Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Something borrowed: grooms and guests for hire in Vietnam

By Tran Thi Minh Ha  /  AFP, HANOI

A woman hands a bouquet to her rented “husband” at a wedding hall in Hanoi on Jan. 23.

Photo: AFP

Kha’s wedding day looked perfect from the outside, but she was hiding a dark secret: The 27-year-old was three months pregnant and her husband was fake, hired for a staged wedding to avoid the social stigma of becoming a single mother.

Breaking from tradition in socially conservative Vietnam can come at a high price for the whole family.

“My parents would have been the first to be filled with shame if I was pregnant and without a husband,” Kha told Agence France-Presse a month after the US$1,500 fake marriage, which was quietly paid for by her baby’s father, who is married to another woman.

The wedding-guests-for-hire business is growing in Vietnam — where about 70 percent of people older than 15 are married — and not just among pregnant women like Kha looking for stand-in husbands.

Young couples are shelling out thousands of dollars to rent parents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends to appease familial pressure to tie the knot or avoid clashes between in-laws who disapprove of the union.

Kha and her fake husband were never legally married — a formality often overshadowed by lavish wedding parties in Vietnam — but she is forever grateful to him for playing the part in front of her friends and relatives.

“I felt like I was about to drown, but I grabbed a life jacket,” said a smiling Kha, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Her parents were in on the secret, but Kha plans to tell the rest of her family that her “husband” left her — preferring to be a divorced single mother over having a baby out of wedlock.

Relationship norms are changing fast among youth in Vietnam, where more than half of the population of 93 million are younger than 30. More couples are opting to live together before marriage or shunning the family home afterward and renting their own apartments.

Abortions are on the rise too, with as many as 300,000 officially documented last year, but the stigma remains high.

However, when it comes to wedding ceremonies, many still feel immense family or social pressure to hew to tradition, especially from ultraconservative elders.

“People don’t have the courage to live true to their hearts, they face traditional habits and customs, cultures and views,” psychology researcher Nguyen Duy Cuong said.

“We should put ourselves in the shoes of those who have no way out,” he said, offering sympathy for those who pay for the actors to avoid causing a family rift.

That is what led Huong and her boyfriend Quan to stage a fake ceremony. His family shunned her, because she came from a poor province, but Huong’s parents insisted she marry during the lunar Year of the Rooster on the advice of a fortune-teller.

So the couple hosted a fake wedding in her home province of Nghe An, although they refused to say exactly how much they spent. Her wedding guests were real, but his — father, mother, uncles, aunts, friends — were all hired.

Despite the charade, Quan said their commitment is genuine.

“It was both fake and real,” he told AFP after the traditional ceremony last month, although is circumspect on how he will handle his parents expectations for his future.

The day almost went off without a hitch until a hired uncle got Quan’s childhood neighborhood wrong in his wedding speech to hundreds of guests.

Still, Quan was relieved when it was all over, although he must still keep the wedding a secret from his real parents.

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