Every day, the Jiuyanqiao-Nine-Arch Bridge-Labor Market, the largest one in Chengdu, sees a huge number of young women from rural areas hunting for jobs here. To prevent trafficking in women and children, the labor market strictly forbids any employment deals done outside the market.

She is neither a cop nor a social worker. But she always appears at the Jiuyanqiao-Nine-Arch Bridge-Labor Market and watches alertly. Whenever someone offers a job to a young girl, she would jump in, demanding the employer to show his/her ID, phone number and the location of the working place.

She acts so protective as though the job-hunting girl, often from a remote mountainous village, at the largest labor market in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China¡¯s Sichuan Province, is her blood sister. ¡°That¡¯s all because I myself was lured into the sex trade right from this labor market and I don¡¯t want to see the same tragedy befall others,¡± says Liu Cuihua (pseudonym), now 27 years old.

With a ten-year schooling, Liu Cuihua thought she would be the last to be fooled when she left her hometown in a mountainous area west of Chengdu with the hope to land in an urban job in 2002. At Jiuyanqiao, a middle-aged man wearing business suit approached her, suggesting he could get her a janitor job at a hotel in Chengdu. Liu jumped at the idea and followed the man into a vehicle, which drove her to a night-club brothel in a western satellite city of Chengdu.

¡°Once you are trapped into that dirty business, it¡¯s very hard to escape because they strip you of your ID and all your money,¡± recalls Liu in tears. She¡¯s now willing to tell her story to warn other girls sitting in the damp and dingy hall of the labor market, looking forward to a decent job.

Four days into the sex trade, Liu eventually got help from a busboy in the nightclub, who informed her husband of her whereabouts. Liu¡¯s husband pooled all the money he earned from working as a construction worker in Shenzhen of Guangdong and ¡°redeemed¡± her.

¡°I wish someone had told me in advance about how serious the trafficking problem is, and how cunning a trafficker could be. I mean they don¡¯t necessarily look like a bad guy,¡± says Liu. ¡°I have no power or money to help all the women. However, I can remind the job-hunting girls in the market of avoiding the trap I once fell in.¡±

Liu later worked as a housemaid in Chengdu, and says she enjoyed the work. But after the patient she had been taking care of passed away, she left the house and re-entered the job market.

¡°I¡¯ve made up my mind that I¡¯ll take only housemaid job,¡± she says, adding she¡¯d make money to support her boy¡¯s high school education. While looking for a job in the market for herself, she has acted as a voluntary protector of other job-hunting girls.

The trap that once cheated Liu and many other girls has aroused more organizational alert to guard against it. As if a response to Liu¡¯s call for advance warning, the Provincial Women¡¯s Federation of Sichuan, in collaboration with the UNICEF-China (the United Nations Children¡¯s Fund), launched in September 2003 a training program on trafficking prevention at the Vocational School of Renshou, a most populous and hilly county 98km southeast of Chengdu.

¡°It¡¯s our mission to ensure girl children a safe passage to adulthood when they are fresh out of school,¡± says Hu Xiuqin, deputy director of the rights section at the federation.

While giving information to the girl trainees on where and how to look for a job, as well as what kind of jobs are available in the city, the training also facilitates the girls with knowledge of how to tell a genuine employer from a pretender and traffickers¡¯ modus operandi. But, says Liu Cuihua from her own experience, ¡°it¡¯s very hard to tell a good person from a bad one, because a baddy won¡¯t have a label on his forehead.¡±

Surprisingly, traffickers¡¯ ruses are often simple, albeit seductive, especially to the girls green to the city. ¡°They lure girls who want a job desperately by a fascinating offer of a nice job, or an opportunity to travel or go back to school, etc. Then they would find a chance to have the girls sold,¡± notes Peng Songguang, director for the campaign against trafficking in women and children at Sichuan Public Security Bureau.

In fact, the 20 girls participating in the training are all shocked by what they learned from the video program titled Looking for a Job in the City, which represents the nightmare of a 15-year-old girl from Dujiangyan, a tourist city near Chengdu, who was trafficked to another province. The victim said on the video, ¡°The three women (traffickers) all look familiar. That¡¯s why I trusted them and went off with them.¡±

¡°Very scary,¡± remarks Jiang Wenhong, a 17-year-old trainee. ¡°I thought only girls from a poor area without education would fall victims of human trafficking. But that girl in the video has had high school education like me, and still she was deceived.¡±

Says Zhou Chengqing, a senior teacher of the school, ¡°It¡¯s important and necessary that students here get a dose of the harsh reality. Renshou has 12,000 girl students averaging at 15 years of age. That means they will soon graduate and join the job-hunting troops.¡±
As a part of the training program on trafficking prevention, girl students in Renshou Vocational School give off-the-cuff performances. Jiang Wenhong (first left) mocks a trafficked girl, calling the police for help.

Some other job-hunting girls on the video program shared their tips of how to avoid trafficking traps, or identify a possible trafficker. A bad woman usually wears heavy makeup, high heels and body-hugging clothes; an evil-intentioned man would try to take you out, or offer you a job which sounds too good to be true.

The buying and selling of young women have run rampant in the poor areas of China¡¯s southwest provinces Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan. Although the exact number of trafficked young women in the country is not available, police officer Peng says the ¡°figures definitely have reached alarming high.¡±

Data from UNICEF indicate that some 250,000 women and children have been victimized by trafficking in China.

In Renshou alone, some 2,458 women and children were abducted from pastoral villages or labor markets in the last six years. Most women were tricked by phony job offers and then sold into marriages in more impoverished villages of Henan, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia, according to Cao Guihua, chairperson of Renshou Women¡¯s Federation.

Of the county¡¯s total population of 1.6 million, 1.4 million are farmers, with 720,000 being women. Among these women farmers, 100,000 would go to the city looking for a job each year. ¡°A great number of the migrating workers are young women fresh out of school, with little social experience but high expectations to have a better life, thus making them vulnerable to be lured into marriage, prostitution or slavery in sweatshops,¡± says Cao worriedly.

A local police officer, Mao Guoqi, recalls that the situation was extremely grave in 2000, when a local market sort of became a ¡°women trading center,¡± where traffickers tried to auction off five women as brides they abducted from remote villages of the minority tribes in Sichuan. The victims could fetch as much as US$120 each. Mao calls it ¡°the most degrading case in Renshou since the new China was founded in 1949.¡±

Mao says in 2000 his anti-human trafficking squad in Renshou arrested 16 people suspected of abducting and selling young women, and rescued more than 200 women.

Mao and his colleagues have witnessed changes in the trafficking trade over the years. Says Wu Di, a police of the provincial anti-trafficking squad, years ago, young women were abducted and sold mainly for marriages. Today most of the victims in Sichuan are sold into the sex trade around Chengdu instead of marriage.

Wu and his colleagues freed 900 women last year and captured more than 800 traffickers, who admitted they sold most of their victims to sham nightclubs near Chengdu or in the coastal areas. More sadly, Wu says, some victims got beaten up and terrorized by buyers into compliance.

Some Chinese social scientists attribute the continuance of trafficking to institutional defect in the systematic shift from planned to market economy, recurrence of feudalistic ideas and regional disparities in wealth. In addition to all this, says Peng Songguang, the young girls¡¯ ignorance of these social problems add to their vulnerability.

People tend to regard it as the business of police alone to combat the sex trade. ¡°That¡¯s very wrong,¡± he complains. ¡°Because every victim is someone¡¯s daughter or wife. Therefore, anti-trafficking campaigns require the efforts of whole society rather than just potential victims.¡±

He notes that few trafficked women know that China has a law against human trafficking, nor have they heard about the severe punishments on traffickers provided in the Criminal Law, which may incur sentences of up to five or ten years of imprisonment and even death penalty. Experts agree that education could play an important role in trafficking prevention. Says Ning Ying, a film director who made Looking for a Job in the City, ¡°Reality can be too complex and harsh for those innocent job-hunting girls. But education may help those yearning for a better-off life in the city gain self-confidence and keep them on the alert against the traps.¡±

With the help from the UNICEF-China, Renshou Women¡¯s Federation has run workshops for local government officials, police and school teachers in the last two years. ¡°Now it¡¯s time to train our school girls about the dangers of trafficking before it¡¯s too late,¡± says Cao Guihua.

The training already has an impact on Jiang Wenhong, who will graduate next year. She says she would tell all her pals about what she has learned from the training, especially her cousin who is planning to get a job in the city this year.

I hope not only I myself but all of my friends will benefit from my learning and wouldn¡¯t be trapped into any abusive situation.¡±

The author is from China Features.

By: Wen Chihua

China Society For Human Rights Studies
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