JAKARTA – Just 15-years old, Siti is one of the many Indonesian women who have been married off to Chinese men in hope of a better future but instead found it to be a life of misery, abuse and family pressure to provide a son.
Siti (name changed to protect her identity) received an offer of 20 million rupiahs ($1,425) as dowry for marrying a 26-year-old Chinese man though a local matchmaker in Indonesia’s rural West Kalimantan province.
The intermediary promised that the teenager would have a comfortable life, would be able to send part of her monthly salary to her family and allowed to return to her home in northern Indonesia whenever she wanted.
Although she was just 14 at the time, Siti’s family told her to accept the offer, which started off a six-month long ordeal, during which time she lived with a peasant family in a village in China’s Hebei province, around 270 kilometers (168 miles) southwest of Beijing.
“It wasn’t appropriate to get married at this age, but I did it because I didn’t have enough money to go to school, so my grandmother suggested I get married,” Siti told EFE in Jakarta, where she is awaiting a return ticket to Kalimantan as a trafficking victim.
Siti is just one example of the widespread network of trafficking and fraudulent marriages in China, where 1,147 people – 1,130 foreign women and 17 children – were rescued between July and December 2018, according to the Chinese ministry of public security.
The skewed sex ratio in China leads to women from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Thailand being brought to the country through fraud or kidnappings, and they offer suffer labor and sexual exploitation, as well as being used to produce offspring.
In Indonesia, the ministry of foreign affairs has recorded 33 cases of trafficked wives so far this year, although normally the victims are adults.
West Kalimantan is one of the areas where trafficking is most prolific, and according to the nonprofit, Indonesian Migrant Labor Alliance, at least five “contract wives” from the region are currently in China and unable to return to Indonesia.
Siti began to work on her husband’s land one month after her arrival in China, and was beaten by both her husband and her mother-in-law if she made a mistake, even though she could not understand Chinese.
After a few months, she asked to visit home, but her in-laws responded by saying that she could go back once she gave birth to a son as they would not “need” her after that.
“Sometimes I didn’t sleep with my husband, he just used me for sex, I preferred not to sleep with him all the time, but my mother-in-law got furious about it,” said Siti, who hid her face while talking to EFE in order to protect her identity.
Practically incommunicado and with hardly any help from her family – who refused to believe her story in the beginning –, Siti tried to contact the Chinese police, but the officers did not recognize her case as trafficking, terming it a domestic dispute and sending her back to her in-laws.
The teenager’s rescue was possible thanks to Karmila (name changed), another Indonesian woman in the same situation who she met in the same village and who had been trafficked by the same agent. Karmila had been struggling for months to return home.
The 25-year-old – also from the city of Sanggau in West Kalimantan – had arrived in China six months earlier than the teenager with a false marriage certificate.
Her husband had paid 700 million rupiahs for her, and Karmila faced constant pressure from her mother-in-law and the intermediary to get pregnant, to the point that the agent even threatened to kill her if she did not manage to have a child.
She told EFE that her mother-in-law used to beat her “like one hits a football” and her mobile phone was often confiscated.
After trying to contact Chinese authorities and their lack of action, Karmila managed to contact SBMI activists through her family and the nonprofit lodged a complain to Indonesian police and negotiated the release and return of the two women through the Chinese intermediary.
Karmila and Siti paid their passage with help from the International Organization for Migration and returned on their own to Kalimantan in June, without – to their relief – having become pregnant.