Modern slavery

Trafficking victim sold as ‘bride’ in China recalls making an impossible choice in order to escape

Marip Lu. (YouTube / The Associated Press)

A woman from Myanmar who was trafficked against her will so she could be the bride of a mentally-disabled man in China has spoken out about her horrific ordeal, and the terrible price she paid in order to finally make her escape. Marip Lu and her family had fled their former home in northern Myanmar for Laiza, a town near the border of China, to escape fighting between rebels from their ethnic minority group, the Kachin, and the country’s notoriously brutal army — which has been accused of mass-rape and genocide of another ethnic minority, the Rohingya. When she was 17, a woman who had lived nearby the family for years approached with an offer for a job at a restaurant in China just about a 30-minute car ride from the city. But shortly after she crossed the border, she said, she was drugged and taken to a rural village were she was turned over to a middle-aged couple, Li Qinggong and his wife, Xu Ying.

Marip Lu alleges that the couple forced her to live in a room with their 30-year-old son and that they encouraged him to try to rape her, but that he was unable to do so because of his mental disability. About a month into her captivity, she said, they couple dragged her out of her bedroom and Li Quinggong raped her repeatedly, attacks that she would endure again and again for years. Unable to speak even the same language as her captors, she said that the loneliness of an existence with no one at all to communicate with was as painful as the abuse and torture they subjected her to. “I felt I was going to die there with the abuse and illness,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. “I was going to die there without seeing my family again. I thought I was never going to escape.”

Two years after she was first sold to the couple, she became pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy boy, Erzi, which the couple hailed proudly as their “grandson,” even though Marip Lu insists that Li Quinggong is the father. The AP confronted Li Quinggong and asked him on camera about the paternity of Marip Lu’s son, but he repeatedly refused to answer any questions on the topic. Despite the tragedy of her situation, she said that her son was nonetheless a blessing — he was her everything, her sole source of comfort and love. The child helped Marip Lu see her way through the beatings and torture.

Then, one day, she found an old phone lying in the family’s trash and used it to try call random numbers in Yunnan, the province bordering Myanmar, until she managed to find someone who spoke Kachin. The woman who answered her managed to get in contact with Marip Lu’s family back in Laiza, allowing her to communicate by phone with her mother for the first time in years — and to lay the groundwork for her escape with a case worker, Hkawn Shawng, who was affiliated with the rebel administration. Following protocol, the Hkawn Shawng requested a rescue from Chinese authorities. But when police responded to the request months afterward, Marip Lu said, she told them about what had happened to her only for them to return her to the family’s custody. A few weeks later, police messaged the care worker claiming that Marip Lu told them she didn’t want to return home. The police, Hkawn Shwang said, were either indifferent to the case or were bribed into dropping it by the family.

Hkawn Shawng was eventually able to organize an escape for Marip Lu to return home to her family in Myanmar. There was only one trade-off — she couldn’t bring her 3-year-old son, who was registered as a Chinese citizen, because Chinese authorities would pursue them for kidnapping. “I looked into my boy’s face and I wept because I knew I had to leave him,” she recalled.

Marip Lu is now safe with the rest of her family in Laiza — but the pain from her ordeal, as well as the absence of her son, continues to haunt her. According to Hkawn Shawng, none of the 200 trafficked women her organization has helped return to Myanmar have been able to bring their children home with them.

Watch The Associated Press’s interview with Marip Lu below.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.

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