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Cambodia Targets Trafficking Facilitated by Marriage Brokers

March 28, 2010


The Cambodian government is placing a temporary freeze on marriages between Cambodian women and South Korean men. The goal of the policy, announced last weekend, is to block the practice of “matchmakers” or brokers who lure women into paying to be married off to men in South Korea. The ban comes after a Cambodian woman was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for convincing 25 women to pay her $100 each for arranged marriages with South Korean men.

Cambodia has developed a human trafficking problem of epidemic proportions in recent years, due to its crashing economy, an increase in sex tourism, and a lack of education and employment especially in rural areas. This marriage ban, which officials say they will lift after they establish procedures intended to ensure that South Korean marriages are legitimate, is not a new step in the country’s uphill struggle against trafficking in its various forms. A similar ban was first enacted two years ago, as Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post reports:

In March 2008, Cambodia imposed an eight-month ban on all foreign marriages to combat human trafficking after the release of an IOM [International Organization for Migration] report that found that as many as 1,759 marriage visas were issued to Cambodians by South Korea in 2007, up from only 72 in 2004.

Despite the 2008 ban, the number of Cambodian women marrying South Korean men rose from 551 in 2008 to 1,372 last year, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

According to Yonhap, nearly 60 percent of marriages to foreigners in Cambodia involve South Korean nationals, most of which are arranged through brokers.

The practice of marriage brokerage itself was permanently banned in 2008, but legislation has done nothing to slow its growth. Like other traffickers, “matchmakers” entice impoverished women with false promises of a better life and means of sending money back to their families. With the country facing a high unemployment rate, especially for young people, it seems unlikely that new laws will decrease trafficking without addressing the root causes that make women vulnerable in the first place. As it is currently being described, the government’s plan for vetting marriages—requiring South Korean men to prove that they are single and have no prison record, and requiring them to speak to the parents of the woman they wish to marry—are far from foolproof.

The Cambodian government has long been criticized by international NGOs and the US Department of State for not doing more to stop trafficking and for the complicity of some officials who accept bribes from traffickers. John McGeoghan of the International Organization for Migration told the Phnom Penh Post, “It’s good to see the Cambodian government is taking this issue seriously,” while adding that more effort is needed to educate vulnerable women about the realities of marriage brokerage.

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