by Sanawar Balam
In Pakistan, arranged marriage is a common practice. Human trafficking groups regularly take advantage of the custom to pose as “matchmakers” for Chinese men. They entrap Christian girls-and their often very poor families with the promise of a secure future and a husband who supposedly will provide every luxury. But once the girls are married and moved to China, they face severe, repeated abuse and the loss of personal autonomy. For a time this is how Mehak Parvez lived, but she managed to escape. She agreed to tell her story to Aid to the Church n Need:
“My name is Mehak Parvez. I was born in Punjab, Pakistan, and I work as a beautician in Islamabad. I came home to attend my cousin´s wedding. She married a Chinese man and many Chinese people were in attendance. A Chinese man liked me and asked me about my background. He told me he matched Chinese men with a Pakistani Christian girl. He called me later about potential suitors.
“My family invited the man and three other Chinese men over; the matchmaker told me that I could choose one of them for marriage. He said that all three were financially secure and would return to China after the wedding. He promised my family and me that our greatest dreams would come true.
“Once I expressed interest, things moved quickly. My family asked for a month to prepare, but the matchmaker insisted that this wasn’t necessary, and the wedding was planned within two days. It was held on November 19, 2018, in Faisalabad; my husband and I moved to Lahore, where eight other Chinese men were living with their wives.
“I quickly noticed that something was seriously wrong. Though the matchmaker had told me that my husband was a Christian, I never saw him praying or reading the Bible. He didn´t provide money for meals, and he often beat me. He even confessed that he had only pretended to be Christian in order to get me to marry him.
“Some time passed, and I got in touch with young wives who had married Chinese men and were actually living in China. I joined their WhatsApp group and learned that about 1,200 Christian girls had been lured into marriage and were being treated inhumanely by their husbands. Those considered beautiful were sexually abused, and those considered average or ugly were bartered off.
“As soon as they told me this, I ran away and connected with a human rights activist named Saleem Iqbal. Saleem brings cases like mine to the attention of media, government agencies, and security forces. Thanks to his efforts, the matchmaker and his gang were arrested – 15 Chinese nationals, including a woman, were charged with human trafficking. However, it is important to remember the many girls who are still in China, waiting for our help.
Sanawar Balam writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)