For the first time since her abduction almost four years earlier, my trafficked Hmong friend M had the freedom to return home to her family in Vietnam.
After finally reaching the border, however, M turned back at the urgings of her Chinese “husband”.
She did so to obtain the Chinese identification card he promised her, and for the sake of obedience to her father in Vietnam.
Surprisingly, M left the border region without even visiting her elder sister, also initially a victim of trafficking who ultimately chose to remain in China, married to the man who bought her.
M’s situation and her sister’s now have much in common.
I had my concerns about M returning to her “husband” – above all, for her physical safety.
M had very recently played a leading role in the arrest of her Chinese Hmong trafficker. This man had been in contact with both M and her “husband” for over three years and, according to M, has a son based “very close” to where they themselves have been living in the north.
Would M be in danger of reprisals from her trafficker’s family? As a legal non-entity, what protection did she have?
Knowing how M had deceived and outwitted her Chinese Hmong trafficker, did M’s “husband” – also a trafficker – now feel threatened? Was this the true reason he was calling her back to him?
Had M taken time to consider these possibilities?
I spoke to M just as she was leaving the border region, renouncing her newfound freedom and turning back to her “husband”.
Was she concerned about how her “husband” might treat her when they met again? What power would she have to choose her future once she was back within his grasp?
But M was already resolved in her course. It would be three days before she would arrive back at the home of her “husband”, she said – then I lost contact with her for eleven days.
‘The number you have dialled is not in service.’
Had something gone wrong? Had M’s “husband” taken her phone, severing her connection with the outside world?
As it turned out, M was fine – simply unable to add credit to her phone at that time.
In fact, her situation was better than I’d hoped.
M’s “husband” had indeed followed through on his promise to acquire (by illegitimate means) a legitimate Chinese identification card for her, despite the expense.
While his family did not give M physical possession of the card, worried that she might use it to run away, M was able to enjoy the benefits of her new “legal” status.
M was able to unlock her SIM card and, for the first time, call her family in Vietnam directly. This is something I had tried and failed to do on her behalf last year in China.
She will now be able to use China’s banking system, and plans to work so that she will be able to transfer money to help her family.
Given possession of the card, M would also be able to travel legally both within China, and home to her family.
Meanwhile, M’s “husband” has used the card to formalise their marriage.
Given their new legal status, the fact that M returned to him of her own volition, and the respect with which he now seems to be treating her, it seems appropriate to remove the quotation marks and refer to him simply as M’s husband.
M’s plan to have her Chinese Hmong trafficker arrested, it seems, was carried out with the knowledge and consent of her husband.
He is pleased with the outcome and does not seem concerned that M might try also to have him arrested, nor should he have any reason to. M seems confident that her husband will no longer abuse the power he holds over her.
Always a reluctant mother, M is no longer worried about the possibility that her husband might force her to have another child.
She refuses to have any more children – and if her husband wants more, she says, he can find a new wife.
Nor is M worried about any sort of retaliation from the family of her Chinese Hmong trafficker, as she is certain it will be impossible for them to find her.
The man has only her phone number – although he knows the area in which she lives, he has never had her address.
With her new identity card, M has relocated with her husband to a new home in a nearby city.
While it’s not the happiest of endings for M, it is a new beginning.
Claire Bannerman has been closely involved in this episode over the past weeks. I’d like to thank her for the role she has played, in addition to her constant work on The Human, Earth Project‘s Twitter feed.