Samiya David spent only two months in China after being sold by her family as a bride to a Chinese man.
When she returned to Pakistan, the once robust woman was nearly unrecognisable: malnourished, too weak to walk, her speech confused and disjointed.
“Don’t ask me about what happened to me there,” she would reply to her family’s questions, her cousin Pervaiz Masih said.
Within just a few weeks, she was dead.
David’s mysterious death adds to a growing body of evidence of mistreatment and abuses against Pakistani women and girls, mainly Christians, who have been trafficked to China as brides.
Investigations have found that traffickers have increasingly targeted Pakistan’s impoverished Christian population over the past two years, paying desperate families to give their daughters and sisters, some of them teenagers, into marriage with Chinese men.
Once in China, the women are often isolated, neglected, abused and sold into prostitution, frequently contacting home to plead to be brought back. Some women have told The Associated Press and activists that their husbands at times refused to feed them.
A list attained by the AP documented 629 Pakistani girls and women sold to China as brides in 2018 and up to early 2019.
The list was compiled by Pakistani investigators working to break up the trafficking networks. But officials close to the investigation and activists working to rescue the women say that government officials, fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing, have stifled the investigations.
“These poor people have given their daughters for money, and [in China] they do whatever they want to do with them. No one is there to see what happens to the girls,” David’s cousin said.
“This is the height of cruelty. We are poor people.”
David’s death at the age of 37 shows the extremes of the cruelties trafficked women face. Other women have described being cut off without support, abused physically and mentally.
David now lies buried in an unmarked grave in a small Christian graveyard overgrown with weeds near her ancestral village of Mazaikewale in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province.
Before her marriage, she lived in a cramped house with her brother and widowed mother in Francisabad Colony, a congested Christian neighbourhood in the Punjab city of Gujranwala.
Christians are among the poorest in Pakistan, a mostly Muslim nation of 220 million people.
At the urging of a local pastor, her brother took money from brokers to force her into marriage with a Chinese man. The pastor has since been arrested on suspicion of working with traffickers.
A few months after their marriage in late 2018, David and her husband left to China. “When she left for China she was healthy. She looked good and strong,” said her cousin.
Her husband was from a relatively poor, rural part of eastern Shandong province. The conservative culture in such areas strongly favours male offspring, which under China’s strict population control policies meant that a great deal of little girls were never born, hence the demand for trafficked foreign wives.
After two months, her brother got a phone call telling him to pick his sister up at the airport in Lahore. He found David in a wheelchair, too weak to walk.
The AP met David in late April. Living again in Francisabad Colony, she showed her wedding photos, taken six months earlier. In one, she was dressed in a white gown, smiling, looking robust, with long, flowing black hair.
David barely resembled the woman in the picture. Her cheeks were sunken, complexion sallow, her tiny frame emaciated and frail. She seemed confused, her speech incoherent.
When asked about her wedding or time in China, she lost focus — her words wandering — and at one point suddenly stood to make tea, mumbling about the sugar. She paced, repeating: “I am ok. I am ok.”
When asked why she looked so different in the wedding photos, she stared vacantly into space, and finally said: “There is nothing wrong with me.”
She died a few days later on May 1.
Dr Meet Khan Tareen treated David on her one visit to his clinic in Lahore, and said she was “very malnourished and very weak” with anaemia and jaundice. Preliminary tests suggested several possible ailments, including organ failure.
Her death certificate listed cause of death as “natural”.
Another Pakistani woman, Samia Yousaf, who was 24 when she was forced into marriage, has spoken about the abuses she suffered in China.
She and her husband went there after she became pregnant. When she arrived, nothing was as her husband had promised: he was not well off and they lived in a spider-infested room.
When she gave birth, her sister-in-law refused to let her hold her son and controlled when and for how long she could see him during her hospital stay.
Her husband repeatedly let her fall on walks ordered by doctors and refused to help her back up.
After she left the hospital, the abuse continued and her husband denied her food. “He was cruel,” she said. “I thought he wanted to kill me.”
Three weeks later, authorities threatened her with jail because her visa had expired. Her husband had kept her passport and she pleaded to be allowed home to Pakistan.
But he refused to let her take the baby. She discovered her name was not on her son’s registration, only her husband’s.
The last time she saw her son was in September 2017, just before her return. “Every day I think of my baby,” said Ms Yousaf. “I wonder what he looks like. My heart is always sad.”