The Ugly Face of Matchmaking

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Oh Tae-jin

    March 22, 2010 13:01

    A 2007 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking used a photograph of a sign reading "Vietnamese women never run away" put up by a Korean firm to promote the mail-order bride business. The signs often advertise "virgins," women "willing to marry divorced and handicapped men" and offer payment in installments."

    "I decided to get married without even knowing whether the man who chose me was Korean or Taiwanese," one Vietnamese woman was quoted as saying in a 2006 report by a committee looking at the matter. One Korean man meets from 20 to 30 women to as many as 200 to 300 before deciding on a bride. Korean men are introduced to groups of five to 10 women at a time. The entire process from initial meeting to marriage takes a five-day trip. In 2007, two Koreans were arrested for trying to strip their potential brides during the introductory meeting.

    In Vietnam, faced with mounting public protest over the illegal and inhumane treatment of women by such businesses, the government toughened screening in 2007. Until then, international marriages were approved by simply reviewing documents. A district committee interviews the bride and groom and 10 documents need to be submitted to check the groom's financial assets, family history and ability to support his wife. The process is especially tough for Koreans and prompted 60 Korean matchmaking firms to cross the border into Cambodia and start over. There, Koreans accounted for 60 percent of all foreign men who married local women.

    In 2008, the Cambodian government stopped issuing visas for international marriages to support the creation of a new set of laws governing them. Phnom Penh banned commercial agencies from operating in the country and allows only those arranged by nonprofit organizations, such as the Women's Federation. The Vietnamese government has taken the same steps. Koreans were still able to marry Cambodian women if they lived in the country for at least a month and formed a relationship. But the measures have not stopped all brokers from operating. Last year, a broker was arrested after setting up a meeting between a Korean and 25 potential Cambodian brides.

    Now Phnom Penh has temporarily banned marriages between Korean men and Cambodian women. Unlike the steps it took in 2008, the latest measure affects only Korean men. The Cambodian government informed the Korean Embassy there that the steps were designed to "prevent the trafficking of women." It remains to be seen how much longer the Korean government intends to ignore these ugly practices that are tarnishing Korea's image and making Southeast Asians cringe at the sight of Koreans.

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