Thu, Dec 13, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Mothers fear missing daughters sold to China as brides

AFP, MEO VAC, Vietnam

A picture taken on Oct. 26 shows Vu Thi Dinh, a Vietnamese mother posing with a photograph of her missing teenaged daughter Dua, at her house in Meo Vac, Vietnam.

Photo: AFP

Vu Thi Dinh spent weeks scouring the rugged Vietnamese borderland near China after her teenage daughter vanished with her best friend, clutching a photograph of the round-faced girls now feared sold as child brides.

The anguished mother showed everyone she met the snap of the 16-year-old friends Dua and Di in white-and-red-velvet dresses, the words “Falling Into You” printed above their photoshopped picture.

They went missing in February during an outing in Meo Vac, a poor mountainous border zone a stone’s throw from China.

Their mothers fear they were sold in China on one of the world’s most well-trodden bride trafficking circuits.

“I wish she would just call home to say she is safe, to say: ‘Please don’t worry about me, I’m gone, but I’m safe,’” Dinh said, bursting into tears.

She is among countless mothers whose daughters have disappeared into China, where a massive gender imbalance has fueled an unregulated buy-a-bride trade.

Most people in this part of Vietnam have a story about bride trafficking. High-school students talk of kidnapped cousins. Husbands recall wives who disappeared in the night, and mothers, like Dinh, fear they may never see their daughters again.

“I warned her not to get on the backs of motorbikes or meet strange men at the market,” she said from her mud-floored home where she expectantly keeps a closet full of her daughter’s clothes.

She has not heard from Dua since she went missing, unable to reach her on the mobile phone she bought just a few weeks before she disappeared.

The victims come from poor communities and are tricked by boyfriends and sold, kidnapped against their will or move across the border by choice for marriage or the promise of work.

Like many of the missing, Dua and Di are from the Hmong ethnic minority, one of the nation’s poorest and most marginalized groups.

Traffickers target girls at the busy weekend market, where they roam around in packs dressed in their Sunday best, chatting to young men, eyeing the latest made-in-China smartphones or shopping for lipstick and sparkly hair clips.

Or they find them on Facebook, spending months courting their victims before luring them into China.

It is a sinister departure from the traditional Hmong custom of ij poj niam, or “marriage by capture,” where a boyfriend kidnaps his young bride-to-be from her family home — sometimes with her consent, sometimes not.

Others are enticed by the promise of a future brighter than that which awaits most girls who stay in Ha Giang: drop out of school, marry early and work the fields.

“They go across the border to earn a living, but may fall into the trap of the trafficking,” said Le Quynh Lan from Plan International, a non-governmental organizational in Vietnam.

Vietnam registered about 3,000 human trafficking cases between 2012 and last year.

However, the actual number is “for sure higher,” Lan said, as the border is largely unregulated.

Ly Thi My never dreamed her daughter would be kidnapped, since the shy Di rarely went to the market or showed much interest in boys.

Just two weeks after that photo shoot with Dua, the giggling girls went for a walk in the rocky fields near their homes. They never came back.

“We think she was tricked and trafficked as a bride, we don’t know where she is now,” My said.

Her worst fear is the teenagers are now child brides or have been forced to work in brothels in China, where there are 33 million more men than women due to a long-entrenched preference for male heirs.

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