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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bride exports surge

Bride exports surge

Like many

Cambodian girls, Monika had always dreamt of marrying her very own Prince

Charming. So after hearing an advert on the radio, she registered with the

Chanthin Group, a Korean marriage brokering company. Almost immediately,

Monika found herself in Phnom Penh, being introduced to a selection of South

Korean men, one of whom picked her to be his future bride.

After three months of studying Korean culture and language every

Saturday, Monika went to Korea

in June 2007 and lived with her husband and his family.

“I went to Korea

to earn money, not for marriage,” she said, hinting at why the marriage lasted

only a matter of months. She is now divorced and back in

Her story, told in a yet-to-be-released report by International

Organization for Migration (IOM), highlights what is Cambodia’s newest export: brides.

In 2004, the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh issued 72 marriage visas to

Cambodian women. By 2007, that figure had leapt to 1,759. A further 160

marriage visas were issued in the first month of 2008 alone, according to

embassy statistics.

Monika – not her real name – is one of a several former brides of Korean

men featuring in the IOM report “The Marriage Brokering System from Cambodia to Korea,” a copy of which was

obtained by the Post.

The issue of young Cambodian women quitting the Kingdom for the South

Korean heartland is worrying even the upper echelons of Cambodia’s

political leadership.

On March 13, Prime Minister Hun Sen told high-ranking police officials

at the Ministry of Interior’s annual congress that “the question to address now

is the emerging mail-order bride business in Cambodia.”

He then ordered a crackdown on South Korean marriage agencies like

Chanthin, which has now been closed down.

Chanthin

was registered with the Ministry of Commerce

and Ministry of Economy and Finance and opened in September 2006. The agency

was neither legal nor illegal as the existence of marriage agencies is not

covered by existing legislation.

However,

official matchmaking agencies such as Chanthin – which provides language

lessons and stringently adheres to what rules there are in this shadowy sector

– may not be the major problem. IOM’s new report suggests that “the vast

majority of [Korean-Cambodian] marriages occur through an informal and

exploitative broker-arranged process.”

The report

explains how Korean men looking for a Cambodian bride can contact one of many –

the exact number has not been established – marriage agents operating here. The

agents recruit suitable women who are invited to meet with the broker and told

to bring photos of themselves for scrutiny by potential husbands.

Korean men have

begun to come to Cambodia

on what the IOM report calls “marriage tours.” Such tours often last a mere

four days, during which time the man gets married.

“Much of the

matchmaking occurs in small restaurants of hotels located in or near Phnom Penh,” the IOM

report says. “There, the men typically select a bride from as many as 100 who

are made available.”

Srey La, 21, who

last year married – and divorced six months later – a Korean man, said there

were “a lot” of young women in Phnom Penh waiting for a Korean husband.

Srey La’s father

paid a marriage broker $50 to arrange her marriage. She then went to live in a

house in Chbar Ampeou, near Phnom Penh,

where she stayed with other young Cambodian girls for a month. They were not

allowed to leave the house during that period.

When Srey La

married a 42-yea- old Korean man at a guesthouse in Kien Svay, her parents

received money to cover their expenses and a wedding gift of $400.

“I felt afraid

when I arrived at my husband’s house,” Srey La told IOM.

“I returned home

because I was afraid of the family and I had many arguments with my husband,

mostly about money. I only managed to send $300 to my family during the six

months I was in Korea.

My sister is married to a Korean man and she sent $1500,” she said.

Although it is

difficult to discern where or whether there is an element of coercion in Cambodia’s

growing marriage industry, it is clear that both sides suffer from overly high

expectations and cultural misunderstandings, said John McGeoghan, IOM project

coordinator and author of the report.

“There are

usually false expectations on both sides and huge cultural and linguistic

problems to overcome,” he told the Post.

According to the

report, most Cambodian women who marry into South Korea are from rural areas,

have little if any formal education and are an average of 21 years old.

I felt afraid when i arrived at my husband's house... I returned home because i was afraid of the family and i had many arguments with my husband, mostly about money.

“Often the women

have misguided expectations of what life may be like abroad; there is a lack of

realistic information about life in Korea,” the reports says.

Brides often

believe the Korean men they will be marrying are rich, successful businessmen.

But according to

the IOM in Seoul, the men looking for Cambodian

brides are often poor, badly educated or even mentally handicapped and have

usually had difficulty finding a wife among the ranks of South Korea’s

ambitious younger female generation.

According to the

report, “so far, a few cases of abuse and domestic violence have come to light,”

but “human trafficking has been far more difficult to identify.”

 

Naly Pilorge,

director of local rights group Licadho, said her organization had received

direct calls from South

Korea from Cambodian women trapped in a

marriage gone wrong.

“The problem with

this form of trafficking is that it is easily presented as being good for

society,” she said. “It can be cloaked as something that benefits Cambodia. But

the common element and driving force of all forms of trafficking is money.”

And there is

indeed money to be made in marriage. The average Korean groom will pay between

$10,000 and $20,000 for his bride, of which approximately $1,000 will go to the

bride’s family, and the rest to the broker who arranged the match.

“The marriage

brokers are not just a Cambodian problem, it is a cross-border problem and

everyone who is affected needs to pay attention to this,” said Pilorge.

The causes behind Cambodia’s

spike in Cambodian-Korean marriages are complex. A 2007 crackdown on marriage

brokers in Vietnam – which

at its peak was sending 20,000 brides abroad each year – has raised concerns

that the brokers have moved to Cambodia.

“A push-down,

pop-up effect may be resulting in Cambodia becoming a new market,”

the IOM report says.

The report urges

the Cambodian government to “develop a clear policy for migrant marriages in

order to discourage the potential trafficking of brides and possible abuse of

exploitation in their destination country.”

Sar Kheng,

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, told reporters this month at

the launch of the anti-trafficking national awareness campaign that there have

been some cases of human trafficking identified in the Cambodian marriage

industry.

“We have to make

people understand the danger of human trafficking in this area,” he said.

Korean

embassy spokesman Kim Inkook said the embassy had “no particular opinion on

this issue.”

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