A flourishing racket in ‘mail order brides’ has come to light, in which young women from low-income Asian countries like Nepal are lured into marriage with men far older than them in relatively wealthy Asian countries like South Korea.
Recruitment agents and overseas marriage bureaus have been scouting for Nepali women who are tricked into marriage with aged, and often alcoholic, foreign husbands in South Korea.
Nilambar Bodal, Programme Director of the Migrants Centre of the Asian Human Rights and Cultural Development Forum, who has been investigating such complaints, said hundreds of Nepali women from the country’s rural areas are trapped in Asian countries, especially South Korea, a country with large number of overage or divorced men seeking re-marriage.
More than 1,000 young Nepali women in the 18 to 25 age group are thought to have become victims of a marriage fraud perpetrated by these marriage bureaus and spouse finding agents in high-income Asian countries with shortage of marriageable women.
An awareness campaign has been launched in Nepal to warn young women about the dangers of overseas marriages.
The modus operandi of recruitment agents or marriage bureaus is to present young smart foreign men as bridegrooms, go through the wedding and other formalities, take the women to Korea where they are passed on to far older men in the rural areas of the country.
According to Bodal, agents of domestic and international marriage bureaus approach poor rural families in Nepal, promising a prosperous future life for their young girls with wealthy foreign husbands. The agents give the families Nepali Rupees 100,000 and higher amounts and promise of life in a developed country.
The Migrants Centre has been working with other international groups to control fraudulent practices by recruitment agencies. The government in Seoul has now made proficiency in the Korean language and a minimum income mandatory for overseas marriages.
“Recruitment agents trick the girls and their families by presenting handsome young men from foreign countries and arranging meetings and marriage in hotels.
"After the smart man marries a girl, she is taken abroad where an old man will be waiting for his new wife. Many brides realise that they have been married to over aged men only after reaching the foreign country,” he said, adding that earlier the brides were being recruited from countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan.
Some brides are referred by Nepali relatives or friends working abroad or matrimonial networking sites.
“Some of the old husbands are sadists who torture the girls or lock them up, fearing losing them. They cannot escape from these homes and some girls have committed suicide.
“In most cases, the actual husband is double their age but the girls get pregnant and continue their discontented life,” Bodal said.
“Unable to communicate in the Korean language, these girls either try to run away, commit suicide or spend the rest of their life with these men,” said the official from Migrant Centre, an organisation working with the Asian Migrants Forum.
“Many of these husbands are drunkards, drug addicts or divorced men in their sixties or seventies, who normally lock their young wives for fear of losing them. Many of the brides get a shock of their life after seeing their real husbands, but are unable to communicate with them in a foreign language. We had many complaints from the families of the trapped Nepali women,” Bodal said.
More than 100,000 women among South Korea’s 1.2 million foreign population are estimated to be foreign brides.
In one fake marriage case that came before the Migrants Centre, the recruitment agency got Nepali Rupees 800,000 - Nepali Rupees 120,000 was paid to the bride’s parents, the agent pocketed Rs500,000 and the rest was spent on marriage expenses and documentation.
For the Korean husbands, the normal cost of an overseas marriage, including broker’s commission, administration fees, hotel, travel and other expenses, averages around 10 million won ($10,000).
International marriage migration was one of the several migrants’ issues discussed at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) held recently in Stockholm in Sweden in which several hundred civil society groups and migrants’ rights activists participated under the auspices of the United Nations. Several migrants’ rights groups from Nepal were part of the Asian Migrant Forum and Migrants Right International.