A man in China has been arrested for allegedly marrying off his mentally disabled teenage daughter multiple times to get his hands on bride prices, Chinese media has reported.
A farmer, surnamed Xie, from a village in Lianyuan, Hunan province in central China, sold his daughter to three men over as many years to get bride payments from the men’s families, reported The Paper on Wednesday.
Xie claimed his daughter, now aged 17, was legally an adult over 20 years old when the fraudulent marriages took place between 2018 and 2021.
However, she was actually born in January 2005, according to her identity card, said the brother of one of the duped grooms, surnamed Chen.
It’s still a widely-practised marriage custom in mainland China for the groom’s family to pay a large sum of money to the bride’s family.
Xie collected more than 90,000 yuan (US$13,300) from Chen’s family that was supposed to be his daughter’s second “marriage”. Xie refused to repay the money when the Chen family learned his daughter had later married another man.
Chen said his family didn’t realize what was going on because the girl mainly lived with her parents after the wedding was held as his brother spent most of his time away as a migrant worker.
He said his brother had been unable to find a wife due to their family’s poor financial situation but was able to meet the lower bride price demanded by Xie because of his daughter’s mental disability.
“She was young and fertile, which is difficult to find in rural regions,” Chen said.
Xie, whose wife also suffers from a mental disability, allegedly obtained tens of thousands of yuan from two other men he sold his daughter to.
However, by the time local police arrested him for suspected swindling in March, he had already spent the money.
The case has been sent to prosecutors to decide whether to charge Xie over the marriage scam. The teenage girl and her mother have been taken into separate welfare homes.
The story drew strong negative reactions online.
“He’s unworthy to be a father,” one person commented.
“This is a society that is ‘eating’ women,” another said.
Though Chinese law mandates that women can only be married after the age of 20, it’s common in rural areas to have a de facto marriage for younger couples and then apply for official marriage registration when they reach legal age.
The story is just one of many recent cases of rural women being used as a moneymaking tool targeting men of marriageable age struggling to find a spouse.
The practice remains a prevalent issue in rural China, which boasts one of the world’s most skewed gender ratios. China had 17.52 million more men of marriageable age between 20 and 40 than women, according to a national population census in 2020.
For the most poverty-stricken households which are particularly unpopular in the marriage market, trafficked women and those with mental illness or disability have become an option of last resort for men who use them to produce an heir.
In February, the case of a mentally disabled woman who was sold as a bride twice shocked China after images of her chained by the neck went viral. She gave birth to eight children by the man she was sold to over 24 years and has been at a local hospital since the case came to light.