Single Cambodian women are “extraordinary”, boasts a matchmaking website called rosebrides.com that offers 69 eligible Cambodian brides in search of a foreign husband.
Such online bride advertisements are the targets of a new anti-human-trafficking initiative in China, where police on Monday announced they would stamp out the marriage-brokering services to prevent the exploitation of women from poorer countries. And Cambodian officials are keen to help scrub the internet of profiteering brokers.
“We support the crackdown and elimination of these websites,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said. “Marriage websites, and any kind of bride brokerage involving a middleman, is illegal in Cambodia.”
Yet ample bride-shopping opportunities for a quickfire, mail-order wedding persist. To get around the legality of selling brides, some websites disguise their services as dating sites. At rosebrides.com, “gentlemen” are warned that “mail order brides don’t exist”, but can peruse five searchable pages of Cambodian “mail order brides”. The women, aged 19-51, are arranged like items up for auction, with clickable mug shots and details on their height, weight and what kind of man they want.
Other sites offer group package tours catering to men from Singapore, China and Japan. In exchange for $5,000-$12,000, some pledge a 90 per cent success rate after the men take a five- to seven-day gander. Others guarantee the women’s virginity, and a few even promise a replacement wife if the first runs away within a year.
Reports of abuse in brokered overseas unions abound. The Foreign Affairs Ministry reports that more than 30 Cambodian women have been repatriated this year from China alone.
But rights groups said taking aim at the websites to solve trafficking would be shooting at the wrong target.
“Rather than shutting down websites, a better, more effective approach is to bolster regulatory oversight of these brokers in both Cambodia and China, and set up effective Khmer-language hotlines in China so that women who are trafficked can seek assistance,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
The initiative against marriage websites follows a slew of peculiar measures taken to counter potentially abusive international marriages. In 2008, the government outlawed all Cambodian-foreigner marriages, but lifted the ban six months later. In 2010, Cambodia temporarily banned women from marrying South Koreans. And in 2011, the government forbid foreign men older than 50 and earning less than $2,500 per month from marrying a Cambodian woman.
“It’s like when the government decided to shut down brothels to stop trafficking. It didn’t help – it pushed the trade into nightclubs or massage parlours. The people who are violating women will continue to find ways to do so,” said Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sopheak admitted that the technicalities involved in taking action against the marriage sites, including how to actually shut them down, currently elude the Kingdom. For now at least, marriage shoppers can continue to seek their bride through searchable hashtags.