Unhappily ever after

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A booming illegal matchmaking market lures Vietnamese women into marrying foreign husbands, promising a brighter future and all too often delivering misery

 
A young Vietnamese bride and her foreign groom at their wedding last year

Ly Van Tu once hoped his daughter's marriage to a Chinese husband would provide her a better life and that she would be able to send money back home after immigrating abroad.

The 52-year-old shrimp farmer in the Mekong Delta's Bac Lieu Province, who is VND800 million (US$38,320) in debt due to several consecutive seasons of losses, found a broker in town who quickly arranged for his daughter to wed a 36-year-old Chinese man and move to China with him last March.

Tu was paid VND12 million. Three months later, his 20-year-old daughter phoned him saying she was often beaten by her husband because she was unable to carry firewood to their mountainous home.

"She said her husband demanded VND150 million, which he spent to marry her, for her release. The broker in Vietnam later lowered the amount to VND30 million," Tu said, adding that the family had reported the situation to local police after failing to raise enough money.

Cases like these are more and more common: Vietnamese women seeking to marry foreign husbands, mostly from China, South Korea and Taiwan through illegal brokering services, following the dream of a better life abroad.

Many of these marriages do not work out well due to insufficient preparation from both partners in terms of coping with language barriers, contrasting cultures and mismatched motivations to marry, experts said.

According to statistics from the Department of Population and Family Planning, at least 300,000 Vietnamese women have married foreign men since it began monitoring the situation in 1998, with a majority marrying Taiwanese, Chinese and South Korean husbands.

False advertising

Hoang Ba Thinh, director of the Center for Population, Environment and Social Affairs Research in Hanoi said many illegal brokers have fostered the illusion that Vietnamese women's lives will be easier abroad.

"The matchmakers often provide inaccurate information about foreign men's health, appearance, job and income. Many women have broken dreams after getting married to old and sick husbands who live in remote areas and are often abusive," he said.

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A recent investigation by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper found a multitude of brokering services on the Internet with exaggerated claims to attract customers.

Many such services in China advertise that they have offices in Ho Chi Minh City. The addresses they list, however, do not exist.

The Tuoi Tre reporter impersonated a Vietnamese woman seeking a Chinese husband and was contacted after emailing an online marriage broker.

The company contacted by Tuoi Tre, which operates under the pretense of being a dating service, confirmed that they broker marriages between Vietnamese women and Chinese men. They also offer free photo shoots complete with makeup, in order to make the applicant more attractive when they post her profile on their website.

The report also found that some Chinese men asked marriage brokers to get them a Vietnamese wife without traveling to Vietnam.

In a May report, the Global Times reported: "Vietnam's mail-order bride business is booming, fueled by surging demand from Chinese men who have given up hope of finding a compatriot wife and are lured by the prospect of a bargain bride bought in a group purchase."

It said that although international marriage agencies are officially illegal, loopholes in China have allowed the industry to flourish.

"For a group purchase price of 30,000 to 40,000 yuan ($4,727-$6,303), an attractive Vietnamese bride aged between 18 and 25 can be "˜bought' from a marriage agency based in Yunnan Province, which regularly posts online advertisements," it said.

The paper said an agency in Kunming organizes group tours to Vietnam for single Chinese men and arranges dates for them with Vietnamese women selected from a catalogue as potential brides.

The cost of the tour includes travel expenses, translation services, gifts for the families of brides and the wedding ceremony. If the male clients are unsatisfied with the available women, the agency charges clients just 2,000 yuan for the tour. They also assume responsibility for finding clients a new bride if the first one flees after the wedding, according to a report by the Spring City Evening News, a newspaper based in Kunming.

Motivated by money

According to a report released last year by the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, more than 40 percent of women who marry foreigners said they had been struggling to make ends meet.

Most of them admitted that the primary purpose of their marriage was financial, it found.

Thinh, the director of the Center for Population, Environment and Social Affairs Research, said there has been a significant increase in the number of local women marrying foreign husbands over the past decade.

"Most of them came from rural areas with difficult living conditions," he told Vietweek.

He pointed out that the social stigma against local women getting married to foreigners has lessened and also blamed the bad habits of rural Vietnamese men, such as gambling, alcoholism and a propensity for domestic violence.

"Another reason for this increase is human trafficking. Criminals with clever ploys have lured credulous girls promising them a bright future abroad," he said.

At a conference in April, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said Vietnam has yet to shut down the illegal international marriage brokering services.

Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, director of the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, said there should be better governmental oversight of the situation to prevent the harmful consequences which so often accompany these international marriages.

"Vietnamese women should know about basic issues of the place where they will move with their husbands like laws, customs and traditions," she said.

"They should be prepared to face cultural clashes and language barriers."

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