Marriage Brokering Booms in Vietnam
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Let's go next to Vietnam, for a report on a different kind of international relations. Increasing numbers of young Vietnamese women are now marrying foreigners. Business is booming, even though brokering such unions is illegal.
As NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Hanoi, these are not necessarily marriages made in heaven.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: In Hanoi, it's sometimes easy to forget Vietnam is a poor country. Conspicuous consumption is big in the city - designer clothing stores and fancy new restaurants, high-end SUVs hogging streets already chocked with motorcycles, once scarce too, now seemingly within reach of just about anyone.
But the majority of Vietnam's population lives in the countryside, most of them poor, so poor that the idea of marriage to an unknown man from an unknown land seems logical, even preferable, to some rural women than a life spent here.
BINTEE TUI: (Vietnamese spoken)
SULLIVAN: Twenty-year-old Bintee Tui explains how she made that choice one day, one night last year when a marriage broker brought her to a house near Hai Phong to meet a South Korean man shopping for a wife.
TUI: (Through translator) When I got there, there were 14 other girls about my age in the room. We took turns speaking with the groom and after about an hour the broker came to me and said she had good news, that the man had chosen me. He looked tall and big and handsome, so I said yes. And three days later, we were married.
SULLIVAN: Then the groom returned to Korea, and Tui prepared to join him. But when she got off the plane in Seoul, things started to unravel.
TUI: (Through translator) My husband was not there. Instead I was met by another Vietnamese broker. She told me I shouldn't go to my husband, that he lives far away and was poor and that I should stay with her instead.
SULLIVAN: The broker and her husband took her passport, Tui says, and put her to work in a factory with other young women like her. Sometimes the police came and they hit us, she says, until the cops left. She worked long hours for no pay, and after a couple of weeks she'd had enough and slipped out and made a beeline for the Vietnamese embassy, where she got travel papers and was on a plane back home the same afternoon.
Her friend, also named Tui, says she too was tricked by brokers who came to her village.
TUI: (Through translator) There were six other girls there too, and the groom. The broker acted as an interpreter. He said the man had a good job in real estate and wanted a clever wife to help him with his business. And they both said my life would be good, I would be happy if I agree to marry that man. So when he chose me, I was very happy.
SULLIVAN: Not for long. When she got to Korea, she discovered the man had no job and lived with his mother in a remote village. He drank, they fought, she ran, and started working illegally in a variety of factory jobs for little pay. Not much of a life, she says, but better than going back to him or back to Vietnam. After nearly a year in Korea, she was finally caught and sent home a few months ago.
Faced with declining birth rates and a shortage of eligible women, an increasing number of men, especially South Koreans and Taiwanese, are coming to Vietnam looking for brides, their trips sometimes subsidized by local governments back home. Most of the marriages work, but there are more and more stories like the two you just heard, of women falling victim to unscrupulous brokers, or worse.
ANDREW BRUCE: A woman who was married to a Taiwanese and he took her straight from the airport in Taipei to a brothel and sold her.
SULLIVAN: That's Andrew Bruce, Vietnam country director for the International Organization for Migration.
BRUCE: She was imprisoned there for a couple of years and we've been helping her since she returned home, but she was very young, only 18 at the time, and it was a terrible experience for her and it's not been at all easy. Now she's back in Vietnam.
SULLIVAN: Stories like this and a case widely reported in state-run media last month about a woman beaten to death by her husband in South Korea has angered many here. Bruce says the IOM is now working with both the Vietnamese and South Korean governments to give these women more information, better information, before they agree to such marriages.
Khoang Van(ph) is head of the family and social affairs department of the state-run women's union. She says she disapproves to such marriages but understands the economic imperative that drives many young women to consider them.
Back in (unintelligible) village, 20-year-old Bintee Tui says she didn't have much of a choice before and has even less of one now. That's why she's going to try again.
TUI: (Through translator) Here in Vietnam, it's difficult for girls like me, girls who've already been married, who've left and then come back. It will be hard to find a Vietnamese man who will marry me now. Not only that, my parents had to borrow a lot of money to pay the broker. So I have to do something to help them. Maybe this time I will be lucky.
SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.
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