In 2019, the Freedom Fund is launching a new hotspot focused on reducing the number of Myanmar women and girls trafficked into China for forced marriage and childbearing.
Child and forced marriage of Myanmar girls and women to Chinese men is a significant problem that has largely gone unreported and unfunded. China’s one-child policy and the corresponding shortage of Chinese women of reproductive age has led to a “marriage squeeze”. By 2025-2030, an estimated 22 to 30 million Chinese men will be unable to find women to marry. One consequence of the marriage squeeze is that girls and women from Myanmar have been forced to marry Chinese men, forced to bear children and pushed into domestic servitude.
Myanmar’s economy is largely agrarian. Two-thirds of the population live in rural areas and 40% of GDP comes from agriculture. Myanmar’s economy has not grown at the same rate as its neighbours, especially China and Thailand. “Pull” factors such as jobs and higher wages abroad have combined with a range of “push” factors – including poverty, conflict in ethnic areas, and repression – to cause this high level of migration. At the same time, tens of thousands have been trafficked along the same migration routes, ending up in slavery and forced labour in the destination countries.
This growing problem has been known about for years—yet it is severely under-reported, under-researched, and under-funded, despite the fact that the Myanmar government’s own records show this is the most common form of trafficking that authorities prosecute each year.
The Freedom Fund will support local groups who have been working on this issue to intensify and scale up their efforts. The Freedom Fund will also work with the Myanmar government – and through it, the Chinese government – to improve interventions and promote better policies. The Hotspot will focus on the states of Kachin, Northern Shan and Eastern Shan.
The hotspot strategy focuses on three objectives:
1. Strengthen prevention mechanisms and structures through effective women and girls’ empowerment, community organising, and promotion of safer migration.
Prevention efforts to reduce the number of women and girls in situations of forced marriage and child bearing will target two primary groups: vulnerable women and girls living in Kachin, Northern Shan and Eastern Shan States, as well as women and girls who transit through the area on their way to China. For both these groups, the pull factors into China are similar: the potential to improve their socioeconomic status through more job opportunities and the proximity of the border with China, which is relatively easy to cross. For girls from the three-state geographic focus, the push factors are residing in a fairly remote area, instability due to conflict, the culturally accepted practice of arranged marriage and marriage via matchmakers, experiences of ethnic and gender discrimination, and limited employment opportunities within Myanmar. For those migrating to China from other areas in Myanmar (such as Mandalay and the Ayerwaddy region), conflict and the remoteness of one’s village may factor in somewhat, but the main push factors are limited economic opportunities and gender and ethnic discrimination faced by young women.
Prevention approaches will be tailored to reach both target groups: strengthening local communities to identify and prevent trafficking from the region as well as promote safer migration for those who may travel through the region on their way into China. Prior to implementation of prevention efforts, the Freedom Fund will work in collaboration with local groups to conduct formative research on the prevalence of forced marriage of Myanmar women and girls in China, assess the community’s knowledge of safer migration and risk of trafficking, and identify the key routes used by traffickers in the three-state area of focus. This research will promote a tailored approach to prevention efforts that allows local insight and knowledge to inform the prevention approaches as outlined below.
2. Support trafficking survivors to leave situations of exploitation, recover, and reintegrate.
Prevention efforts may reach those who are traveling to China and those living within the three-state hotspot geographic areas of focus, but there is also a need to incorporate activities focused on the liberation and reintegration of survivors who have already been trafficked into China. To assist trafficking survivors in withdrawing from situations of exploitation, activities will focus on improving the border response, increasing the accessibility of recovery services, and engaging local communities to prevent stigmatisation and support returnees as they transition back into home and community life. This multifaceted approach incorporates a method of reintegration that focuses on the individual, the community, and societal structures.
3. Influence policy and practice relevant to safer migration and trafficking for forced marriage.
Given the growing demand for brides in China, forced marriage will continue and warrants a response not just from local communities and CSOs, but from both the Myanmar and Chinese governments. Government responses should be informed by hard data, local voices, and knowledge, and governments should seek to incorporate and strengthen local efforts through supportive policies, bilateral agreements, and the pursuit of prosecution against traffickers. Information gathered from a variety of sources will help construct a foundation of knowledge which can help inform policy and practice.