New Emissary

Mail-Order Surge in Asia?

A rising trend of international marriages in the region raises greater issues and challenges.

The concept of mail-order brides has been around not for decades, but centuries, rooted in 1800s US settlement life, when migration to new and isolated lands forced people to seek companionship and marriage via long-distance ‘dating’ methods such as posting adverts in churches and letter writing.

Of course, with the Internet, mail-order spouses and marriage brokering can happen much faster and more frequently, across oceans and borders. Marriages, for example, between Japanese men and foreign women have risen sharply (by 73 percent) over the decade from 1995 and hit 35,993 in 2006 according to an official report.

Indeed, it’s been reported that this trend is being seen across Asia, with financially well-off Singaporeans, Hong Kongese and Taiwanese increasingly taking advantage of marriage ‘brokers,’ which are apparently proliferating to meet the demand. International partner-seeking is even catching on in Malaysia, where busy and well-off bachelors there seem to find Vietnamese women in particular an attractive option for marriage.

However, despite what seems like a growing trend in the region, the phenomenon of mail-order marriage also continues to have negative and uncomfortable connotations for many, with frequent reminders in the news that these less love-based tie-ups are also less than ideal with women in foreign cultures often ending up alone, unhappy and isolated from their support networks.

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Such concerns have undoubtedly prompted moves such as that in South Korea, under which a special task force to reform the international matchmaking business is being set up. This comes after a 20-year-old Vietnamese woman was killed by her mentally ill husband earlier this month, only a little over a week after arriving in South Korea as part of an arranged international marriage.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-Chan has responded to this tragedy by suggesting measures such as better monitoring of international marriage businesses and a budget increase for support for multicultural families should be introduced in his country.

Figures show that over 30 percent of South Korean fishermen and farmers who got married last year had immigrant brides, reportedly because of the difficulty finding Korean women who want to live a life in the countryside.

As such trends catch on in the rapidly evolving region, the challenge for governments tackling an issue that is often trivialized are clear—but the guidelines and support suggested by South Korea are certainly a good start.