Global Human Rights Defence

Risking Life for a Better Future in China: Bridal Trafficking in Asia

Bridal trafficking from neighboring countries to China is still an issue to date. Desperate to leave their unfortunate life at home and/or to help their families to improve their financial situations, women find themselves attracted to false promises of human traffickers.
As a result, only in the last decade thousands of women have been trafficked from Southeast Asian countries to China and sold to Chinese men.[1]

Despair and hope for a better life as a driving force

A recent example from this year demonstrates the viciousness of bridal trafficking cases. A 16 year old Cambodian girl was deceived by a Chinese man, a part of shetou 蛇头 [snakehead] gang, who promised her a better and happier life in China. He persuaded her to go first to Hanoi, Vietnam, and then smuggled her illegally with other women to China. After arriving in China, she was sold to a Chinese man from Jiangxi province. There, she was forced into house arrest, living in inhumane conditions, where she was sexually abused. As a result, she contracted a venereal disease and experienced a general health decline. Her mother, in the meanwhile, was desperately looking for the girl, and the case was brought to the public by the media. Thus, the Chinese police, together with the Cambodian government, were able to identify the perpetrator and help the girl to get away. Despite her being a victim, she was held responsible for crossing the Chinese border illegally.[2]

Another media report describes a severe trafficking case where 15 Cambodian women were used as sex slaves for Chinese men. On September 8, 2021, the Phnom Penh Court charged a Cambodian woman (a factory worker) with the abduction of 15 women and sentenced her to 7 years in prison. The woman claimed that the 15 victims voluntarily asked her to help them marry rich Chinese men so that they can improve their financial situation.[3]

Job hunting fraud

Women who are trying to find better-paid jobs are also at risk. Looking for higher salaries in a more economically developed country, they are falling into the trap of human traffickers. However, in some cases, victims (especially in rural areas) are being contacted by ‘recruiters’ and invited to bigger cities in their home countries. Once they meet, a trafficking gang will kidnap them and bring them abroad with force.

Deprived of rights and protection

The cases mentioned above demonstrate the lack of preventive education that would inform women of the possibilities of human trafficking. Many victims are unaware of future hardships related to an illegal border crossing and undocumented stay in China. Once trafficked, women face a lack of legal protection. Thus, many are afraid of reporting abuses to the police. Moreover, the lack of a clear legal definition of bridal trafficking halts the process of finding an effective approach to deal with such cases. Even if the victim reports, the police often neglect such cases and regard them as domestic disputes.

Demographic imbalances and economic growth in China at the origin of the demand

China’s one-child policy and the preference for male babies have led to a massive gender disproportion. According to the Seventh National Population Census in 2020, the number of male inhabitants living in China was 723 million, while female inhabitants were 688 million.[4] Many Chinese men, thus, face difficulties finding wives, which has led to a brutal business of bride trafficking where men order brides from Southeast Asia and other neighboring states. Moreover, the one-child policy, which was implemented from 1979 to 2015, stimulated many parents to believe that if they were allowed to have only one child, that child must be a male. This desire of having a son is explained by the belief that while a female child marries and joins the husband’s family at some point, the male child stays with and supports his parents.

Old traditions have also played a part in creating the bride trafficking situation. For example, matchmaking or arranged marriages where a man’s family has to pay a price for a bride to show his financial capability is common in many Asian cultures. As Lhomme et al. wrote: “In some cases, the female victim may voluntarily move to China for a marriage to gain a better financial status, only to later realize she was deceived after ending up in a poor suburban family. Thus, the concept of voluntariness in those transnational marriages makes it hard to find a clear boundary between a bride trafficking case and a simply unsuccessful arranged marriage […].”[5]

The economic and political growth of China might have also contributed to the issue. Particularly the implementation of such international cooperation projects as the Belt and Road Initiative. Due to more relaxed trade and, thus, border regulations, traffickers could have been able to find ways of smuggling women into the country.

Studies show that the trafficked women and girls are often from ethnic or religious minorities, poor communities, or fleeing their own regime of violence. The fragile governments from where the women and girls are trafficked often neglect the rights of women and girls. Moreover, all the countries where women and girls are trafficked have complex relationships and deep power imbalances with China. Thus, the issue is growing gradually, and it is impossible to ignore.

Gaps in current regulations and cooperation

To combat the issue, the Chinese government produced regulations. Among them, the following can be found: cooperation and data sharing between the countries; public propaganda against human trafficking; stricter border control; education (only for Chinese citizens); screening of social media activities using such tools as word search; management of marriage registrations; conducting regular police check-ups; mobilizing social forces; striving for a balanced sex ratio of China’s population; and lenient treatment for victims.[6] Although comprehensive, these official regulations refer to human trafficking in general. There is no specific approach for dealing with bridal trafficking which is partially due to the lack of a universal definition of bride trafficking. Moreover, there is still a lack of cooperation between the countries, the work of foreign NGOs is limited due to the law restrictions in China and local Chinese NGOs only voice the interests of Chinese citizens.

 Call for more consistent action

Despite the general efforts between Southeast Asian countries and China to combat bridal trafficking, instances of selling women to Chinese men are still occurring to date. Through available materials online, it can be seen that such cases are dealt with after the women have been trafficked. Therefore, it is necessary to highlight the importance of establishing preventive measures and stricter border control to prevent traffickers from smuggling women, as well as harsher punishment for traffickers.


[1] Blomberg, M. (2021).

[2] Anonymous (2021a).

[3] Anonymous (2021 b).

[4] Textor, C. (2021).

[5] Lhomme L. et al. (2021), p. 29.

[6] Office of the State Council (2021); Office of the State Council (2013).


 Online Articles

Anonymous (27 August 2021a). “Jianpuzhai 16 sui shaonu bei guaimai dao Zhongguo, Honsen zongli tezhu jieru!” 柬埔寨16岁少女被拐卖到中国,洪森总理特助介入![A 16-year-old Girl from Cambodia was Abducted and Sold to China, and Prime Minister Hun Sen Helped Intervene!]. Baijiaohao. Available online at

Anonymous (9 September 2021 b). “Guaimai Jianpuzhai 15 ming nuzi dao Zhongguo dang xingnu, nuzi beipan 7 nian!” 拐卖柬埔寨15名女子到中国当性奴,女子被判7年![A Woman Who Trafficked 15 Women to Work as Sex Slaves is Sentenced for 7 Years!]. NetEase. Availale online at

Blomberg, Matt (2 February 2021). “Will I Ever See Home Again?’: Cambodian Teen Bride Trafficked to China Tells of Escape”. Thomson Reuters Foundation News. Available online at

​​Barr, Heather (31 October 2019). “China’s Bride Trafficking Problem”. Human Rights Watch. Available online at

Carvalho, Raquel (2020, February 15). “Bride Trafficking, a Problem on China’s Belt and Road”. South China Morning Post. Available online at

La, Minh-Ha (18 April 2020). “Bride Trafficking in China”. Borgen. Available online at

Textor, C. (12 May 2021). “Population in China 2010-2020, by Gender”. Statista. Available online at

Official Documents

Guwuyuan bangongting 国务院办公厅 [Office of the State Council] (2013). Guowuyuan bangongting guanyu yinfa Zhongguo fandui guaimai renkou xingdong jihua (2021-2030) de tongzhi 国务院办公厅关于印发中国反对拐卖人口行动计划(2013—2020年)的通知 [The General Office of the State Council on Printing and Distributing China’s Opposition to Human Trafficking Notice of Action Plan (2013-2020)]. Available online at

Guwuyuan bangongting 国务院办公厅 [Office of the State Council] (2021). Guowuyuan bangongting guanyu yinfa Zhongguo fandui guaimai renkou xingdong jihua (2021-2030) de tongzhi 国务院办公厅关于印发中国反对拐卖人口行动计划(2021—2030年)的通知 [The General Office of the State Council on Printing and Distributing China’s Opposition to Human Trafficking Notice of Action Plan (2021-2030)]. Available online at

Research Papers

Lhomme Laetitia, Siren Zhong and Billie Du (2021). “Demi Bride Trafficking: A Unique Trend of Human Trafficking from South-East Asia To China”. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 22(3), 28-39.

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

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Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.