Tibet caught in China’s bride-business

March 23, 2019 By Tenzin Tseten*

In China today, bride-business is source of lucrative income. For example, getting a bride in Shanghai city costs the groom’s family around US $147,000. This example obliquely illustrates the degree of gender imbalance, which can trace its roots from the decades-long one-child policy introduced in late 1970’s.

The one-child policy designed to keep fast-growing population under control has begun to open up various conundrums, the worst being shrinking of work force. In other words, rapid increase in aging population. As per the 2017 Statistical Report on Social Service Development figure released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China today has more than 240 million Chinese over 60 years. In terms of percentage, more than 17% of the total population is aged over 60. The figure is expected to surge by 480 million people after three decades.

Despite the policy relaxation from 2014 onwards, majority of married couples are still reluctant to have a second child. The fertility rate had been decreased to 15.23 million in 2018 from 17.23 million in 2017. A sharp drop in the birthrate in the last two years reflects China’s rapid socio-economic transformation. Urbanization is certainly the biggest driver that impedes birth rate. The growing cost in health care, education, housing etc. in urban areas are reported to have reverse effect on the revised population and family planning regulation adopted in the beginning of 2016 in which married couples are allowed to have two children.

On the basis of the revised regulation, a new measure designed to boost fertility rate has been rolled out in 39 provinces and autonomous regions. The “Tibet Autonomous Region” (TAR) stands out among all with highest maternity benefit. Tibetan mothers are set to enjoy one-year paid maternity leave, while Tibetan fathers are eligible for one-month paternity leave. However, multiple cases of forced sterilization and abortion for Tibetan women had been reported in Tibet, along with denial of birth certificate and household registration (Hukou) had been a common punishment for violation of the birth control policy. Without these documents one could literally become paralyzed in the society. It could be one of the reasons birth tourism is rising in China.

The growing shortage of female has one way or another germinated from the strict enforcement of one-child policy coupled with China’s male-preference tradition. The rural farmlands are particularly more vulnerable where women leave farmlands in quest for better lives in cities leading to the emergence of “bachelor villages” across China.

Finding a bride in rural China is like finding a needle in a haystack- two girls against 50 boys in Qishan, a county in Shaanxi province, for instance. This has resulted in massive bride trafficking from Southeast Asian countries in lure of jobs and better lives. In reality, the girls are trapped in China’s bride-business and in worst case, brothels.

Tibet is no exceptional. An internal report issued by Lhasa Public Security Bureau shows alarming cases of crimes involving women trafficking in the “TAR” since 2008. The report also highlights important dimension of the crime that most of the victims came from villages and were described as illiterates and school dropouts. This begets a simple question that requires little effort to answer. Why are majority of the victims from rural areas?

A Tibetan monk who came to exile has told an awful story to this writer about a bride trafficking case in the region where he claims has a direct contact. The story is worth sharing. The story is about a Tibetan family in Markham (Tibetan area in Sichuan province) who sold their daughter to a bride-broker who is believe to be a Tibetan and hand in glove with bride-traders in China. The family had been paid around 30,000 Yuan but the price could perhaps go up to 60,000 Yuan depending on the age. In many cases the trade involves zero consent from the girls.

Similar cases are prevalent in other Tibetan areas outside of TAR that were gone unreported.

Now coming to the question, the answer is partially linked to status of economy in Tibetan rural areas. One best example is the impact of China’s mass relocation program, which reflects the dire economic condition of Tibetan nomads who are forcefully removed from the traditional grasslands and are installed in a designated town with little or no source of income.

However, the larger picture remains to be seen is how a growing bride-business in China compounded with the State-encouraged interethnic marriage would affect the already meager Tibetan population. 

*Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.

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