Mehak Perwaiz takes her wedding vows with Song Guoqing at a marriage hall in Lahore on Nov. 19, 2018. (Photo supplied)
When the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was launched in 2015, it took Pakistan by storm.
It was called a game-changer, a lifeline for the growth of tourism and job opportunities in Pakistan and the wider region. Universities across the country started teaching the Chinese language as the government focused on increased employment through the multibillion-dollar project.
Alongside the win-win situation came the matrimony advertisements.
"Long live Pak-China friendship! Attention honorable Christians," stated a banner erected in Youhanabad, the largest Christian locality in Lahore. "Proposals of deserving, poor and good families are urgently required for China. Chinese family will bear all expenses. Education is not a problem."
The first CPEC wedding gained media coverage in 2017 when a Twitter user posted photos of a pastor conducting a marriage ceremony for a Chinese man with a Pakistani Christian woman from Lahore.
The hype influenced Mehak Perwaiz, 18, when she met some Chinese guests at a marriage ceremony in Faisalabad, a Punjabi city, last November. The beautician received a wedding proposal in a telephone call three days later.
"A local wedding agent showed us three foreigners. Song Guoqing, one of the candidates, was interested in starting a cosmetics business. I was told he was Christian and needed a Pakistani wife to aid documentation," Perwaiz told ucanews.com.
"Despite his defective leg, I agreed for the future of my five siblings. Also, we had lost hope in my father, a drug addict tuk-tuk driver who preferred staying at home."
Perwaiz married Guoqing in a wedding hall on Nov. 19. "There was not time for preparations or verifications. They only required a medical fitness certificate. We were given 25,000 rupees (US$179) for bridal shopping. I had only one evening to select my dresses," she said.
"My passport was made urgently. In preparation for visa queries, Guoqing asked me to cite Facebook interaction for falling in love."
However, their quickfire relationship started deteriorating during the honeymoon.
"We lived in a rented apartment in Lahore with seven other Chinese-Pakistani couples. A mobile app helped us in conversations. That's where I discovered that my husband has a paralyzed left arm. He hated visiting his new in-laws and even scolded me for visiting my parents," said Perwaiz.
"The apartment was a beautiful prison. He was mentally unstable, oblivious of personal hygiene. Accusing me of flirting with other boys, he used to check my mobile. He even complained to my parents about my rudeness. The Christian girls used to discuss their loneliness."
Together with her friend, also married to a Chinese national, Perwaiz took refuge in a shelter house before Christmas. She is now part of SAD, a social media group created by Christian women struggling to divorce their Chinese husbands.
Mehak Perwaiz with Song Guoqing at a traditional 'mehndi' ceremony in Lahore on Nov. 18, 2018. (Photo supplied)
Saleem Iqbal, a Lahore-based Christian human rights activist, is guiding the group through legalities. He is also giving moral support to those women still trapped in China.
"The dream of living happily ever after in China has ruined the lives of at least 50 young Christian women. These Chinese tourists hunt for poor families through so-called pastors of unregistered churches. The commission for conducting Christian marriages ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 rupees. This is human trafficking," he said.
The Pakistani government only recognizes five mainstream churches — Catholic, Church of Pakistan, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist and the Salvation Army. Others not registered with the Auqaf Department, which supervises important religious monuments and holy places, are deemed illegal.
About 91,000 Chinese nationals visited Pakistan on tourist visas from 2013 to 2017. A total of 12,287 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in 2017, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Many Chinese stay in big cities including Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore.
"We are trying to use social media and Christian TV channels to spread awareness in the community. The suitors are poor Buddhists posing as rich Christians. Most of these marriages end in separation. Poor Christian girls are lured towards idol worship and even adultery," said Iqbal.
"Christian families trying to file court cases are verbally abused and threatened on the phone. They are also asked to return marriage expanses in case of annulment. They are suffering for being illiterate and poor. The newly single women live a stigmatized life in a deeply patriarchal society."
Banners in Youhanabad, the largest Christian locality in Lahore, advertise Chinese marriage proposals in October 2018. (Photo by Saleem Iqbal)
Kashif Aslam, program coordinator for the Pakistan Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, confirmed the problems.
"We have been approached directly by some affected families. Without interfering in the business of marriage bureaus involved, we are lobbying Chinese officials over this serious issue," he said.
Iqbal has already filed a complaint with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which regulates the flow of international visitors and is tasked with stopping human smuggling.
"Given the image of China as Pakistan's long-time ally and friend, the FIA was hesitant in accepting the complaint. Now we are trying different strategies to increase the pressure on the government. This includes mobilizing Christian lawyers and reaching out to the Interior Ministry in canceling the visas of fraudulent Chinese and deporting them from our country," he said.
"God forbid an angry relative attacks a Chinese to avenge the honor of his daughter. Necessary steps must be taken to avoid such a disaster."
Honor killing, also known as karo kari, is the intentional murder of a family member for bringing shame to the family by having an illicit affair or refusing an arranged marriage. Hundreds of women are murdered in honor killings every year in Pakistan.