A Vietnamese bride and a South Korean groom take part in a wedding ceremony. — VNA/VNS Photo The Anh
HA NOI — Fourteen years ago, 21-year-old Vu Thanh Huyen (an alias)ä, from Lap Le Commune, Thuy Nguyen District of Hai Phong City, left her hometown with the hope of changing her life by marrying a Chinese man.
Five years later, Huyen contracted HIV/AIDS from her husband.
In 1996, keeping in mind the promise of a bright future with a rich Chinese man, Huyen left her hometown to follow her dreams to China. But she was shocked to find out that her "husband" was a peasant who gambled all day and treated her like a servant.
After she gave birth to her first child, a boy, her husband's family took him away from her.
When she gave birth to her second child, a girl, no one cared for either of them.
Later on, she found out she had caught HIV from her husband. After returning to Viet Nam, she has had no news of her son.
Huyen's is only one of the many sad stories of women who used a marriage broker to marry a foreign man, hoping that luck would come to them and change their poor lives.
According to Vu Thi Ngot, president of Lap Le Commune's Women Union, in the past two years more than 20 women have returned from such marriages, all with their dreams in tatters.
A good choice?
According to statistics by the General Statistics Office, between 2005 and 2008, 32,000 Vietnamese women married foreigners, mostly Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean.
Meanwhile, statistics by the South Korean's Statistics Office show that, the number of Korean men marrying Vietnamese women increased from 134 in 2001 to 5,822 in 2005.
According to Le Thi Quy, director of the Gender and Development Research Centre, most of the Vietnamese women who want to marry foreign men are from poor families, either jobless or doing agricultural work.
"Viet Nam's laws do not prohibit foreign marriages, which can prove to be a cultural bridge linking Viet Nam to other countries," she said.
According to Ho Xuan Huy from the Viet Nam International Organisation for Migration (IOM), most foreign marriages are arranged through marriage brokers.
"These agencies earn their fees by enticing Vietnamese women with false information about their future husbands," Huy said.
Many women are then forced to become servants for their husbands' families and made to work hard and sometimes even hit, according to a report by the IOM.
Lack of knowledge among Vietnamese women living in rural areas and a lack of adequate regulations on foreign marriages are problems that need to be addressed to tackle the issue, according to Quy.
Le Thi Hoang Thanh, from the Institute of Legal Science of the Ministry of Justice, said that Viet Nam did not have any systems in place to provide information to citizens who wish to marry foreigners. There are also no regulations for the protection of Vietnamese women who choose to settle in their foreign husbands' country, as no agreements have been reached for Vietnamese women's rights abroad.
For example, South Korean law states that housewives should not be acknowledged as contributing to the common property of husband and wife.
Moreover, no effective attempts had been made to stop the illegal marriage brokers, Thanh said.
Marriage support centres had been set up in 16 provinces and cities across the country but the operation of these centres had not been effective enough, she added.
Quy said that laws needed to be improved for the protection of women so they can enjoy safe and happy marriages, as well as gender equality.
Campaigns to provide Vietnamese women with information about foreign marriages should be strengthened together with the opening of more marriage support centres.
"If I had been warned in the first place, I would not have taken the risk," Huyen said, adding that there were still many women in similar positions to the one she had been in, who wished to marry a foreigner.
"Communication is very important to help these women avoid the things that I and many others have been through" she said.
Sighing deeply, Huyen said her only wish was to meet her son again, and she said she hoped no other mother would have to suffer what she had endured. — VNS