Kuala Lumpur - China's reported plan to scrap its decades-long family planning policy could help prevent impoverished women from other parts of Asia being trafficked into the country to meet demand for brides, campaigners said on Wednesday.
The world's most populous nation appears to be setting the stage to end its policy of determining the number of children that couples can have, which has left fewer women than men as Chinese families traditionally prefer sons.
Chinese men who struggle to find a wife locally often turn to illicit marriage brokers who recruit women from nations like Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos and sell them as brides, rights groups say.
But campaigners were cautiously hopeful after a Chinese state-run newspaper said this week that all content on family planning has been dropped in a draft civil code being considered by top lawmakers, signalling a possible end to the policy.
"This is good news, although it will take a long time to realise the impact," said Michael Brosowski, founder of Hanoi-based charity Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which rescues Vietnamese trafficking victims. "Countries such as Vietnam have been battling the trafficking of their women into slavery in China, and until the demographic disparity is dealt with, there's simply no way to stop this from happening," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
China has been loosening its family planning policy as its population ages, birth rates slow and its workforce declines.
In 2016, the government allowed couples in urban areas to have two children, replacing a one-child policy enforced since 1979.
Any relaxation of China's family planning policy is welcome, but the effects could take a generation, said Diep Vuong, president of the US-based Pacific Links Foundation, which campaigns against the trafficking of Vietnamese people
"Female babies born now won't be of marriageable age for many years," she said.
More than 3 000 people in Vietnam, most of them women and children, were trafficked between 2012 and 2017, many across the border into China, Vietnamese officials said this month.
In its 2018 annual global report on human trafficking, the US State Department placed China in Tier 3 - the worst category, designating countries with governments that fail to make efforts to meet minimum anti-trafficking standards.
Among other issues, the report cited "forced and fraudulent marriages" of foreign women in China.
Chinese men typically pay between $10 000 and $20 000 to brokers for a foreign wife, according to a 2016 United Nations report that said a "significant" number of Cambodian women have wed in China in recent years.
Im Phanim, from the Cambodian women's rights group Silaka, warned that loosening China's two-child policy alone would not be enough to end bride trafficking.
"Cambodian women are going abroad because of a lack of economic resources here," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Phnom Penh.
"We need to boost the economic empowerment for women so they know they have a choice at home."
Thomson Reuters Foundation