Over the past few years, the People’s Republic of China has received international criticism for its harsh treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province in western China. Conservative estimates state that over one million Uighur Muslims have been placed into internment camps, with the Communist Party of China citing reeducation and vocational training as the reason they are forcibly placing them into the camps. 

In these internment camps, Uighurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and forcibly “reeducated” to the Communist Party’s ideological standard of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” They are also subjected to physiological and oftentimes physical persecution, and their cultural heritage and practices are being erased. Much of the recent global criticism of China has focused on the Uighurs; however, Uighurs aren’t the only religious minority that’s routinely persecuted. The government also restricts the free practice of religion for Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that China was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.”

Although China’s religious freedom violations are grave, the human rights abuses extend to all of its citizens in the form of extremely restrictive family planning policies. Human rights violations are interwoven, and where oppression of one right occurs, it will inevitably lead to other rights being repressed. Human trafficking in China is an issue of growing concern. One of the clearest reasons for trafficking is the decades-old “one-child” policy. At the end of 2015, the Chinese government loosened its policies, allowing couples to legally conceive two children. Even with this more “generous” policy, the damage was done. Only one-tenth of eligible couples applied to have a second child, many citing stress and cost as barriers. Not only does China have an aging population with a lean demographic able to provide care for the elderly, but there’s also an extreme gender imbalance. Sons are preferred, resulting in females being eliminated through sex-selective abortion, infanticide, or abandonment. 

According to Mei Fong in her insightful book on China’s one-child policy, “by 2020, China will have 30 to 40 million surplus of men. The country’s population of single men will equal or surpass the number of Canadians or Saudi Arabians in the world.” Because of the gender imbalance, Chinese men don’t have enough women to marry, resulting in the trafficking of brides and a larger sex trafficking industry.

The bride trafficking industry preys on the poor and vulnerable and reduces women to their ability to produce offspring. It’s dehumanizing and degrading. Marriage agencies often trick women from places like Pakistan and promise them a better life. Chinese families will cover a dowry and travel expenses, but when these young brides arrive to their new homes, they are often mistreated, sexually abused by their husbands and by other local men. Studies find that forced marriages in China cause further sexual crimes, such as rape and enslavement, and encourage environments where females are continually devalued.

In the case of women from the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK), they are routinely forcibly trafficked. The Korea Future Initiative published an extensive report on trafficking from the DPRK into China and identifies that “an estimated 60% of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade.” Due to language barriers and the threat of being sent back, these women are often trapped.

According to the Trafficking in Persons 2019 report, China is a Tier 3 country because it has not made significant enough efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. One of the reasons China has remained as a Tier 3 country, even though the government has taken some steps to address trafficking, is the state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang:

State-sponsored forced labor intensified under the government’s mass detention and political indoctrination campaign against members of Muslim ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang, and authorities reportedly subjected Tibetans and other ethno-religious groups to similar conditions. For the second consecutive year, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims or referring them to protective services. Authorities detained women arrested on suspicion of prostitution, sometimes for months and without screening for trafficking, and often forcibly returned foreign victims to their traffickers after they escaped and reported their abuses.

One of the ways the Trump administration can counter trafficking in China is by using some of the levers that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) offers. Pursuant to the TVPA, the president may determine to withhold funding for government official or employee participation in educational and cultural exchange programs for certain Tier 3 countries. 

The president may also determine to instruct the US executive director of each multilateral development bank and the International Monetary Fund to vote against and use his or her best efforts to deny any loans or other uses of the institutions’ funds to a designated Tier 3 country for most purposes (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance). In regards to the DPRK, the US should urge China to revise policies concerning the repatriation of North Korean escapees. In any trade negotiations, President Trump should continue to elevate human rights and religious persecution. Human trafficking should be included in the list of human rights abuses.

By strengthening human rights abroad, the United States helps countries create more stability and security and allows for the rights of all to be respected and protected. As the leader of the free world, the US has a duty to stand up and be a voice for the vulnerable and oppressed.

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik serves as a policy director at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Previously, she worked in the US House of Representatives on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea is the author of Longing for Motherhood – Holding onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness. She has a BA in international relations from Liberty University and lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, Michael.