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10 June 2006
HANOI – Thousands of Vietnamese women, most of them poor and uneducated, are illegally leaving the country to marry foreigners, a senior police official said on Saturday.

Nguyen Viet Thanh, deputy head of the police under the Ministry of Public Security, said he was not concerned with legitimate “love” marriages with foreigners. But many of the so-called marriages are actually cases of human trafficking in disguise.

“Those illegally leaving Vietnam and marrying foreigners often fall prey to prostitution rings and are sometimes sold as commodities,” said Thanh who is attending a two-day meeting in Ho Chi Minh City that is looking at how to toughen laws to prevent these marriages. “There are cases in which a Vietnamese woman has to be a wife for many members of the same family. She is treated very badly.”

According to information presented at the conference that is being sponsored by the Vietnam’s Women’s Union, since 1998, nearly 87,000 Vietnamese women have married foreigners. Of that number, 10,700 left the country illegally to do so.

Vietnamese nationals are free to travel abroad but if they plan to get married they must first register. It is also illegal to leave on a tourist visa and not return.

Endemic poverty, particularly in rural areas, means that Vietnamese women are particularly vulnerable to dubious marriage offers. Many who go abroad are forced into prostitution.

Others end up essentially as unpaid scullery maids for their new families. Their problems are made worse because they are unable to speak the language and do not understand their adopted country’s culture or laws. Very often they have a difficult time seeking help or returning home.

Police in Vietnam say many of the marriages are being arranged through illegal brokerage services as well as websites advertising brides for sale. Most of the women are going to South Korean, Taiwan, Malaysia and China.

“These women are from poor rural areas and they have limited access to education,” said Thanh. “They go abroad hoping to change their life for the better.”

Vietnam has now set up Marriage Support Centres in five urban areas to provide advice on married life, including information on the pros and cons of being a Vietnamese bride abroad.