Mentally ill women sold as brides to rural bachelors looking for an heir

By Xinhua News Agency – Global Times Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-29 18:23:01

Faced with the prospect of being unwilling life-long bachelors, many single men living in the Chinese countryside have sought out brides from Myanmar and Vietnam. Others have found an alternative - women with mental disorders. They marry these vulnerable women not to help them, but to produce an heir. Seeing the potential for huge profits in such "matchmaking," traffickers have emerged to supply such women.

Photo: CFP

Shortly after the Chinese health authorities celebrated World Mental Health Day on October 10, the story of a criminal gang that trafficked mentally disabled women astonished readers across the country.

The gang looked for young women who are mentally ill or disabled in rural areas in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province in South China, paid their parents and promised to find them a good husband, and then took them to Shandong Province and sold them to elderly bachelors in Liaocheng and Linqing, the Xinhua News Agency reported on October 13.

In Shandong, these women were held captive in a pigsty for potential "buyers" to inspect. Most of the buyers were from poor families in mountainous regions. They knew the women had mental problems but they didn't care. What the buyers valued most was whether the women were fertile or not, according to the report.

When the police broke up the gang and sent the rescued women back to their homes, some parents even refused to accept them. Law experts and sociologists are calling on the authorities to pay more attention to these women and to better protect them.

Case cracked

On February 8, 2015, on train K2386 from Nanning to Changchun, which stops at Shandong's Liaocheng, a woman behaving peculiarly and the two men escorting her aroused the attention of railway policemen. After interrogating the three passengers, the police found that the woman was mentally disabled and had been trafficked by the men from Guangxi.

When the train stopped in Jiangxi Province, the three passengers were transferred to the public security bureau. As the investigation continued, the police found that the men were part of a gang trafficking mentally disabled and ill women.

Sun, a pig farmer in Shandong, mainly took charge of contacting "buyers." When the "orders" came, he would notify the intermediary Fan, who would then call Fu, a local in Guangxi. Fu then informed the "matchmaker" surnamed Lan. Lan would then have two other women seek targets in neighboring villages, according to police investigation.

Usually, the matchmakers would convince the parents that they could find a good husband for their daughter and would pay around 5,000 yuan ($786) to the parents when taking the girl away, Xu Jian, a policeman handling the case, told Xinhua.

"When promising to marry the woman to a good family, their families seldom ask questions. What they want most is to marry the girl off," Lan confessed to the police after detention.

She said for most families in poverty, women with mental disabilities are a burden and families often want to get rid of such women as fast as they can.

The investigation found that parents scarcely contact their daughters after they are "married" and the women lack the ability to stand up for themselves due to their mental disorder.

According to Xu Jian, the "matchmaker" would receive up to 2,000 yuan from each successful marriage. But when the women were taken to Sun's piggery in Shandong, they were sold for as much as 100,000 yuan.

Since 2013, the gang has trafficked a total of 10 women and earned more than 600,000 yuan, according to the police.

The gang members are awaiting trial. According to Chinese law, they may spend up to 10 years in prison.

Tip of the iceberg

But police said the case might be the tip of the iceberg as many such trafficking cases remain undiscovered due to people's poor legal awareness.

"The buyers always live in poor regions where people have poor legal awareness. Most neighbors haven't realized this is illegal, let alone take the initiative to report to police," Wu Yongming, vice chairman of the Jiangxi Provincial Association of Social Sciences, told Xinhua.

Media reports show that such trafficking cases are not rare. In August 2014, a woman-trafficking gang of eight suspects was busted by police in Dingyuan county, Anhui Province. Most of the victims were found to have mental disabilities, according to Anhui Business Daily.

After having several buyers demand a refund after discovering their new bride was mentally ill, the ringleader of the Anhui gang surnamed Yan started signing guarantees with the bachelors.

"[We] guarantee nothing else but that [the woman] hasn't been sterilized surgically and has no husband," Yan wrote on the guarantee, according to police's investigation.

According to police officer Xu Jian, most buyers are from poor families and are generally middle-aged. Older men who remain single have become an outstanding problem in the Chinese countryside in recent years.

Part of the reason for this is China's gender imbalance. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, by 2020, there will be 30 million more men of marriageable age than women. That means roughly one-fifth of available men could find themselves single.

However, during an earlier reporting trip in rural areas in Hebei Province, several young men told the Global Times that the major reason for their being single was because of the rocketing amount of money men need to pay to acquire a wife.

A custom has developed across the countryside in Hebei that to secure an engagement, the bridegroom must own an apartment in a downtown county, not in a village, a car and hand over a betrothal gift of 180,000 yuan, they told the Global Times.

In China, especially in rural areas, the concept of needing to have an heir and carry on the family line is still deeply ingrained. Therefore some desperate men turn to trafficking brides. Those who are willing to buy mentally disabled women as wives are often the poorest of the poorest.

According to the Anhui Business Daily, the trafficked mentally ill women were held captive in an isolated house without any windows in a village. The victims said before "trading" them, the gang members beat and sexually abused them. While raping them, the traffickers always took contraceptive measures. "[According to the confession of the gang members,] if the woman got pregnant, she couldn't be sold for a good price," the newspaper quoted as a police as saying.

Hard to return home

Stories of mentally ill or disabled women being raped or forced to have babies frequently surface in China. Stories about women with disabilities being caged or shackled by their parents, husband are also occasionally reported.

Liu Huaji, a 48-year-old farmer in Woyang county, Anhui, who forced a mentally ill woman to live with him for 13 years and give birth to four children, was reported and charged recently. Liu was sentenced to three years in prison for rape on October 19. After Liu's detention, the woman was sent to an asylum and four children were sent to the county's child welfare home.

But legal means alone can't eliminate these crimes.

Some netizens said the traffickers must be harshly punished but the victims' guardians are also to blame. Chinese legislators have increased the sentence for human trafficking but experts have called for enshrining guardians' responsibilities and obligations in law.

According to Xinhua, a family refused to take back a woman rescued from traffickers by police. Only after the local village committee agreed to pay her the minimum living security allowance system, the family finally agreed to take the girl.

In another case, a man surnamed Luo in Xingwen county, Sichuan Province, was detained by police in September after he sold his wife for 9,800 yuan when she started to show signs of mental illness.

"Behind the families' indifference, lies the weakness and inadequacy of social insurance," Wu Yongming told Xinhua.

Those suffering from mental illness usually need to take expensive medicine for a long time and their families need to spend a lot of time caring for them. Some of them even have violent outbursts. Thus if there isn't a strong welfare system supporting them, they would be considered a burden by poor families.

According to a press conference held by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) on October 9, one day ahead of World Mental Health Day, the number of registered patients with serious mental disorders in the country reached 4.3 million by the end of 2014. The majority of them are between 18 and 59 and have poor educational backgrounds, and 55 percent of them are living in poverty.

The country has been improving its healthcare policy for these patients, the commission declared.

In June, the NHFPC and nine other ministries jointly published a five-year plan, in which they pledged to establish medical groups to monitor and provide healthcare to mentally ill patients in over 70 percent of towns by 2020. More than half of patients will receive care in the community.

More than one third of the country has already launched policies on patients with mental disorders, the NHFPC claimed at the press conference. In Beijing and Changsha, all outpatients can enjoy free medicines. In Sichuan Province, patients need only pay part of their medical fees. In Jiangxi and Yunnan provinces, free treatment is provided to poor patients.

Nevertheless, these efforts are still not enough.

Official statistics show that there are just 1,650 medical institutes focusing on mental health and 228,000 beds. But according to an earlier estimate released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, China has more than 100 million patients with various mental diseases and over 16 million citizens with severe disorders.

Xinhua News Agency - Global Times

Newspaper headline: Used and abused

Posted in: In-Depth

blog comments powered by Disqus