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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
“We have to make
people understand the danger of human trafficking in this area,” he said.
embassy spokesman Kim Inkook said the embassy had “no particular opinion on