Chinese girl, 17, escapes forced marriage after calling the police on her parents

Society & Culture

A 17-year-old Chinese girl in Guangdong Province has successfully escaped a forced marriage arranged by her parents after seeking help from law enforcement.

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A 17-year-old Chinese girl in Guangdong Province has successfully escaped a forced marriage arranged by her parents after seeking help from law enforcement.

The teenager, surnamed Zhang, shared her harrowing experience in an article (in Chinese) published by Hongxing News this week. According to her, the nightmare started in February, when her parents told her that they had begun looking around for possible marriage proposals. Despite her resistance, her parents paired her up with a 22-year-old man living in a village close to their home. After meeting the man six times, Zhang was told by her parents that they already accepted betrothal gifts from the man’s family.

Against her wishes, her parents scheduled her wedding for June 2. In the days leading up to the ceremony, Zhang tried to change her parents’ minds by telling them that she was not legally old enough to marry someone according to China’s law. But her parents were resolute about the decision.

In a last-ditch effort, the teenager made an excuse to leave home on the day before the wedding. But instead of going shopping — which is what she told her parents she was going to do — Zhang walked into the office of the All-China Women’s Federation in her town. Soon after her visit, local police officers stepped in and contacted her parents, who later called off the marriage.

Zhang said that her relationship with her parents instantly turned sour after the incident. On the night of the police intervention, her mother scolded her viciously. A few of her relatives also berated her on messaging apps afterward, criticizing her for disobeying her parents.

The teenager also revealed that although she hoped to continue her education, her parents forced her to start working two years ago when she finished middle school. In 2019, she told her parents that she wanted to go back to school, but the conversation led to nothing. Zhang said that her mother had treated her disrespectfully since she was a child. In contrast, her younger brother was usually given the freedom to make his own choices.

On Chinese social media, Zhang’s story triggered a flurry of strong reactions from people who said that her experience highlighted several urgent issues facing Chinese women, especially those in rural areas. In China, women are often under immense pressure to find a husband when they are in their late twenties and older. The situation is even more dire for women in rural China, who are expected by their families to forfeit their careers and get married even earlier. In the worst scenarios, some women, like Zhang, are coerced into marrying someone when they are still teenagers.

“Zhang made a wise decision and I praise her for her bravery. But I can’t stop wondering how many other girls like her have ended up entering a forced marriage without being given a chance to escape,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

According to Chinese law, the legal minimum age to enter into a marriage is 20 for women and 22 for men. In recent years, with serious concerns about the country’s declining birth rate and rapidly aging population, the Chinese government has introduced a wide range of incentives and measures aimed at encouraging young people to form families and have babies.

On the legal front, some lawmakers have suggested lowering the age threshold for marriage to 18 for both genders. But their proposals have not gone anywhere due to broadly unfavorable reactions from young people, who argue that such a change wouldn’t affect their marriage and childbirth decisions if they are still financially insecure and mentally unprepared.