Cambodia has temporarily banned marriages between foreigners and Cambodians because of concerns over the rising number of brokered unions involving poor, uneducated women. The move follows the publication of a report highlighting the abuse of many Cambodian brides who went to South Korea following hastily arranged marriages. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.
The ban will at least briefly halt the increasing number of marriages of poor Cambodian women to foreign men, mostly from Taiwan and South Korea.
Most such marriages are hastily arranged by brokers who charge clients up to $20,000 for each bride. Of this, only $500 to $1,000 typically goes to the Cambodian woman's family - the brokers pocket the rest.
A recent report by the International Organization for Migration says more than 1700 South Korean marriage visas were issued to Cambodian women in 2007, up from just 72 in 2004.
The IOM says the grooms were mostly factory workers and farmers who had trouble finding wives in South Korea because of their low job status.
While the report found no evidence of systematic abuse of Cambodian women who married South Koreans, it says that many do suffer violence.
Srey Roth is the director of the Cambodia Women's Crisis Center.
"Some they cannot stay with the husband because the husband (is) so violent," Roth said. "And then the husband forces them to earn money for support their family. And they cannot get the nationality (citizenship), so it means that they stay under the husband or mother-in-law's control."
Experts say that many marriage brokers from Taiwan and South Korea have moved to Cambodia since Vietnam banned them two years ago.
Now the Cambodian government appears to be cracking down. Three South Korean marriage agencies have been closed recently, accused of using arranged marriages as a front for people trafficking.
The blanket ban on foreigners marrying Cambodians is seen as the next step in the process, designed to give the authorities here more time to properly investigate brokered marriages.
Srey Roth opposes a blanket ban on mixed-marriages, but says that the government should run background checks on all foreigners who wish to marry Cambodian women.
"I want our government (to) have one department to investigate the guy before agree(ing) the foreigner (can) marry to our Cambodian (women)," Roth said. "They should know about the background and living situation and then tell our girl and then our girl can make the decision if they want to marry or not."
Although the IOM report focuses on marriages between Cambodians and South Koreans, it emphasizes that the potential for problems exists globally. It says all brokered unions needed to be better regulated.
Cambodian officials say the ban on foreigners marrying Cambodians will be lifted after the government develops a legal framework to address these marriages.