Man’s ‘marriage’ to mentally and physically disabled woman in China less than half his age could be rape, lawyer says

Phoebe Zhang
·4-min read

Chinese authorities have refused to allow a man to marry a mentally handicapped woman less than half his age – but said it was fine for them to live together.

The decision has created controversy after a disturbing video of the couple’s “wedding” emerged online. Many expressed concern the man, surnamed Zhang, was now engaged in a sexual relationship with the woman despite her inability to consent.

In the video published online the “groom” is seen wiping tears from the visibly distressed woman’s eyes on what appears to be a wedding. But Zhang told news portal The Paper, that the ceremony was simply a “wedding party” as they had not actually registered for a marriage licence.

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Wearing matching floral corsages, Zhang said the girl’s parents had given him permission to “take care of her” and that she was crying because she was not yet familiar with the new home they would share.

Another woman not shown in the video can be heard saying, “Look how nice he is to you ... don’t cry, you’re in a new home now.”

People online reacted angrily to the government’s decision in allowing the 20-year-old woman — who is unable to walk or talk — to marry the man 35 years her senior, saying she was clearly being taken advantage of.

“If this isn’t stopped, she will be raped and forced to have children who are likely to be mentally retarded as well,” one person said on Weibo.

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Zhong Wen, a Sichuan-based lawyer, said according to China’s Civil Code, a marriage required a man and a woman to voluntarily and freely enter into it.

He said those with severe mental disabilities were not legally able to marry as they did not have the “mental capacity” to make rational decisions.

A government official from Biyang in Henan province told Shangyou News that while the couple was not legally able to marry because the young woman’s mental disability diminished her ability to consent, it was not against the law for them to live together.

“The government will help this special family, ensure legal rights of the handicapped, and maintain justice and social order,” the official said.

However, Zhong also raised doubts over the government’s response to the couple’s decision to live together.

“If there is a sexual relationship involving a mentally handicapped person, there’s a high possibility that it could constitute rape,” he said.

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Critics online also called into question the parents’ intention, arguing that allowing the union served their desire for grandchildren and the man’s desire to reproduce.

“Do you think there was love in this marriage? They wanted to use her to have offspring,” one Weibo user wrote.

The woman’s parents defended their decision and said they had wanted someone to take care of their daughter. They said although he was older, he was “honest and kind” and had never married before. He also had the financial means to support her, they said.

China’s one-child policy has been blamed for an army of unmarried men looking for brides. With a large proportion of single men living in poor rural areas, many have resorted to importing wives from outside China or taking mentally disabled women as wives in order to have children.

In January 2020, Chinese internet users reported suspicions that a mentally handicapped woman was being held prisoner by a man in China’s northeastern Hebei province and had given birth to a number of children as a result.

The local government’s response was that the man had “adopted” the woman.

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