How migrant brides eventually arrive in South Korea, Taiwan,
Singapore, Malaysia, and even China is controlled by a network of agents
whose motives are more driven by profits than the welfare of the people
they profess to help.
The proliferation of marriage brokering is largely market driven, and
at the intersection of supply and demand, is the market price for these
women: about US$5,000. One Singaporean agency, J&N Viet-Bride, advertises that
men can travel to Vietnam, select a bride, get married, and return
home, all in the space of a week. Their new wives join them a month
later, once the visa formalities are completed.
As I found when working on this issue with regional governments as an official with the International Organization for Migration (IOM),
Vietnamese women are often living in isolation and are therefore highly
vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. But because policies are
insufficient for mitigating the cross-border disparities that lead to
this type of migration, governments should invest in empowering marriage
migrants through education, while concentrating on effectively
implementing existing laws.
What drives marriage migration?
The marriage migration phenomenon gained momentum after the opening
of Vietnam's economy to foreign investment. In the 1990s, there was an
influx of Taiwanese businessmen traveling to work in the country. They
found Vietnamese women, with Confucian values similar to their own, to
make suitable partners. Upon returning to Taiwan, friends and family
members caught on, and opportunists realized they could turn a profit on
Today, mainland China, Cambodia, the Philippines and Mongolia are also major source countries. According to IOM, 133,000 Vietnamese women married foreigners between 2005 and 2010.
Many Vietnamese women, often from poor rural villages, favor the
opportunity to live abroad, stating that they risk domestic abuse within
their own villages if they are to stay behind. The lure of relative
wealth overseas, and financial pressure to support their families, means
migration can be a better option for many, even though they've heard
some of the stories of marriages gone wrong.
Sometimes the marriages do go very wrong: Vietnamese women have been tricked into sham-marriages that were just a front for organized prostitution and others have been murdered by their husbands.
In spite of the known dangers and challenges, most Vietnamese women
remain hopeful that language barriers may be overcome and their own
marriages might be rosy. At the very least, the chance for the brides to
remit some money to their families is enough incentive to tie the knot.
Trafficking, domestic abuse, or just loneliness?
The exploitation of marriage migrants sits in a policy gray area.
Additional support that sometimes comes by way of strict
anti-trafficking laws and large, Western-funded anti-trafficking
projects, is not largely available to this group, and there are unclear
guidelines for destination countries on how to handle cases involving