China Power | Society | East Asia

Uyghur Women and Forced Marriages in China

Uyghurs report disturbing stories of their relatives in Xinjiang being forced to marry Han Chinese, part of Beijing’s strategy for diluting Uyghur heritage.

Uyghur Women and Forced Marriages in China
Credit: Depositphotos

There have been several attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to promote interethnic marriage over the years, but more recently there has been a worrying trend that has seen over 1 million Chinese government officials being sent to live with single Uyghur women or those who do not have husbands. Many of these women are being blackmailed, sexually assaulted, or coerced into marriage due to concerns that their relatives may be harmed. 

According to a recent report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the extent of the situation has worsened over the years. Since 2014 the Chinese government has imposed forced interethnic marriages on Uyghur women under the guise of “promoting unity and social stability.” However, these claims of promoting unity couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many of the Uyghurs living abroad whom I spoke to for this story report that their female relatives have felt terrorized in their own homes after being placed in home surveillance schemes where Han men would be sent to stay with them.

In addition, many Uyghur women have been coerced into these forced marriages through incentivized schemes run by the Chinese Communist Party. The heart-breaking reality is that these Uyghur women are being stripped of any agency and authority to make their own decisions about whom they want to marry. If they refuse the orders of the Chinese Communist Party, they could face dire harm imposed on them and their loved ones. 

One Uyghur woman, Aysha (a pseudonym used due to safety concerns), told me that her cousin was threatened with imprisonment if she did not marry a Han Chinese man. Aysha said that her cousin pleaded with officials that she was against the marriage, but Chinese officials threatened to harm her elderly parents and throw them into internment camps. 

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As Aysha broke down in tears, she told me that since her cousin’s refusal to marry a Han man, she has not been able to get in contact with her or their relatives. She fears for the worst.  

Many Uyghurs living abroad have lost contact with their relatives in Xinjiang and neighboring provinces in China due to the strict monitoring of calls, invasive surveillance, and crackdown on Uyghurs run by President Xi Jinping. 

Sadly, Aysha is not the only Uyghur with relatives she fears could have been harmed by the Chinese Communist Party after resisting pressure to marry. Gulnaz, another Uyghur, tells me a similar story she heard from a relative who had sought exile in Istanbul. Gulnaz said that this Uyghur woman was married, but her husband was sent to a concentration camp. A Han Chinese man was sent to stay with the wife, despite her feeling terribly distressed and upset about it. The woman was threatened into a forced marriage, and no one has been able to contact her since. 

Having interviewed many Uyghur women over the years, one can only suspect that something sinister would have happened to the women who would not go through with the marriages as ordered by the CCP. However, despite many testimonies from Uyghurs who have managed to escape China, justice and accountability has yet to be realized for the Uyghur people. 

The gravity of forced and incentivized marriages have been likened to gender-based crimes that violate human rights standards internationally. The intentional policy to dilute Uyghur culture is part of the rationale for the charge that genocide is being committed against the Uyghurs in their homeland. 

Many Uyghur Muslim women are left feeling vulnerable, alone, and unable to speak out about their turmoil. There have even been videos circulating on social media that show Uyghur women looking incredibly distressed at their weddings to Han men. These videos are a disturbing counterpoint to propaganda videos created by the Chinese Communist Party advertising Uyghur women as “beauties” and “urgently” calling for a specific number of Uyghur brides. Some women have even been offered the release of their male loved ones in return for giving up their fundamental right to marry according to their own choice. 

Uyghur women have been through severe forms of oppression. from being forcibly sterilized and fitted with IUDs, to having been made to abort their unborn babies. New reports suggest Uyghur women are also being traumatized with forced marriages, which would strongly imply the possibility of repeated sexual assaults at the hands of an unwanted husband. 

The international community must do more to hold the Chinese government to account for the injustices faced by Uyghurs and call for the rights of every single Uyghur women to be upheld.