Pakistan, China ‘closely monitoring’ forced prostitution, trafficking allegations

In this April 14, 2019 photo, Mahek Liaqat, who married a Chinese national, shows her marriage certificate in Gujranwala, Pakistan. Poor Pakistani Christian girls are being lured into marriages with Chinese men, whom they are told are Christian and wealthy only to end up trapped in China, married to men who are neither Christian nor well-to-do, and some are unable to return home. (AP)
Updated 11 May 2019

Pakistan, China ‘closely monitoring’ forced prostitution, trafficking allegations

  • This week Pakistan said it had busted a prostitution ring that sent young Pakistani women to China
  • Hundreds of Christian women reportedly trafficked to meet a growing demand for foreign brides in China

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office said on Saturday the government was working with China to address grievances of Pakistani individuals following revelations this week that a network of illicit marriage brokers was luring Pakistani women to China where they were forced into the prostitution and organ trades.
Pakistani authorities have made dozens of arrests this week, including on Friday when officials stopped two Chinese men and three Pakistani women from boarding a flight to China at the Islamabad Airport.
The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan has said a joint Pak-China probe into the allegations had found no evidence to claims that Pakistani women married to Chinese men were being forced into prostitution or organ sale.
In China, demand for foreign brides has mounted, a legacy of the one-child policy that skewed the country’s gender balance toward males.
“The Government of China had offered all possible cooperation on the issue,” the foreign office said in a statement. “Both sides are closely coordinating their efforts. In this context, a Chinese team visited Pakistan recently and held meetings with our law enforcement officials.”
The statement said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Pakistan Missions in China were “closely monitoring” the situation and extending all possible assistance to Pakistani citizens who had complaints.
The foreign office also said an investigation into the matter by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security had found “no forced prostitution or sale of human organs of Pakistani women who stay in China after marriage with Chinese nationals.”
It advised the media to avoid “sensationalization” reporting on the matter and said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relevant departments of the Chinese government would continue to coordinate on the matter “to address the grievances of the affected individuals, bring the culprits to justice, and ensure that such incidents do not recur in the future.”
The arrests in Pakistan came a week after Human Rights Watch said Pakistan should be alarmed by recent reports of trafficking of women and girls into sexual slavery in China. It said the allegations were disturbingly similar to the pattern of trafficking of “brides” to China from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and North Korea.
Chinese men typically pay brokers between $10,000 and $20,000 for a foreign wife, a 2016 United Nations report said.


Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

Updated 14 September 2020

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

  • Leaving corporate security behind, Maria Soomro has traveled solo around the country since the pandemic began
  • She documents her travels and uses YouTube and Instagram to provide tips on how to solo travel as a woman

RAWALPINDI: A few months ago, while doing a stable job in the banking sector, Maria Soomro decided to act on her gut instinct and leave behind the monotony and routine of her daily life to follow her dream of hitchhiking around Pakistan. 

30-year-old Soomro hails from Karachi and has been working in the banking sector since completing her university education. The corporate job gave her 40 days of annual leave which she utilized for travel, though she felt that something was missing. 

“I wasn’t fully able to immerse myself in enjoyment or the experience,” she told Arab News over the phone while traveling through Gilgit-Baltistan. “When I travel, I go to remote villages, off-the-beaten-path type places and get to know the locals, actually spend some time understanding where I am and who I am surrounded by. Five or 15 days don’t allow for that.” 

The idea of spending time doing what she loved as opposed to sitting at a desk kicked Soomro into high-gear. “I opted to turn the documenting of my travels, which I had been doing since 2015 on Instagram (@MariaSoomro_) and eponymous YouTube channel, into my full-time job.” 

Maria Soomro smiles for the camera in a ride she hitched near Burzil Pass, part of the historic caravan route between Srinagar and Gilgit on her Instagram page on September 11, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

In March of this year, Soomro headed out on her hitchhiking journey. Being a solo female traveler in Pakistan is a steadily growing trend, though a woman who hitchhikes is almost unheard of.

 “Budget traveling is my focus. The largest chunk of your budget ends up being spent on accommodation and transportation, and both of these things can be covered when you’re hitchhiking,” said Soomro. 

But her travel ethos is another reason hitchhiking was so attractive. To her, there is no better way than this to know the places one is traveling through. 

“This is a shortcut to get to know local communities, be it Pakistan or another country. When you ask for a lift, you get a special introduction to their home, their points of view, and you learn from them,” she said, adding that one can build contacts as a bonus who can be assets to solo travelers. 

Soomro estimates that her hitchhiking adventure has allowed her to meet over 300 people, all of whom, she maintains, contact through social media. “The more people you meet the more stories you hear and the more people you can share your own story with,” said she. 

Maria Soomro shares tips and tricks on solo travel including how to keep one's tent from blowing away in a shot she shares from Golden Beach, Balochistan, on her Instagram page on June 14, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

Instead of merely asking for a lift, Soomro has taken each ride as an opportunity to educate on what hitchhiking is, why she is doing it, and why she is traveling Pakistan. 

“It’s not very common here and I want to change that. The general consensus is that Pakistan is not safe, in particular for women, to travel alone.” 

When asked about how safe she has felt while traveling, Soomro said she follows “her gut instinct, assessing each ride” but also stressed the importance of “being prepared,” such as carrying personal protection equipment like pepper spray and knife. 

“My advice to Pakistanis who want to follow into my footsteps would be to take time to understand this kind of travel first and do not go straight for hitching,” she said. “Travel in groups and learn the areas you want to visit, know how roads work and, like any other passion, take time to educate yourself.” 

Soomro is doing her part in educating travel hopefuls on her YouTube channel and Instagram page with tips on how to hitchhike, where to go, and how to pitch a tent to withstand winds and what type of rides to expect around the country at present. 

“There are very few people who follow their passion in the world, and I am one of those crazy people since I thought I could do it,” said Soomro. “I am a free bird and travel is a part of me. I can’t imagine my life without this.”