Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Match Made in... Dollars

By Brian McCartan

From the Asia Times:

As Cambodia's once war-shattered, now booming economy opens to the world, Cambodian women are leaving in droves as several international marriage brokers have established match-making services in the impoverished country. Operating in a shadowy legal space, questions have been raised about the possible exploitative nature of the business, which some contend has acted as a front for global human trafficking rings.

Last week, the Cambodian government moved to put that trade on hold while it investigates whether any of the international brokers have ties to underworld crime syndicates. The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) had earlier drawn attention to the trade and is scheduled to release next month an investigative report on the growing numbers of South Korean men who come to Cambodia in search of brides.

The mechanics of the trade are still murky. What is known is that women from mostly rural areas are brought by brokers into the capital city of Phnom Penh and put on display for prospective foreign grooms. The brokers are usually either informal operators or connected to one of several matchmaking businesses, which until now operated freely in Cambodia.

Most of the women who contract with the matchmaking services are in their teens or early 20s and usually from rural areas where they have received basic, if any, schooling. The IOM's report says "the vast majority of [Korean-Cambodian] marriages occur through an informal and exploitative broker-arranged process".

The introductions are more transactional than romantic. Bride selection often takes place in hotel restaurants where as many as 100 women, the IOM report claims, are lined up and put on display for prospective grooms. After a woman is chosen, details are worked out between the groom and bride-to-be and the broker.

A marriage is held after a few days, followed in some cases with a short honeymoon. The groom then returns to his home country while paperwork is processed for his new wife to follow. In 2007, the number of foreign marriage licenses rose to 1,759, up from a mere 72 in 2004. There were 160 foreign marriages registered in Cambodia in January of this year.

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