Slick, illegal brokering machine ensures steady supply of poor young Vietnamese brides for South Korean men, a Thanh Nien investigation finds
T., a 19-year-old woman from Kien Giang Province, at her wedding ceremony last month with a South Korean man
One day in early June, Phuong gets a call informing her that two men from South Korea will come to a café in Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Phu District to meet Vietnamese women that they can marry.
Phuong, a 29-year-old woman from Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, hopes she will be selected by one of these two men and go abroad, just as her older sister did several years ago.
Five other hopeful women are waiting at the café when Phuong arrives. Besides them, there are six men and a woman from South Korea, and two Vietnamese women, all marriage brokers.
One of the Vietnamese brokers, identified only as N., wants to reject Phuong because she doesn't belong to the women she would introduce (and get a commission for doing so). However, one of the South Korean brokers, Hwang, tells Phuong to stay after taking a closer look at her.
Soon after, the two South Korean men arrive, carrying plastic bags with copies of ID cards and household registrations of Vietnamese women.
The six Vietnamese women are quickly divided into two groups. Phuong and two others, 19-year-old T. from Kien Giang and S. from Tien Giang Province, are brought to Kim, a 40-year-old South Korean man.
The brokers introduce him, saying Kim works for some enterprise in South Korea and is paralyzed in one leg.
After the introductions, Kim decides to choose T. and she begins crying. It is difficult to say if they are tears of happiness. The South Korean broker, Hwang, checks her arms like inspecting cattle before purchase, and asks a woman to take her to a room for a complete checkup.
In the other group, a 30-year-old woman, known only as O., is selected by the other 53-year-old Korean wife-seeker. A woman claiming to be his younger sister says the Korean man has undergone several surgeries and lost his right thumb in one of them.
O. has been married earlier and has a seven-year-old son, but she says she will not take her son to South Korea with her new husband.
Few hours later, the two couples rent two rooms at a hotel in Tan Binh District for their "first night" a day before the wedding.
At dinner that day, O. says she is not worried at all because she has been married once, but T. bursts into tears when asked what she thinks about such a quick wedding.
On the following day, two weddings are held at around noon at a restaurant on Hoa Binh Street in District 11. It is pouring outside.
The two brides, holding two old, dusty plastic wedding bouquets, stand at the entrance to welcome guests a symbolic step because there are actually no guests besides the immediate family members of the brides and the brokers who are already there.
More than a third of South Korean fishermen and farmers who married in 2009 chose immigrant brides, some because they were unable to find local women prepared to lead a rural lifestyle, according to an AFP report.
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.
A survey conducted by the Vietnam's Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs early this year found that only 7 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.
At 1:30 p.m., the ceremony begins with a short performance by the restaurant's dancers. Then an emcee introduces the two couples walking on to the stage. T. doesn't look around and walks sadly beside the groom, who is struggling to walk because of his paralyzed leg.
T.'s parents from Kien Giang are there in old clothes and slippers. The mother says the brokers set aside ten seats for them at the party but she didn't invite anyone.
Each wedding ceremony takes just five minutes or so, and the "party" begins. T.'s parents and she herself don't say anything or talk to her husband, because they don't speak any Korean. T. and her parents don't eat anything either, just sit with sad looks on their faces.
At 2 p.m., the party ends and the brides' families return to their hometown in the Mekong Delta. The two couples and the brokers take a trip to the beach town of Vung Tau for a one-day honeymoon.
The following day, they return to HCMC and the grooms take a flight back to South Korea. They are expected to return in October to take their brides with them after completing all the procedures.
After the wedding and honeymoon, T. and O. are taken to an apartment on Thoai Ngoc Hau Street in Tan Phu District and stay there, ostensibly to study Korean language and culture. In reality, they are strictly monitored and can only go out for one hour a day with a male chaperon.
The broker N. also stays in the apartment. She had become a bride herself in similar circumstances more than a month ago. While waiting to immigrate to South Korea, she is hoping to earn some money by introducing more women to the marriage racket.
N. calls Phuong just a few days after the weddings of T. and O., and takes her to meet the major brokers in the ring.
At a house in an alley off Binh Tan District's Le Van Quoi Street, a man more than 60 years old, identified only as T., carefully checks Phuong's ID card and asks her to bring her household registration documents as well.
"You look smart. Tell your relatives to supply documents. After getting married, you can help me to find more women who want to find Korean husbands and I will pay you," he tells Phuong.
T. says around ten women are living there, waiting to be selected by South Korean men. "If you want to get a husband soon, you must ask for my help," he says.
After a two-hour conversation, T. asks N. to take Phuong home to prepare her documents before coming to stay in the house.
N. says a woman has to pay T. VND300,000 for food besides brokerage fees of around VND6 million (US$292). "Your Korean husband will give you the money to pay them," she reassures Phuong when the latter explains that she is poor, that the reason she wants to get married to a foreign husband is to escape poverty.
According to N., all the prospective brides will stay at T.'s house waiting to be selected. After the wedding, they will move to the apartment in Tan Phu District to study Korean language and wait for their husbands to take them abroad.
When Phuong asks what would happen if the husband does not turn up later to take his wife abroad, N. does not hesitate: "Just find another Korean husband then."