Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Brides to China in want of new aisle

Brides to China in want of new aisle

Two repatriated Cambodian nationals leave Phnom Penh International Airport last year after being trafficked to China to be sold as brides.
Two repatriated Cambodian nationals leave Phnom Penh International Airport last year after being trafficked to China to be sold as brides. Vireak Mai

Brides to China in want of new aisle

Cambodia and China need to create marriage migration pathways to quell the numbers of impoverished Khmer women who seek work abroad but are forced into marriage, according to a new UN report.

The report, Human Trafficking Vulnerabilities: A Study on Forced Marriage between Cambodia and China, released late last week, interviewed 42 women who had unwittingly become Chinese brides.

While some agreed to marriages beforehand, others landed on Chinese soil and were told marriage was essential to extend their visa or to work – a process that takes five years in China.

If they refused, they were ordered to pay an exorbitant $8,000 for the costs of their flights. Their prospective husbands had paid up to $20,000 for a bride.

The stigma after they returned home often compounded the trauma and abuse they had suffered at the hands of their Chinese families; in one tragic case, a woman attempted to commit suicide in an NGO office because she was shunned by her family.

The report rang true for one repatriated bride, who yesterday spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity due to stigma. The woman, in her mid-20s, returned to her home province of Tbong Khmum last year after a year of forced marriage in China.

“I chose to work abroad because my family was so poor,” she said. “But when I arrived in China, a group of people forced me to marry. They told me that if I wanted to live there and have happiness, I must marry a Chinese man.”

She suffered mistreatment, saw her freedom quickly curtailed and struggled with the language barrier.

“I could not endure it, that’s why I escaped,” she said. She sought out a Cambodian consulate for help, but not all are so lucky.

According to the report, some women had to travel more than 1,000 kilometres from their rural towns to reach a Cambodian Embassy for help, while others who contacted Chinese police were returned to their husbands because police believed it was simply a domestic disagreement.

Labour rights advocate Moeun Tola yesterday described instances in which he had attempted to help trapped Khmer brides return to Cambodia, only for them to “disappear” or return to their husbands after encountering Chinese police.

“We received the information from the Cambodia consulate that the girl decided to go back to the family, but that does not make sense at all; they had been crying and contacting us every day,” he said.

“It is very important the Cambodian government talks seriously with the Chinese government; these women are completely victims of human trafficking, so if they overstay their visa, they do not need to be treated as criminals.”

Gender also played into the push and pull factors drawing Cambodian brides abroad, the report said.

The one-child policy in China and a cultural preference for sons created a gap in the number of marriageable women for Chinese bachelors, while Khmer women face significant pressure to send money home to their dependents.

Gender and Development in Cambodia executive director Ros Sopheap described the situation for Khmer women in poverty as desperate, with some brides forced into sex work.

“This is really sad. They might hope there is some luck for them, because they are really poor. They say ‘Although I live, it is not a life’,” she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM imposes nationwide Covid restrictions, curfew over Delta scare

    Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28 instructed the municipal and provincial authorities nationwide to strictly enforce Covid-19 measures including curfew for two weeks from July 29 midnight through August 12 to stem the new coronavirus Delta variant. The instruction came shortly after he issued a directive

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Provinces on Thai borders put in lockdown amid Delta fears

    The government has decided to place several border provinces in lockdown for two weeks in a bid to prevent the new coronavirus Delta variant spreading further into community. According a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28, the provinces include Koh Kong,

  • Delta spreading in Kingdom

    Cambodia has so far detected more than 200 cases of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant, with 109 found on July 31 and August 1. The Ministry of Health has expressed deep concerns that the variant may have already reached communities and be spreading as some of the cases

  • US' Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arrive

    The first batch of 455,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine donated by the US touched down in Phnom Penh on the morning of July 30. They are part of the total 1,060,100 doses the US has pledged to provide to Cambodia through the World Health Organisation-led (

  • China denies Mekong hacking

    As the US and its allies joined hands last week to expose what they allege to be China’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities around the world, the attention also turned to Cambodia with the US Department of Justice claiming that four