Tens of thousands of Vietnamese young women try to find a way out of poverty by marrying foreigners - especially men from South Korea and Taiwan. An illegal but profitable matchmaking industry has emerged. Amid reports of human trafficking and abuse, the Vietnamese government is now planning to open its own official matchmaking agency to protect Vietnamese women overseas.
Many Vietnamese women marry foreigners to escape poverty
All over East Asia, there are magazine ads promoting “five-day marriage holidays”. For some bachelors, it only takes five days to travel to Vietnam, meet a number of eligible women and pick a future bride.
Mostly from a working-class or rural background, the men -- many of whom are aged between 40 and 60 -- usually choose young women from poor rural areas such as the Mekong Delta region. Over fifty percent of their potential wives are under 21.
Poverty appears to be one of the major reasons behind the trend. Patrick Corcoran, the head of the International Organisation for Migration office in Ho-Chi-Minh city, explains:
“Most of these women see marriage migration as a way to a better life, a way to escape poverty or to help their impoverished family. Most of them are from small rural farm communities. When you look at the numbers of Vietnamese women, it is really quite staggering -- 20,000 Vietnamese brides to the Republic of Korea, over 100,000 brides to Taiwan, over 20,000 to China.”
Many young brides hope to lead glamorous lives similar to those they have seen in Korean and Taiwanese TV dramas.
But their stories do not always have happy endings, says Patrick Corcoran. “Most of these marriages are indeed successful or happy, depending on how you define happy. But there have been documented cases of trafficking, domestic violence, spousal abuse, domestic servitude -- you’ve got trafficking for sex-work in brothels, dead bondage situations.”
By setting up a state-run matchmaking agency in Ho-Chi-Minh city, the Vietnamese government hopes to avoid such abuse and bring more transparency to the matchmaking process. Officials say the plan will help protect Vietnamese women from violent partners or criminal organisations.
But protecting the brides is not only the responsibility of the Vietnamese authorities. Their new home countries also need to address the issue.
Lack of social support
Father Manh Hung runs a safe house near Taiwan’s capital Taipei, where abused Vietnamese women can seek shelter.
“The difficulties that the Vietnamese brides have faced are the lack of social and governmental support from the Taiwanese government,” he says.
“They don’t feel themselves accepted by this society. Many of them aren’t able to apply for the citizenship. They want to apply for the citizenship because it is their only security – they have children here in Taiwan. As soon as they become a citizen, they are not afraid of being sent back to Vietnam.”
Father Manh Hung thinks that the main issue is that most Vietnamese brides are alienated when they go abroad because they barely speak the language and have little social contact. They do not know their rights and they do not know whom to approach when problems occur.
But, in order to escape poverty at home, many young Vietnamese women are willing to marry strangers and face an uncertain future in the hope eventually of having a better life.