The Interior Ministry reported on Wednesday that more than 100 Cambodian women had returned from China last year, after being trafficked to be sold as brides, revealing the continuing trend of Cambodian women being tricked into marrying foreign nationals.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said there were 112 cases of trafficked brides returning to Cambodia in 2019, of which 111 women had returned from China. The Interior Ministry official was speaking at an annual anti-trafficking meeting, which had been postponed on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Chou Bun Eng said officials were not fully convinced of the reasons for the women’s reasons for returning, but acknowledged that they had been taken overseas under false pretenses by brokers.
“According to their answers, they said they had forced marriage, but we can't agree 100 percent since we need to observe more on the cases,” she told VOA Khmer on Thursday.
“They had gone before , but when they didn't have happiness as their wish, they returned in 2019,” she added.
Cambodia has faced the consistent issue of women being trafficked overseas for forced marriages, more recently to China. The women are promised employment and high salaries, but are often forcefully married to men looking for brides. Despite the conviction of multiple brokers, the practice has continued unabated, according to human rights groups.
Chou Bun Eng claimed the practice was not only prevalent in China, but also countries like the United States, Australia, and the EU, but those women rarely returned or complained about being trafficked.
“They never report to us since they use these [fake marriages] as a means to settle down there,” she added.
Cambodians wishing to get married to foreign nationals need prior approval from the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs. According to an Interior Ministry report, 2,641 couples had requested approval to get married in 2019, and only 2,016 received permission.
The cases of trafficked brides exist outside this mechanism, where brokers convince women to go to China, promising better work and salary, said Meas Sa Im, deputy head of the women’s and children’s rights department at rights group ADHOC.
“And that they would be able to marry handsome and rich Chinese men and have better living conditions,” she said.
Meas Sa Im interviewed a Cambodian woman who had returned from China in early April after leaving in 2013.
“She first married a Chinese man who then sold her to another Chinese countryside man whose living conditions weren’t great. They live together and had a four-year-old son,” she said.
Dy The Hoya, a program officer with the labor rights group Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the practice was lucrative with agents getting anywhere up to $25,000 for every forced marriage.
Additionally, he said the women who had been married to Chinese men had faced an unpleasant and unpredictable experience in the past.
“We don’t know the intention of those Chinese men,” he said. “If you are lucky, you will meet a good man and can find real love. If you are unlucky, you will be sold,” he said.
According to a study by the United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons, entitled “Forced Marriage Between Cambodia and China” released in 2016, found that Chinese men paid brokers significant sums for marriages, ranging from around $10,000 to $20,000.
The study was based on the accounts of 42 Cambodian women who experienced conditions of forced marriages. The issue is also linked to a skewed gender imbalance in China, primarily because of the more than 30 years of one-child policy coupled with gender selection practices, the study reported.
Koy Kuong, an undersecretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the Cambodian embassy and consulate in China had helped trafficked women frequently when they came to seek help.
“The women had forced marriage via broker and we were not aware of it,” he said. “We always intervene to help and help send them back to our country.”