It was recently reported that COVID-19 related unemployment is causing an increase in bride trafficking from Cambodia to China. As the garment, restaurant, and tourism industry has shrank, it would appear that the trafficking industry has found new momentum. However, I would like to take this opportunity to remind interested parties that this is a more nuanced and complicated issue, and that the continued perception of this form of migration as universally forced is both unhelpful and potentially damaging for the women involved.
Since 2012 I have researched the trend of Cambodian women who migrate through marriage to China. I have interviewed dozens of women, both those who have stayed in China and those who have returned to Cambodia. I have spoken to women who have been mistreated and abused at every stage of the process – from recruiters offering false promises of wealth, to being physically, mentally, and sexually abused by husbands, in-laws, Chinese police, and Cambodian consulate officials – as has been correctly and widely reported. Although rarer, some women are exploited from the very beginning, agreeing to migrate for work and instead being trafficked into a forced and exploitative marriage.