Pakistani pastors are helping traffic hundreds of poor Christian girls as brides to Chinese men who want to impregnate them, according to a disturbing report by The Associated Press.
Pastors are paid to preach to their impoverished congregations on the promises of wealth in exchange for their daughters. The desperately poor families, who receive from $3,500 to $5,000 after surrendering their daughters, are told that the young girls are marrying wealthy Christian converts.
Pastor Munch Morris, an evangelical church leader in Gujranwala, told the AP that he knows some pastors who work with a Chinese marriage broker.
Morris said that one pastor tells parishioners, "God is happy because these Chinese boys convert to Christianity. They are helping the poor Christian girls.
"We know these marriages are all for the sake of money," Morris said, adding that he doesn't approve of such marriages.
Brokers also troll for parishioners who may be willing to help.
Rizwan Rashid, a member of the city's Roman Catholic Church, described an incident that recently occurred outside the church's gates.
Two Pakistani men and a Chinese woman pulled up in a car and asked him if knew any girls who would like to marry a Chinese man.
"They told me her life would be great," Rashid told the AP. "Everything would be paid for by them."
They offered to pay him for his help but he refused, citing his priest's warning against this type of marriage.
More than a dozen Pakistani women, who had escaped before or shortly after their marriages, were interviewed by the AP for the report. Christians make up only 2.6 percent of the predominantly Muslim nation.
Why are the women being trafficked to China?
Although the decadeslong one-child rule reportedly ended in 2016, the gender balance in China is skewed toward men.
The shortage of women has led to the demand for brides from outside the communist nation, Mimi Vu, director of advocacy at Pacific Links, told the AP. Pacific Links is an organization helps trafficked Vietnamese women.
"It's purely supply and demand," Vu said. "It used to be, 'Is she light-skinned?' Now it's like, 'Is she female?'"
Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist, told the AP that the marriages between Pakistani girls and Chinese men have increased since last fall.
Since October, there are estimates that as many as 1,000 girls, some as young as 13, have fallen victim to the traffickers.
What happens to the girls when they get to China?
Once the girls are in China, they learn the men are neither Christians nor wealthy. The brides are often kept isolated in remote regions, where they are unable to communicate and are vulnerable to abuse.
"This is human smuggling," Ijaz Alam Augustine, a human rights and minorities minister in Pakistan's Punjab province, told the AP. "Greed is really responsible for these marriages ... I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor."
Muqadas Ashraf was married off to a man in China who promised her parents $5,000, which included the cost of her daughter's wedding dress and the ceremony.
Five months later, the 16-year-old returned to Pakistan. She's pregnant and seeking a divorce from her abusive husband.
"It is all fraud and cheating. All the promises they make are fake," Muqadas told the AP.
Muqadas said she lived in a small one-bedroom house in China. Her husband rarely let her out of the house alone.
"I don't have the words to tell you how difficult the last month there was," Muqadas said. "He threatened me."
Eventually, he agreed to send her back to Pakistan when her family threatened to contact authorities.
The girl's mother Nasreen said the family never received the money they were promised.
"But I have not seen anything yet," she told the AP. "I really believed I was giving her a chance at a better life and also a better life for us," said.
What are the governments doing to stop it?
The Human Rights Watch recently called on the Chinese and Pakistani governments to put an end to bride trafficking.
"We notice that recently some unlawful matchmaking centers made illegal profits from brokering cross-national marriages," the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan wrote in a statement.
"China is cooperating with Pakistani law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal matchmaking centers. We remind both Chinese and Pakistani citizens to remain vigilant and not to be cheated. We also welcome valuable clues to combat such offenses," the statement continued. "At the same time, it is hoped that reports should be based on the facts. We hope that the public do not believe in misleading information and work together to safeguard China-Pakistan friendship."
Pakistani police arrested a dozen people suspected of operating a prostitution ring, the South China Morning Post reported. The suspects, eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistani nationals, were accused of taking Pakistani girls to China.
"The gang members confessed that they have sent at least 36 Pakistani girls to China where they are being used for prostitution," Jameel Ahmad, Federal Investigation Agency official, said, according to the South China Morning Post.