Nine Cambodian Women Seek Refuge in China

Nine Cambodian women who were lured to China and forced into unwanted marriages have fled their abusive husbands and are taking refuge in the Cambodian consulate in Guangzhou as they try to arrange their passage back home, rights groups and two of the women said Friday.

A rising number of young Cambodian women are ending up sold to Chinese men by brokers masquerading as job recruitment agents or promising wealthy suitors eager to marry them. On Thursday, three women who ended up in Fujian province were repatriated almost four months after they showed up at the consulate in Shanghai, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), a local NGO assisting five of the women in Guangzhou, was alerted to the most recent cases last month by the family of one woman, who said she had been tricked into leaving her home in Kompong Chhnang a year earlier, according to Dy Thehoya, program officer for anti-human trafficking at CLEC.

“The family contacted us in September after hearing that their daughter was trafficked to China by a broker, who had promised to find her a factory job paying $700 to $800 per month,” he said.

In fact, she was sold to a man she had never met.

The nine women did not previously know each other before meeting at the consulate, but each escaped almost identical situations of domestic abuse. Some had no passports, as they had been confiscated by husbands or brokers, and the consulate staff were initially less than helpful, said Mr. Thehoya.

“When she [the woman from Kompong Chhnang] arrived at the consulate, they claimed her passport had expired and told her she was required to pay $1,800 to Chinese police or face being sent back to her husband or to prison,” he said.

But a personal friend of Mr. Thehoya went to the consulate on CLEC’s behalf and is now helping the women, having assured them that no such fee is required.

In Kompong Chhnang, the 40-year old brother of the woman said that when his sister left for China in September last year, she did not tell her family, who thought she had disappeared. But a week later, she called them to confess she had paid a broker for what she thought would be a lucrative job.

“She called and told us she had been sold to a Chinese man for $10,000. Every few months, she would call telling how he forced her to have sex, did not give her enough food to eat and physically beat her,” he said.

He wrote letters to the interior and foreign ministries but said he did not receive a response, so eventually contacted CLEC.

“I want the embassy to please bring my sister home,” he said.

At the Cambodian consulate in Guangzhou on Friday, two of the women sheltering there spoke to reporters by telephone about their situations.

“My broker forced me to marry a Chinese man and said if I refused I would have to pay him $8,000, so I had to marry him,” said a 23-year-old from Kompong Cham province. “Then my husband beat me up with a stick when I refused to sleep with him and often would not let me sleep or eat so I had to run away.”

She said she slept outdoors for a month while trying to stay out of sight and arrived at the consulate just four days ago.

“There are nine of us here and we were all forced to marry Chinese men against our wills. Please send the message to other Cambodian women: Do not come here. If you do, you might end up dead,” she said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday that he had no information about the latest victims so could not discuss their cases.

A planned Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between China and Cambodia to tackle the growing trend of Cambodian women ending up with abusive Chinese husbands—spurred by a gender imbalance brought about by China’s one child policy and a cultural preference for male children—is still at the draft stage.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo also declined to comment on the latest cases in Guangzhou, but said bilateral cooperation to tackle the problem was already underway.

“From our side, we attach great importance to this issue and have developed close cooperation with Cambodia already. Also, recently we have tracked down and arrested some of those criminals responsible for trafficking women and will continue to do so, which showcases our commitment,” he said.

Local rights group Adhoc is currently working to repatriate four of the women in Guangzhou, said Chhan Sokunthea, head of Adhoc’s women and children program. She said organizations that shoulder much of the burden of repatriating Cambodian women from China must have a chance to review the MoU.

“We will seek assurances from the government that we will be allowed to make recommendations on it,” she said.

At the Guangzhou consulate, another woman said she was also forced into an unwanted marriage. But she said she resented being labeled a victim of trafficking.

“I was cheated too and had to marry a Chinese man,” she said. “But do not use that word ‘trafficking.’ I was cheated, not trafficked.”

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