'Runaway Bride' Scammers Hit China

China's one-child policy has resulted in a strikingly low ratio of women to men. In one rural area, some brides are taking advantage of the numbers.

One region of rural China has been hit by a rash of marry-and-runs,In 11 cases this year, women have travleed to an area with a surplus of young men, married guys, and then skipped out with the "bride price," a sort of reverse dowry customarily provided by the groom's family. Authorities wonder if they might be part of a crime ring, or just taking advantage of circumstances. and often driven up when potential "brides" are in short supply.

The crime spree is facilitated by the country's increasingly low ratio of women to men, the first generation to come of marriageable age since China's 30-year-old population-planning policy - and what the WSJ calls "customary preference for boys" - limited families to one, usually male, child. Now, Because young women are in demand as wives, in rural areas where traditional customs persist they can demand higher bride prices and bigger engagement gifts, and young men in these areas have apparently taken to saving up several years' worth of farm income so as to better their chances. A family profiled in the article had been "scrimping for years, growing their own vegetables and eating mainly rice and noodles, with little meat" in hopes of winning a bride for their son (pictured). After he met and quickly married a young woman (for a hefty bride price), two neighbors solicited her to find friends for their sons. All three brides vanished together.

This story makes us unspeakably sad - for everyone involved. And not least because the relative ease of the scheme, and the interaction of tradition and modern government control, means it will surely continue to happen. Whether it's desperate young women working alone, maybe perpetrating copycat crimes, or whether it's a more calculating ring of criminals, the human drama is the same. And tragic.

It's Cold Cash, Not Cold Feet, Motivating Runaway Brides in China [Wall Street Journal]