Experts say more must be done to ensure the safety and welfare of local women looking to marry abroad
An illegal marriage broker bust conducted by Ho Chi Minh City police. Many Vietnamese women are entering risky marriages brokered by illegal services for financial reasons.
Last week, Qi Shui Hua, 38, walked into an upscale café in District 6 expecting to review a parade of potential young brides. He would take one home, he thought, for a hefty fee.
Instead, Hua had to fly back to China alone.
On April 21, city police raided the café and arrested Ha My Nga and Phu Duc Hang, the two women broking a marriage for Hua.
The arrest signified the latest move in a nationwide crackdown on illegal marriage broker scams.
A week earlier, Can Tho City police arrested three people suspected of having paid a justice department official a total of VND1.7 billion (US$81,281) in bribes to help expedite paperwork for local women looking to marry foreigners.
The suspects include a local ward official in charge of birth, marriage and death records, a 49-year-old Korean-language instructor, and a 32-year-old man. The trio was accused of making illicit payments to Phan Thanh Dung, deputy head of the Judicial Administrative Section under the city's Justice Department last November.
Dung is also in custody and remains under investigation for his alleged role in the scheme.
Matter of money
According to the Ministry of Justice, more than 257,000 Vietnamese married foreigners or Vietnamese residing overseas between 1995 and 2010"”over 80 percent of these individuals are women.
Most of the foreign spouses are from Taiwan, the US, South Korea and China.
At a conference in Can Tho held on April 22, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan instructed the ministries of public security, justice, and foreign affairs to cooperate on improving the laws protecting Vietnamese women married to foreigners.
Despite legal improvements effected during the past five years, he noted, many marriages between Vietnamese women and foreign men are conducted without love, knowledge of culture and language and awareness of their spouses' family background and health conditions.
At the conference, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Thanh Son said that marriages between Vietnam citizens and foreigners are normal but need to be better managed.
"Concerned agencies should do more to protect women's rights and improve relations with other countries in the meantime," he said.
A survey conducted by the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, early this year, found that only seven percent of these couples married for love; the rest wed for financial reasons.
Nearly 60 percent of marriages between Vietnamese women and foreign men were arranged by illegal brokers, according to the study.
These services often provide potential brides with little information about their future spouses, according to a host of foreign researchers.
Sociologists and women's rights advocates have claimed that many of these women never adapt to their new lives and more should be done to protect them.
Danièle Bélanger, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, has conducted extensive research on women's issues in Vietnam.
Bélanger found that some young Vietnamese women want to marry abroad to avoid domestic violence at home. If Vietnam wants to clampdown on brides leaving the country, it should tackle this problem first and foremost.
"Domestic violence is widespread in rural Vietnam and is accepted as a fact of life by many," she told Thanh Nien Weekly via email. "This is a problem... So fears of having a husband who does not work, drinks, gambles and who is violent actually pushed some young women to marry abroad."
At the same time, she said that many of these foreign marriages can be just as dangerous and problematic. Bélanger urged Vietnam to assist women in making healthy choices.
"Vietnam should empower women who enter international marriages by providing them with information, legal services and support," she added. "The phenomenon cannot be stopped by condemning it."
Hong-zen Wang, director of the Department of Sociology at Taiwan's National Sun Yat-sen University, argued that the migration of Vietnamese women through marriage could help Vietnam improve transnational activities and generate remittances.
"Women who migrate abroad, whether for work or marriage, are emigrants in their own right and should be treated as such," he said.
Wang believes receiving countries should educate native husbands about Vietnamese history, gender roles and family systems. At the same time, he said, Vietnam should provide further information to departing women.
In the short term, Hyunok Lee, a PhD candidate at Cornell University's Department of Development Sociology, urged Vietnam to establish emergency relief for marriages that fail.
Bélanger also warned against the hardships Vietnamese women face when returning home from unhappy marriages abroad.
Some flee their adopted country and return home without having officially divorced.
"Their situation is very complex," she said. "They tend to be stigmatized and excluded. Much more needs to be done to address the needs of returnees and their children."