Rushing brides

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Despite brutal murder, Vietnam continues to bleed wives

A Vietnamese woman washing clothes on her family's boat on the Mekong River in the southern province of Vinh Long. Vinh Long is among some provinces in the Southern Vietnam's Mekong delta where tens of thousands of Vietnamese women have left the country in order to marry predominantly Taiwanese and South Korean husbands.

Pham Thi Ngoc Dat, 19, and four pretty young women sat chatting happily about their bright futures on a recent afternoon.

The girls had gathered at a street-side café near the South Korean Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, waiting in eager anticipation.

Every one present had married a Korean husband in recent months. As they talked, they discussed plans to move to the prosperous peninsula as their visa applications had gone through.

"I am very excited to move there," said 21-year-old Ta Thanh Tu, who wed a 40-year-old Korean man six months ago.

Tu said the brutal July murder of a Vietnamese bride by her crazed South Korean husband did not worry her at all.

"My husband speaks little Vietnamese and my Korean is nonexistent," Tu said. "That's my biggest worry."

Dat and Tu will join a growing flock of Vietnamese brides heading for South Korea.

As concerns mount about dashed hopes and violent clashes, South Korea is taking steps to reform the matchmaking process and experts have called on Vietnam to do the same.

Some 38,000 Vietnamese women flocked to South Korea from 2004 to 2009, according to the National Statistical Office in Korea, which recorded 7,249 such marriages last year alone.

Official figures from the Korean Justice Ministry show that around another 2,300 Vietnamese wives have migrated to South Korea during the first half of this year.

Starting this November, Koreans hoping to wed foreigners will have to take educational courses about international marriages, and those who fail to attend will have visas denied to their brides, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said in late July.

The move came in response to the brutal murder of a 20-year-old Vietnamese bride by her schizophrenic husband eight days after her arrival in the country. The murder sparked public outrage and growing uneasiness about the export of Vietnamese brides.

"We promise to set up measures to prevent such an incident from occurring again," the Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said in a press release issued at the time.

However, experts argue that these classes will not suffice in tackling the problem, given the continued demand for Vietnamese wives among Korean men.

The tragedies of Vietnamese wives stemmed chiefly from the lack of background information mental health records, criminal background checks, etc. leading to a breakdown in these marriages, said Kang Sung Hea of the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Woman for Migrant Women in South Korea.

Professor Lee Hye-Kyung of Pai Chai University in South Korea said that the Vietnamese government should also do its best to furnish would-be wives with enough information before they get married.

It is the responsibility of the two governments to protect its people from false promises, said Lee, who is also the President of Korea International Migration Association.

Under current Vietnamese laws, marriage brokerage for profit is illegal.

"We change something here and you change something there. Some good will come out of it," Prof. Lee said. "I'm hopeful."

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