- A girl in China sold for an illegal underage marriage by her parents makes a break for help after being abducted to transport across the country
- However, many raised fears for her safety after police allowed her family to take custody of her and did not appear to treat the matter as a crime
A 16-year-old girl in China made national headlines following a dramatic escape from a forced underage marriage after her parents sold her to another family who dragged her out of her room and abducted her.
The girl was taken from her dormitory in southern Guangdong province and forced into a car by the intended groom and his family earlier this month.
She escaped a short time later to a roadside service station in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, where she told the staff there: “My mum and dad sold me to them,” before they called the police for her.
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Police said the girl’s parents had sold her for 260,000 yuan (US$38,000) to a man in their home village who intended to marry her without her consent.
To avoid this, the girl fled from her home in southwestern Sichuan province to work as a migrant worker in a factory in Guangdong.
The intended groom and several family members later travelled to Guangdong to look for the girl. They found her working at a factory, dragged her out of her dormitory and forced her into a car, planning to return to their hometown in Sichuan, about 1,500km away.
When they stopped for a rest at a service station on the expressway, the girl used the opportunity to flee, telling them she needed to use the toilet. She then asked the staff to help her and call the police.
Three days later, the girl’s father and her brother arrived in the county to collect the girl. Local civil affairs and women’s federation officials persuaded her family to drop the idea of sending her to marry at such a young age. The officials also provided psychological guidance for the girl before her family took her back to Sichuan.
“If I had not met you, I would not have known what to do, nor what would happen to me. I am so grateful to you,” the girl said to the service station’s workers.
The minimum legal age for marriage in China is 22 for men and 20 for women. Despite this, it was not clear from the police whether her kidnappers or the family members who sold her had been detained or were likely to face legal punishment.
The lack of details on what, if any, action would be taken and the fact the girl was allowed to return to her family who had sold her in the first place, left many mainland internet users concerned for her wellbeing.
“I am afraid her family will guard her closely. It’s more difficult for her to escape again,” one Weibo user warned.
Another commented: “When she reported it to the police, she hoped to be rescued from her poor fate instead of returning home.”
Arranged and forced marriages for cash, or bride prices as they are euphemistically known in China, are still common in some parts of the country, especially remote areas where feudal ideas about marriage, gender and consent persist.
In 2021, a couple in a rural area of the northwestern Ningxia Hui autonomous region collected a 250,000-yuan (US$36,000) bride price from a man and then forced their 14-year-old daughter to marry him. The girl was rescued after she managed to contact the police. However, the police mediated between the families rather than detaining anyone involved or pursuing criminal charges.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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