreciate the panelists. They…
Tina Mufford: (01:24:14)
Sir, your audio and video seem to have paused. Do we have you connected?
Ambassador Brownback: (01:24:21)
Tina Mufford: (01:24:21)
(silence). Ambassador, do we have your audio connected, if you could respond?
Tina Mufford: (01:24:40)
Kelley E. Currie: (01:24:48)
Oh, it looks like we’ve lost Ambassador Brownback unfortunately. Tina, can I just turn things back to you then?
Tina Mufford: (01:24:59)
Sure. I believe he’s been having connection issues this morning. Hopefully he will join us back here in just a minute. As we wait for him to, to reconnect, perhaps I can just give you a bit of background on Ambassador Brownback. As Ambassador Currie said, he is the ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He has had a long career of public service. He served as the governor of Kansas and also represented his state in the House of Representatives and the Senate where he’s actively worked on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries around the world.
Tina Mufford: (01:25:36)
And he was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998. Under his tenure as ambassador at large, the department has hosted two ministerials to advance religious freedom and worked hand in hand with the government of Poland as it hosted the third just weeks ago. Also during his time, the department has launched the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a network among countries all working toward international religious freedom. And in general, the Ambassador has just worked tirelessly to fight for the rights of everyone, anywhere, any time to believe or not believe as their conscience leads. I believe we are still missing the Ambassador. Is that correct?
Ambassador Brownback: (01:26:26)
No, I’m on if you can you hear me?
Tina Mufford: (01:26:27)
Are you here?
Ambassador Brownback: (01:26:28)
Yeah, can you hear me?
Tina Mufford: (01:26:29)
We can hear you, yes. Please go ahead.
Ambassador Brownback: (01:26:32)
Thanks, Tina. I’m sorry I’ve been having a real technical difficulty this morning, so I apologize that having that sort of difficult. And congratulations on a fabulous program pointing out a specific big problem that exists. And that’s the marketing of primarily women and girl… force brides in concubine type of situations. I’ve, for years, have studied and looked at this trafficking issue from a sense of both supply and demand, if you can put it in such crass terms. And unfortunately, there’s this huge demand in China, because of the one child policy primarily, there are other factors too. And there’s unfortunately a supply situation. Often religious minorities, not exclusively and not because they’re religious minorities, but because they’re vulnerable. And it’s incumbent upon us, as the international community, to aggressively push back against both ends of this problem, this horrible problem. It was a great honor of my life to be involved in the original human trafficking bill that passed the Congress over 20 years ago.
Ambassador Brownback: (01:27:48)
And you could see then these situations lining up and this is one of the biggest ones in the world. We’ve got to push on these countries that are not treating their religious minorities appropriately, giving them appropriate guarantees, and rights, and security. We’ve got to demand that they be allowed to practice their faith and have the status of a normal citizen in their country. We’ve got to push on China to stop this practice of allowing people to be marketed, women to be marketed in these forced servitude situations.
Ambassador Brownback: (01:28:26)
We’ve got to showcase this and we’ve got to push to stop this practice and see that that it’s stopped around the world. So, I want to thank you for tuning in to this overall program. I hope it’s brought an awareness. I hope it’s brought an awareness that brings action and stops this horrific form of human trafficking from continuing in this region of the world. Thank you very much. God bless you all for being a part of it. Thank you, Ambassador Richmond and Ambassador Currie, for working together, all of our offices together to highlight this problem. And let’s go do something about it. Thanks.
Tina Mufford: (01:29:08)
Thank you, Ambassador Brownback. That concludes our event today. I’d like to echo my thanks to Ambassadors Richmond, Currie, and Brownback for their leadership on this issue. We’d also like to thank each of our guest speakers for their insightful remarks and also Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and Kachin Women’s Association Thailand for facilitating such powerful survivor testimonies. There are so many great advocates and organizations like those represented today and others like Human Rights Watch, and many, many more who work tirelessly to address these issues and we commend your ongoing efforts. I want to acknowledge the Collective Department of State staff who made today’s event possible. Thank you for your hard work. And last, thanks to all of you for joining this important conversation. Wherever you are in the world, I bid you good day and good evening. Thank you.