Vietnamese child bride alarms China as official says gender imbalance to weigh for years

Deep-rooted traditional values and practical needs make farmers favor boys in China.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images
Deep-rooted traditional values and practical needs make farmers favor boys in China.

The case of a pregnant 12-year-old Vietnamese girl shocked China in the past week, highlighting the impact of a gender imbalance that is not expected to improve for some time.

The girl, discovered when she arrived at a Chinese hospital for a pre-natal appointment, was a victim of human trafficking, police said. Public prosecutors in the city of Xuzhou said she had been abducted in her home country before being transported to China and sold in May to a 35-year-old man for 30,000 Chinese yuan ($4,465).

The case, which dominated social media conversation, is a stark reminder of the fallout from a decades-long one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to curb a burgeoning population.

A cultural preference for sons meant that female fetuses were aborted and baby girls abandoned, leading China's National Health and Family Planning Commission to acknowledge in 2015 that the country had the world's most serious and widespread gender imbalance.

Late last year, China announced that it would ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children.

But the gender imbalance will remain over the long term, despite recent improvements in the sex ratio, a family planning commission official warned on Tuesday, according to the state-run China News Service.

In 2015, the birth gender ratio showed a decline in the number of males to females for the seventh straight year, but it was still at 113.5 boys for every 100 girls, Wang Peian, deputy head of the commission, said. Wang did not say when the country's gender ratio would eventually even out.

A May 2014 photograph shows H'mong women in Sapa in the northern Vietnamese province of Lao Cai. Lo Cai has a safe-hous
Hoang Dinh Nam | AFP | Getty Images
A May 2014 photograph shows H'mong women in Sapa in the northern Vietnamese province of Lao Cai. Lo Cai has a safe-hous

The lack of females has resulted in a competitive marriage market for men, particularly in rural areas, and while some women from neighboring developing countries have willingly entered into marriages in China in search of a better quality of life, there have been reports of girls being tricked or trafficked into the country to be sold as brides.

CNN reported in April that villages along the Vietnamese-Chinese border were particularly targeted by human traffickers, who can sell young girls in China for more than $3,000.

The U.S. State Department's 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, published in June, cited observers as reporting that the gender imbalance "increases the demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men – both of which may be procured by force or coercion."

"Women and girls are kidnapped or recruited through marriage brokers and transported to China, where some are subjected to prostitution or forced labor," the U.S. State Department said.

Chinese authorities have reportedly cracked down on human trafficking, but the task has been complicated by difficult terrain and porous borders in parts of the country.

The State Department acknowledged in its most recent report that the Chinese government was making "significant efforts" to combat trafficking, although it still did not "fully meet the minimum standards" for elimination of the crime.

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