The forced marriage dimension of human trafficking
March 24, 2023
Globally, there are an estimated 22 million people living in situations of forced marriage in 2021, of which 14.9 million are women and girls.
These numbers include women and girls who are trafficked from Southeast Asia to China for the purpose of forced and underage marriage and childbearing. More broadly, UNICEF estimated that in East Asia, between 10-24% of girls are married by the time they are 18.
The drivers of trafficking for forced marriage in Southeast Asia are complex and multi-faceted, they include: poverty and economic hardship; conflict and unrest; socio-cultural and religious factors; and lack of access to education and empowerment opportunities for women and girls.
The demand for foreign brides in China has become a lucrative business for traffickers as the country’s decades-long one-child policy has created a huge gender imbalance, leaving it with far fewer women than men.
More than 1,100 foreign women, including many from Cambodia and Vietnam, were rescued in China in a six-month operation that ended in 2018. While Myanmar women and girls, currently among the most vulnerable due to the political and humanitarian crisis, are being deceived through false promises of employment in China, only to be sold to Chinese families as brides and held in sexual slavery.
Despite the increasing rate of women and girls trafficked for the purpose of forced marriage, investigation and prosecution remains low. Foremost among the reasons is the lack of international legal definition of forced marriage and limited literature on the intersection between forced marriage and trafficking in persons.
In July 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing child and forced marriage as a human rights violation. For forced marriage to cross the threshold into trafficking in persons and not just marriage obtained without free consent, some other elements must be present.
UNODC attempts to define trafficking for forced marriage based on the elements of trafficking in persons – that the “act may be transfer or receipt of a person, the means may include deception, threats or coercion and the purpose may be sexual exploitation and/or servitude.”
As part of ASEAN-ACT’s commemoration of International Women’s Day, this webinar seeks to promote discussion on the link between forced marriage and human trafficking, and provide insights on the heightened vulnerabilities of women and girls in Southeast Asia to trafficking for forced marriage.
Our panel explored counter-trafficking measures, including transnational responses that addresses the drivers of this crime, as well as those that safeguard the rights of women and children, and promote their access to justice.
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- Sebastian Boll, Migration & Displacement Specialist, UN Development Programme - Asia Pacific
- Nguyen Thuy Hien, Vice Director, Center for Women and Development, Vietnam Women's Union
- Saw Thar Shee, Project Manager, Yangon Kayin Baptist Women Association