POLICE are investigating the disappearance of more than 100 Vietnamese women who vanished after being sold to Chinese men as wives.
Their inquiry is said to be focusing on a matchmaker who sells women in Northern China. According to reports she is now missing.
The women in question apparently vanished from Handan county in Hebei province near Beijing at the end of November.
A local official said it was suspected that the men had been set up.
Suspicion has fallen on a woman called Wu Meiyu, a Vietnamese bride who has lived in the area for about 20 years.
She is alleged to have benefitted to the tune of about £10,000 for each time a successful introduction was made between brides and Chinese men. Local news reports said she disappeared at the same time as the 100 women.
It was suggested she had spent much of the past few months travelling around the area of Hebei drumming up customers for the mail order brides on her books.
Then on 20 November, after she had made 100 successful matches, the new wives had told their new husbands they were meeting other brides for a meal. They disappeared.
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One bride has reportedly returned home, claiming she had woken up having fallen unconscious at the meal in a small house where she was told a new husband would be found for her.
Instead she managed to make her way back to her home in the city of Quzhou in south-western China, where she has since filed a report with police.
Local reports confirmed that international matchmaking services and cross-border marriage brokerages were illegal, and suggested the case maybe related to human trafficking.
Many of the brides are said to travel willingly, with some travelling ahead to arrange residency permits ahead of their weddings.
Mail order brides can command a price tag of up to £12,000 a time. So many women disappearing over the border at once is likely to prompt closer interest from authorities.
To date, officials have largely turned a blind eye to the matchmaking services.
Local people said the practice has become something of a tradition – yet another case of supply and demand. “If they liked each other, the man would pay an amount of money based on his and the woman’s ages, and then they could marry,” local news reports said.
It is impossible to say how many women are subject to trafficking, but some gangs are so established they are said to offer replacement brides in the event women run away or demand a divorce within the first two months.
China Daily, one of the biggest selling newspapers in the region, claimed some 1,200 trafficked women are rescued in an average year.
But that, authorities said, may be only the tip of the iceberg.
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