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The ‘hell’ of abuse in China

A woman sits in front of a microphone in Phnom Penh in June as she recounts her story of being sold into slavery
A woman sits in front of a microphone in Phnom Penh in June as she recounts her story of being sold into slavery through an arranged marriage in China. Heng Chivoan

The ‘hell’ of abuse in China

Shrinking down into her chair, an 18-year-old woman stared at her lap and wept yesterday after recounting her harrowing eight months as a trafficked bride in China, which ended in January when she escaped from her husband.

“My life was hell,” the teen, who asked not to be identified, said to a room of about 20 people at a news conference. “My husband forced me to have sex every day, and I was fed only rice and carrots.”

Like other victims in whose cases rights group Adhoc has intervened in 2014 – there have been 29 in all – the woman was talked into marrying into a Chinese family with hopes of a better life than the one she led as a garment worker in Kandal province.

Cases handled by Adhoc of women held captive in China after marrying a man there more than tripled in the first six months of this year over the same period in 2013, said Chann Sokunthea, the NGO’s head of women and children’s rights. Last year there were eight victims, four of whom were repatriated. Ten of the 29 women Adhoc have helped this year have returned to Cambodia.

With concerns growing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken the unprecedented measure of requesting – through the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh – that China no longer grant visas to single Cambodian women, spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday. Staff at the embassy could not confirm the request.

In a report released yesterday, Adhoc calls for the Cambodian government to make concerted efforts to prevent the abuse that these brides suffer at the hands of brokers, husbands and families who treat them like slaves from the moment they arrive in China.

Among Adhoc’s recommendations to clamp down on the abuse are increased monitoring and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and China. Officials here have said that such a document is being worked on.

Underage when solicited by a broker, the victim who spoke yesterday said she used her older sister’s identification documents to get to China.

Upon arrival, marriage brokers took her passport and held her in a hotel room for a month until she was matched with a husband, who beat her when she refused sex, she said.

Her first escape attempt failed when she arrived at a Cambodian Embassy. Staff there turned her away because she had no passport. When she told them of the broker who had her passport, they called the broker, who returned her to her husband.

“I was hopeless,” she said.

Her second attempt succeeded when she was able to escape the house with a mobile phone and called her family, who filed a complaint with Adhoc. She survived in the mountains for days, she said, before receiving help.

Kuong yesterday said he was unsure of why this girl would accuse the Cambodian Embassy of negligence.

“We do not ignore anyone at all, in fact we try to help our Cambodian people who are victims,” Kuong said.

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