Forced Marriage Overseas: China

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Individuals from the United States may face some hurdles if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in China. Although laws exist to protect women and girls, discrimination and violence against women, particularly domestic violence, remains a significant problem.1 In addition, the growing gender imbalance in the population has led to increased numbers of women and girls being trafficked within and to China for marriage with Chinese men, among other societal challenges.2

For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in China, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.

Marriage in China

Chinese laws on marriage, divorce, and annulment offer certain protections for individuals that may be facing forced marriages. China’s Marriage Law sets forth requirements for entering into and dissolving a marriage, and the Criminal Law prohibits use of force to interfere in an individual’s freedom to marry. The legal age of marriage in China is 22 for men and 20 for women, with slightly lower ages (20 for men and 18 for women) in certain ethnic autonomous regions.3 The Marriage Law expressly prohibits coercion,4 and allows for annulment if an individual is the victim of a forced (or “intimidated”) marriage.5 This law offers protection when one party to the marriage is coerced to enter into it against his/her real intention, or if his-or herself or relative’s life, health, reputation or property is threatened.6 China’s Protection of Minors Law prohibits parents or other guardians from allowing or forcing minors to enter into marriage, and prohibits them from arranging marriages on behalf of minors.7 It is unclear how often such laws are enforced by Chinese authorities, though media reports document courts granting petitions for annulment in forced marriages situations.8

Growing gender imbalances (in which men outnumber women) in China have led to changing social expectations around marriage, and to an increase in trafficking of women and girls into forced marriage situations.9 In urban areas, women – often educated professionals – may experience increased societal and family pressure to get married so they do not end up as a shengnü (“leftover” woman or spinster).10 Similar pressures are often felt by gay and lesbian individuals who may be pushed towards traditional marital relationships and forced to marry opposite sex spouses by their families.11 The gender imbalance has also impacted marriage in rural communities, where there are fewer women due to migration to cities and urban areas, and where men may lack resources for courting a marriage partner. This has led to an increase in trafficking of women, both from within China and surrounding countries, for forced marriages to Chinese men.12 Women in such situations are often tricked or sold by family members, or trafficked by men acting as their boyfriends or who offer fictitious employment.13

Potential Risks and Protections in Country

It is difficult to predict the level of protection that an individual would receive if facing a forced marriage in China. While there are laws against domestic violence,14 it is still a widespread problem with abuse occurring in 33.9% of families in China.15 Victims may be reluctant to contact authorities or go to court due to the perception that such incidents are family affairs. While the Chinese government has taken steps to curb human trafficking, there is little information about investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and marriage brokers and criminal gangs continue to operate to provide brides, who are often coerced or forced, to Chinese men.16

There are certain government run agencies and NGOs in China offering services to victims of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence, which may be able to assist individuals facing forced marriage situations.

Special Challenges in Returning to the United States

Please check the entry and exit requirements for China for the most up to date information.

Assistance for Individuals from the United States

  • The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
    We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in China, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.

Get Help

  • The U.S. State Department
    The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in China.
  • U.S. Embassy Beijing
    Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
    Tel: (86-10) 8531-3000

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1 Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China (2013), available at
2 Simon Parry, China’s Stolen Brides, The Express (January 18, 2010), available at
3 Marriage Law, Articles 6 and 50.
4 Marriage Law, Article 5.
5 Marriage Law, Article 11.
6 Interpretation No. I of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues in the Application of Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China, Article 10.
7 The Protection of Minors Law, Article 15.
8 Lu Chen, ‘Shengnu’ rejects forced marriage, Global Times (June 17, 2012), available at

9 Zhao, G-M. 2003. ‘Trafficking of women for marriage in China: Policy and practice’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 83-102.
10 Julia Makinen and Don Lee, China’s Shengnu, or ‘leftover women’ face intense pressure to marry, Los Angeles Times (July 13, 2013), available at; Marta Cooper, Leftover Women: Over 27? Unmarried? Female? You’d be on the Scrapheap in China, The Telegraph (April 30, 2014), available at; Lu Chen, ‘Shengnu’ rejects forced marriage, Global Times (June 17, 2012), available at
11 Huang Lanlan and Liang Xingkun, Legal but unequal, Global Times (December 17, 2014), available at
12 Chu, C.. ‘Human Trafficking and Smuggling in China’, Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 20, No. 68 (2010), at 39-52; Graeme Green, the Burmese brides trafficked into China to marry total strangers, Metro UK Februrary 11, 2013), available at; Myanmar’s trafficked brides fill China’s shortage of women, Thomson Reuters Foundation December 4, 2012), available at
13 Vietnamese women trafficked to China for forced marriage, Gulf Times (June 29, 2014), available at; Department of State, 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report: China, available at
14 Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, Article 46; Marriage Law, Articles 43.
15 See
16 Department of State, 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report: China, available at;