Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Cross-border marriages help fuel rights abuses

MATCHMAKING INDUSTRY Several observers said the commercialization of the industry is creating many problems, even if women `agree' to unequal marriages

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

The "commercialization" of cross-border marriages in Taiwan is contributing to human rights abuses, according to academics and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛).

With fewer Taiwanese women willing to marry, Taiwanese men have turned to local matchmaking companies to broker marriages for them with women from Southeast Asia.

The high demand for "submissive" wives from developing countries has created an industry that puts profit ahead of foreign brides' rights, Lai said.

"These matchmaking companies see that there's a profit to be made. So they deceive women overseas in order to get them to enter into a marriage contract," Lai told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.

So why are so many Taiwanese women refusing to marry?

Marloes Schoonheim, a demographic researcher at Academia Sinica, said that as their socio-economic status is elevated, women tend to focus more on their careers than marriage and family.

Lai said that although the commercialization of the matchmaking industry was fueling human rights abuses, the industry was "here to stay" due to the sheer demand for foreign brides.

"You can't stop it," she said.

She said the government should regulate the market, allowing only non-for-profit non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to broker the marriages.

However, My-nga Le, Director of Policy and Planning at the Taoyuan-based Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Brides Office, disagreed.

Le said that as long as matchmakers' clients are predominantly male, such organizations must cater to certain interests that put women at a disadvantage.

"I don't think it's a good idea for NGOs to get involved in this business," Le said by telephone yesterday, adding that the market for foreign brides was "humongous."

"There are 350,000 foreign brides in Taiwan, accounting for 20 percent of all newly-weds," Le said.

She claimed that matchmaking in Taiwan alone is an NT$8 billion-a-year business.

Melody Lu (呂家紋), a cross-border marriage researcher at the International Institute for Asian Studies in the Netherlands, said that Taiwanese men pay local matchmakers NT$200,000 to pair them with virgin brides from Vietnam.

"Prices also vary according to the women's Mandarin and cooking abilities," Lu said on Wednesday at a conference at Academia Sinica.

She said that Southeast Asian brides usually agree to be "bought" so that they can raise their socio-economic status.

According to Le, such commidification of women breeds conditions in which they are vulnerable to abuse, especially by families who "pay thousands of dollars for a bride and expect certain services in return."

"A lot of these [Vietnamese] women enter into a marriage with a local man and find they are more servants than anything else. And, of course, they're expected to satisfy their husband's sexual requests, or sexually service the men of the household," Le said.

Ministry of the Interior (MOI) spokeswoman Patricia Huang (黃美秀) said that matchmaking was a private matter, but that matchmaking companies cannot operate legally as profit-making businesses.

"We don't collect statistics regarding matchmaking services because of privacy rights," Huang said.

A top ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that providing matchmaking services for profit was illegal, but that such organizations can accept "donations" as long as they don't request payment.

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