In her first phone calls home to her mother in Pakistan, Natasha could not tell her mother the truth.
Her family had sold her to a Chinese man with a marriage contract. She would only tell her mother that her new husband was torturing her. Finally, she told her mother the truth: her husband was keeping her in a hotel and forcing her to have sex with men for money. He forced her to work as a prostitute.
Her mother asked her small church in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad for help. Some members of the church put together a plan to rescue the girl from the hotel more than 1000 kilometers away. It worked and Natasha got back home.
Natasha is one of hundreds of Pakistani girls who have been married to Chinese men in return for payments to their families. Most of the families are Christians. They come from one of the poorest communities in Pakistan.
The Associated Press has reported that Christian church leaders work with Pakistani and Chinese traffickers. They find young, poor girls and persuade them to marry Chinese men, but the marriages are false. The women go to China where they are abused. Pakistani police say the women are often forced to work as prostitutes.
Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency has raided trafficking businesses and made arrests. Along with the information provided by victims, has come a greater understanding of how the human traffickers work.
Families are told their daughters will be married to rich businessmen and given good lives in China. The agreement is often described as good for both sides: The parents receive money and the Chinese men find wives. But investigators now believe most of the girls are sold into prostitution, two law enforcement officers told the AP.
“The girls who are interviewed say they were tortured," said one of the officials. By this, they mean they are raped and forced into prostitution, he said. He added “make no mistake, this is trafficking.”
Both officials said the Pakistani government is trying to keep the investigation’s findings secret. They said government officials do not want to endanger Pakistan’s economic relationship with China. So, the law enforcement officials said the government tells investigators to stay quiet.
The two officials spoke to the Associated Press on the condition that they not be identified.
The Chinese government is investing billions of dollars in Pakistan as part of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative. The development plan includes a $75 billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In Pakistan, people hope the project will create new wealth for the country. Thousands of Chinese workers have arrived in Pakistan to take part in the work.
Chinese officials have denied that Pakistanis are trafficked to China.
“China is denying it is happening, but we are showing the proof,” said Saleem Iqbal. He is an activist in Pakistan’s small Christian minority. He has helped bring girls back from China. He also collects evidence of trafficking that he provides to the police.
Ijaz Alam Augustine is the human rights and minorities minister in Pakistan’s Punjab area. He estimated that more than 500 women have been trafficked to China.
In May, Pakistani police went through wealthy neighborhoods in the Punjabi capital of Lahore and in the national capital, Islamabad. They arrested Chinese nationals and their Pakistani partners who had tried to find Pakistani girls for Chinese men. They all now face trafficking charges.
With additional arrests in other cities, at least 24 Chinese men and many Pakistani men have been arrested.
The two law enforcement officials said the Lahore-based traffickers had been operating for at least a year. Corrupt policemen protected them, the officials said.
The AP saw some of the charges against the Chinese and Pakistanis. In addition to human trafficking, they were also charged with selling body parts from the girls sold to Chinese men.
Investigators have carried out 24 interviews in recent weeks with girls and women who were married to Chinese men.
One woman, Sumaira, said her brothers sold her to a Chinese man. She said she escaped her husband, but remained silent about her experience for months. Now, she is talking to investigators.
“If I had told everything that happened to me then, maybe I would have saved so many other Pakistani girls,” she said. “But I was too afraid, too afraid of my brothers. Now I want the people that did this to me to not do it to other girls.”
Her brothers forced her to marry in July last year in exchange for money. Her husband took her to a house in Islamabad. Chinese men raped her every night, she said.
Before leaving for China, her husband permitted her to go home and say goodbye to her sisters. Then she escaped.
I’m Susan Shand.
And I’m Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
prostitute – n. : a person who has sex with someone in exchange for money
church - n. a particular Christian group
interview - v. to question someone.