DIVORCE, AFFAIRS, WIFE SELLING AND VIETNAMESE WOMEN MARRYING FOREIGN MEN

VIETNAMESE WOMEN MARRYING FOREIGNERS

Roughly 40,000 Vietnamese citizens married foreigners, including overseas Vietnamese or Viet Kieu, between 2005-2008 according to the statistics provided by the justice department of Ho Chi Minh City. Furthermore, about 92 percent of these marriages occurred between Vietnamese females and foreign or Viet Kieu males, and of the husbands, 35.6 percent were Taiwanese. [Source: Talk.Onevietnam.org, News Report, Vinh Dang, July 17, 2012 <>]

Associated Press reported: "From the Mekong delta in Vietnam's south to small rural towns in the north, a growing number of young Vietnamese women are marrying foreigners, mostly from Taiwan and South Korea. Women in Mekong Delta towns began marrying foreigners in the 1990s, when Vietnam opened up economically and many Taiwanese and South Korean firms set up operations in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's southern business hub. Nguyen Hoang Mong, 19, a single Vietnamese guy, worries about the growing number of young Vietnamese women who are marrying foreigners. "If all the girls leave," he said, "there won't be anyone left for us." [Source: AP, August 10, 2008]

Thousands of Vietnamese women marry South Korean and Taiwanese men each year. AFP reported: "Vietnam has become a popular destination for bachelors from South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere searching for a spouse, often on week-long marriage tours that include medical checkups, visa procedures and speedy honeymoons. The marriage market has been fuelled by a traditional preference for sons in parts of Asia, a trend exacerbated by sex-screening technology for pregnant women, with has left proportionally more bachelors fighting over fewer women. In South Korea, thousands of agencies now offer marriage tours to China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, often subsidised by rural authorities battling declining populations. According to the South Korean National Statistical Office, the number of Vietnamese brides in South Korea totalled 10,131 in 2006, up 74 percent from the previous year, with most married to farmers and fishermen. [Source: Agence France Presse - April 10, 2007 ><]

"The phenomenon has triggered resentment in Vietnam amid reports that some of the women have suffered isolation and abuse in their new homes. A year ago Vietnam summoned South Korea's press attache amid angry protests from women's groups after a newspaper in Seoul printed a photo of a line-up of Vietnamese would-be brides kneeling before a Korean suitor. ><

Reasons Why Vietnamese Women Are Marrying Foreigners

Among the reasons why Vietnamese women marry foreigners are: 1) Money and escape form poverty. Many Vietnamese women seek material comfort and more important, a way to save their parents from a life in extreme poverty, which many Vietnamese consider their greatest duty. Talk.Onevietnam.org, News Report, Vinh Dang, July 17, 2012 <>]

2) Escape from the traditional culture: In the Vietnamese culture, women are educated to be nurturing, willing to sacrifice and wait for her husband even until they turn into stones. This expectation has shaped the Vietnamese women to be the most beautiful and respectful creatures on earth but at the same time it is a factor that somewhat contributes to the result of shaping the modern Vietnamese men into a lazy and macho type of man. Plus, the old conceptions of "Trong Nam Khinh Nu" [Respect Male, Disrepect Female] and "Chong Chua, Vo Toi" [Husband Master, Wife Servant] have further put the weights onto the Vietnamese women’s shoulders to the point that some of them just wish for an escape. <>

3) Less requirements from foreign husbands: The majority of Western men do not care much about the past of their partners. The brides are not required to get the approval from all of the husband’s family members. Western husbands usually don’t have restriction on the bride’s career, education level, family backgrounds, or virginity. For the Asian husbands other than Vietnamese, they don’t have many other choices from their own country due to "limited supply". <>

4) Life changing opportunity: A handful of young beautiful and smart Vietnamese girls who come from very much wealthy family also decided to choose a foreign husband over a local one. Their purpose is not to seek for a more wealthy life or to full fill their material/monetary needs. Rather, the opportunity to become famous and successful in a developed country is the most-driven force for them. <>

5) Just to see what is out there: Some people are just tired of seeing the same things over and over again. They are curious about the outside world. Not everyone is capable to travel to even one part of the world and experience the differences. Marrying away is one way to do so with all of the life changing opportunities. It is common to see people who come back to their homeland after realizing what they see out there are not exactly what they want. <>

6) To love and to be loved: This is the most obvious and simple reason of all. In fact, it is believed that all marriages ought be this way. Most women have gone through years of their life finding love, but in the end they happen to fall in love with a foreigner. Vietnamese or not Vietnamese, these women make decisions based on who and what they love. <>

Lots of Paperwork for Foreigners Who Marry Vietnamese

The application procedure for a marriage of a Vietnamese to a foreigner in Vietnam is very bureaucratic and demanding. According to Karen Rodriguez, a specialist in marriages abroad for Immigroup Immigration Services, the documents that Vietnamese authorities require can seem redundant. For example, they ask that one present a marriage search from all the provinces one has lived in after the age of 18 along with an affidavit of single status. "These two say the same thing", says Rodriguez, "they both state that you are single, but one, for some reason, is not enough." In addition, one must also present a certificate of non-impediment of marriage, which says that there are no factors that would prohibit one from being married. Furthermore, one must also have medical exams that show that one is free of any sexual transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. There are many more documents to submit, and Karen Rodriguez advises to pay close attention to the small details that government authorities ask for. [Source: Press release Newswire, February 14, 2007]

For Canadian citizens: Before traveling to Vietnam, all documents must be authenticated and notarized by Foreign Affairs Canada, translated into Vietnamese and legalized by the Embassy of Vietnam. This process may take up to a month and can cost around $300 for all the government services. Vietnamese authorities require that all documents be valid for at least 6 months before expiration. Furthermore, the certificate of non-impediment of marriage must be filed no earlier than 3 months prior to the scheduled wedding date. It would be advisable, Rodriguez says, "Just prepare yourself well in advance to avoid additional urgency costs."

If one should choose for their spouse to immigrate to Canada there are a few options to achieve this. The easiest route to take is to file a sponsorship application in which one spouse sponsors the other spouse and assumes responsibility for their well being in Canada to immigrate to Canada. If this avenue isn't available, filing an application to come to Canada as a skilled worker is another option. Because of the many caveats in an application to be married in Vietnam, it is recommendable to receive assistance from firms, like Rodriguez's Immigroup, that will ensure that all applications are submitted correctly. There are many restrictions on many documents that, if one is not careful, could become overwhelming for an applicant.

Wife-Selling Rampant in Vietnam

Owen Bennett Jones of the BBC wrote: "There are increasing concerns in Vietnam about the practice of wife-selling. Agents who sell young women to would-be husbands are operating quite openly in the country's largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. A majority of purchasers are Taiwanese men who take their wives back home. Men looking for a Vietnamese wife can pay anything between $2,500 and $8,000. [Source: Owen Bennett Jones, BBC, March 13, 2001 \\\\]

"Agents introduce the men to a range of women. Once the man has made his selection, the agent can provide paperwork to show that the couple are married. The women who put themselves up for sale in this way generally come from poor rural households and are hoping to get some money. In reality, however, they normally receive a small percentage of the cash paid to the agent. According to the Vietnamese press, there are at least 4,000 Vietnamese wives in Taiwan who have been purchased in this way. \\\\

AFP reported: "International marriages are legal in communist Vietnam, but the match-making rings -- where the women are typically paraded before men, sometimes holding signs with numbers, for selection -- are not, and the phenomenon has stirred anger here." According to Associated Press: "Commercial matchmaking services are illegal in Vietnam, although the government allows nonprofit services run by the Women's Union. Despite being illegal, matchmaking services rings have sprung up in recent years to help men from South Korea and Taiwan -- both wealthier countries than Vietnam -- find Vietnamese wives. Police have broken up several such rings, sending dozens of women back to their village homes. [Source: Agence France Presse , April 10, 2007; [Source: AP, September 24, 2007]

Vietnamese Women Marry Taiwanese Men for $6,000

Associated Press reported from Tan Loc Island, Vietnam: Nearly 70 young Vietnamese women swept past in groups of five, twirling and posing like fashion models, all competing for the hand of a Taiwanese man who had paid a matchmaking service about $6,000 for the privilege of marrying one of them. Sporting jeans and a black T-shirt, 20-year-old Le Thi Ngoc Quyen paraded in front of the stranger, hoping he would select her. "I felt very nervous," she recalled recently as she described the scene. "But he chose me, and I agreed to marry him right away." Like many women from the Mekong Delta island of Tan Loc, Quyen had concluded that finding a foreign husband was her best route out of poverty. Six years later, she has a beautiful daughter and no regrets. Quyen has not gotten rich — her husband earns a modest living as a construction worker — but the couple have paid off her father's debts. [Source: AP, August 10, 2008 |:|]

"Young women have become Tan Loc's most lucrative export. Roughly 1,500 village women from the island of 33,000 people have married foreigners in the past decade, leading some to call it Taiwan Island. Poverty and the close proximity of foreign businessmen seem to be major reasons for the trend. The biggest complaints come from women's groups, who consider it demeaning, and from young village men for whom the pool of potential brides is shrinking. |:|

"With money from foreign sons-in-law, many residents in Tan Loc have replaced their thatch-roof shacks with brick homes. They have also opened small restaurants and shops, creating jobs in a place where people have traditionally earned pennies a day picking rice and other crops in the blistering sun. The luckier families received enough to build ponds for fish farming. Western Union has opened a branch to handle the money sent by newlyweds. "At least 20 percent of the families on the island have been lifted out of poverty," said Phan An, a university professor who has done extensive research in Tan Loc. "There has been a significant economic impact." |:|

Most young women in Tan Loc seem eager to marry a foreigner. Le Thanh Lang recently went to the town hall to get papers confirming she is single and eligible to marry. "Any country will do, I'll take anyone who will accept me," she said, waving the papers. "I need to send money to my parents." Besides the marriage broker's fee, the groom gives about $300 to his bride's family, Lang said. After that, if all goes well, her husband may send up to several thousand dollars a year to her family — depending on what he can afford. |:|

Many Tan Loc families with married daughters abroad have big homes with color TVs, new furniture and karaoke machines. Their neighbors live in huts. Tran Thi Sach's concrete home, with four large rooms and shiny green tile floors, is a mansion by island standards. "Since my daughters got married, I've retired," said Sach, 59, who used to toil in the rice fields with her husband.

Singapore Men Seeking Vietnamese Brides

Braema Mathi wrote in the Straits Times: "The search for love and companionship has brought Singapore men to new shores. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese women wait for them, each hoping to marry a "prince" who will be good and kind to her. Braema Mathi traces the path of one of these Singapore men and talks to three of the starry-eyed Vietnamese hopefuls. Mark Poh (not his real name) was happy to be single, especially since he was in the navy. But he is now 45 and has left the navy more than 10 years ago. So the joy of being footloose and fancy free is wearing thin. At the same time, the single women in Singapore do not really appeal to him, he said. [Source: Braema Mathi, Straits Times, May 21, 2000 :::]

Poh "signed up with a marriage agency here, Joyful Marriage and Child Adoption Agency, to look for a Vietnamese bride in Ho Chih Minh City. He paid $2,000 for a package which included his airfares, hotel and viewing of prospective brides in the Vietnamese city. He was to get some refund if his search was unsuccessful. At his hotel in Vietnam, he told The Sunday Times: "I am here to take a look, just to see if I can find the right person. I have nothing to lose just by looking." Now a businessman who has his own three-room Housing Board flat, he also stressed that he was not desperate or in short supply of women. And witnessing a wedding reception in the hotel, one hosted by a Taiwanese groom and his Vietnamese bride, he speculated aloud that the groom had been unable to find a Taiwanese wife because he was too dark-complexioned and was probably a farmer or a fisherman. :::

"That's why this man has to come to Vietnam to find his wife. Good for him. But my case is not like his." In his case, he has ruled out Singapore women because he did not like them, he said. And he also decided against brides from China, as they have a reputation for being calculating. "They soon compare themselves with other wives here and start asking for more money, more everything, putting a lot of pressure on the husbands. Some ask for a divorce after getting permanent residency." :::

"But Vietnamese girls are different -- they are beautiful, innocent and well-mannered, he said. So for the three days in Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown, Mr Poh wore colorful batik-print shirts and slicked back his hair -- to meet the young women in "dates" arranged by the agency's Singapore proprietor, Madam Alice Ng, and her Vietnamese counterpart. Chaperoned by the Singapore and Vietnamese matchmakers, the first of his prospective brides was presented to him at a restaurant. But he did not like her protruding teeth and pimply face. Heavy rains prevented two other women from turning up to meet him at the restaurant that evening. The next day, he met a 23-year-old woman in his hotel room. As he and the chaperones discussed her fate in Hokkien, her eyes darted about anxiously. But no, she was too young, he decided. On the third day, he saw another woman and took an instant shine to her. But something else got in the way -- they were both born under the same Chinese zodiac sign of the ram, which he feared would mean a rocky marriage. In the end, Mr Poh left to return to Singapore, resigned to leave it till another day to select his Vietnamese bride. :::

Vietnamese Bride Trade in China

Reporting from Dongxing, China,Ma Guihua of Inter Press Service wrote: "The easing of border restrictions between China and Vietnam has provided a boon to impoverished Chinese farmers: a steady influx of Vietnamese brides. Many of these women are brought to China by human traffickers and sold into marriage, but many are simply looking for a better life. In fact, Chinese authorities are sometimes frustrated when they repatriate Vietnamese women only to have them return to China as soon as their back is turned. "After a brief research in Guangxi I feel very much puzzled myself as to whether this is illegal migration or human trafficking," said Liu Meng, professor at the National Women's University of China. Of the eight brothers in the Deng family in Ban'ai village, some 20 kilometers from this city on the border with Vietnam in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southwestern China, four have Vietnamese wives. Deng Wenquan, 32, has a Vietnamese wife from Hanoi, for whom he paid about 400 yuan (US$48) when he took a fancy to her at a villager's home. [Source: Ma Guihua, Inter Press Service, November 14, 2002 <<>>]

"She is nice and good at housework. My parents treat her well. Life is now a little better than the days without her," said Deng, who added that he would like to visit his parents-in-law in Vietnam if he had the money. Deng Wenquan seems surer of his wife than his elder brother Deng Wendong, whose first Vietnamese wife ran off (he now has a second one). "I give her complete freedom," said Wenquan. "She will stay if she wants to live with us." <<>>

"Mai, Wenquan's wife and four years his junior, is a high-school graduate. "If he were an old guy, I wouldn't have married him. I would try to report to the police," she said. Mai did not know she was going to end up married to a Chinese man when she came to Ban'ai, and says she was deceived by an acquaintance of her aunt. Still, she says she has since decided to stay on in China, despite her parents' entreaties to remain in Vietnam after she visited them in Hanoi in 1999. "They reported the trafficker to the Vietnamese people and got him arrested," Mai added. "I want to live with my parents. But I'm not sure that I could marry a good man there. This man is good to me and never beats me, although sometimes we do quarrel," said Mai, showing the photos of her family in Vietnam and China.<<>>

"Thirteen years after Deng Wendong's first Vietnamese wife left him and took their daughter with her, he got another bride from across the border. "She is 27 and was brought here by her father's sister, wife of an overseas Chinese in here," said Deng, 50, who earns a meager living from fishing and occasional rock-chipping. Deng still keeps on his wall a picture of his ex-wife, whom he bought for 300 yuan. "She's very capable [of doing housework and farming]. But I was too poor, so she gave up after living with me for seven years," he mused. Deng says he wanted a Vietnamese wife the second time around for economic reasons. "It costs dearly to get a Chinese girl for a wife," he explained. "People would look down upon you if you don't have money or a wife. Having a Vietnamese bride is cheaper but will nevertheless earn you respect. At least you have a family." <<>>

"Many residents in Dongxing City, which shares 35.77km of boundary line and 42km of coastline with Vietnam, view marriage with women brought across the border, whether by traffickers or other means, as a pragmatic matter. Many do not find this practice in border areas strange, despite the fact that buying wives is illegal and concerns by officials and activists that Vietnamese women are often deceived or forced into these marriages. From the viewpoint of the men here, they get in touch with an intermediary or matchmaker and have to give money to a bride's family in traditional society, so it is not much different paying to get a bride across the border. This trend is facilitated by the easy movement of people and goods along the border areas, since China normalized diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1989. Border residents from Vietnam come to China easily and freely on day passes, but many overstay. <<>>

A survey in Dongxing in 1999 showed that there 1,269 Vietnamese women who were illegal residents - there could well be more today. More than 80 percent of those women had elementary-school education at the most. "Most of the Vietnamese women entered China illegally for marriage, some were trafficked in," said Wei Xiaoning of the rights section of Guangxi Women's Federation. More than 30 of the 1,500 Ban'ai villagers have bought Vietnamese as wives, village chief Tang Guoqiang says, not counting the women who go ahead and live with Vietnamese women without marriage. "Most of these men are too poor or too old to marry Chinese girls," said Tang. The usual tradition is that a bridegroom has to pay 8,000-10,000 yuan to the bride's parents as a betrothal gift, a fee too big for farmers like Deng Wenquan. When talking about their wives, the men chat about how they keep house and take care of the family. They accept, in matter-of-fact fashion, that some women might decide to leave them one day. Pei Xingfu, who had confessed to kidnapping a Vietnamese woman from the highway in broad daylight, estimates that 30-40 percent of his fellow villagers marry Vietnamese women. "Thanks to the opening and reform, villagers here are better off and therefore can afford to marry Chinese brides," said Pei, also from Ban'ai village. "But I don't understand why they still want to wed Vietnamese women, even those young men at their prime age of 26-30 want them," he added, puzzled. <<>>

"The increase in cross-border marriages has also been seen in the seven other border areas with Vietnam in Guangxi autonomous region. The women's federation in Guangxi says that nearly 99 percent of the 8,002 Vietnamese women living there as of 1999 were married to locals, but none went through legal marriage formalities. Only 0.3 percent of the 9,745 children born from these unions were registered. Police have been trying to crack down on traffickers and to repatriate victims, but this has not been easy. <<>>

"We treat them as victims, take good care of them and teach them legal knowledge. But for those who have lived in China for years and would not want to be repatriated, we could do nothing but treat them as illegal entrants," said Wei Gengwang, deputy chief of Dongxing City Public Security Bureau. "When we send them home, often no sooner had our officers set their feet back, these women had already returned to China," he added. He said few buyers of trafficked women have been punished. The matter is even more complicated if a woman was first trafficked into China - without knowing she was to be married off - but after the marriage decides to stay on or refuses to return to Vietnam. Officials also find it hard to deal with situations where repatriation would mean destroying a union that has been in place for years. <<>>

"Chinese researchers say they have come across Vietnamese wives who say they are contented in China. "The purpose of the Vietnamese women in China is to find husbands or make money. If they are willing to marry someone and money changes hands, the money could be interpreted as fees paid for matchmakers," argued Liu Meng. But unlike traditional matchmaking in China, where the matchmaker knows the brides' background, those in the marriage trade of Vietnamese women know little about those they send to China. But whatever this movement of people is called, the influx of sold Vietnamese brides in Guangxi and farther into inner China raises social issues. Wei Xiaoning of the Guangxi Women's Federation says the marriages, in some cases bigamy, are not in line with China's Marriage Law and not protected by law. Unregistered children from these unions may lose out on health or other services. Meanwhile, a month into his latest marriage, Deng Wendong said his new bride "looks hard-working". But he said: "Marriage is like gambling. I can never tell whether she will stay." <<>>

Vietnamese Marriage to Foreign Men That Haven’t Worked Out

Associated Press reported: "Not all the marriages work out, of course. Dam Psi Kin Sa went to Taiwan nine years ago, at the age of 20, and married a Taiwanese car wash owner more than twice her age who had been divorced three times. She met him through a matchmaking service. Five years later, her husband demanded a divorce and locked her out of the house. Even though she had learned his language, Mandarin Chinese, the couple had trouble communicating. "We were angry at each other in a quiet way," she said in Taipei, where she has remained to be close to her daughter. [Source: AP, August 10, 2008 |:|]

Over a one year period in 2007 and 2008, one Vietnamese bride was beaten to death by her South Korean husband, another jumped out a 14th-story window and a third hanged herself on Valentine's Day, leaving behind a diary full of misery. "A marriage that is not based on love often brings problems," said Hoang Thi Thanh Ha of the Vietnam Women's Union. "How can you live happily ever after when you met your husband three weeks before the wedding?" |:|

The BBC reported: "A few have managed to establish satisfactory relationships with their new husbands but many are unhappy and, in some cases, even sold into prostitution. The Vietnamese police say that since there is no law banning Vietnamese women from marrying foreigners, there is little they can do to stop the practice. They say that if the women do manage to get some money out of their new husbands they often send it back to their families in Vietnam. As a result, many of the families are reluctant to tell the police what has happened. [Source: Owen Bennett Jones, BBC, March 13, 2001]

Vietnamese Police Break up Matchmaking Rings for South Korean Men

In September 2007, Associated Press reported: "Police in southern Vietnam broke up an illegal matchmaking ring, raiding a karaoke bar where 65 young women were awaiting their potential South Korean husbands, police said. Authorities fined the broker and the owner of the karaoke bar 2 million dong (US$125) each for running an illegal marriage brokerage for foreigners, a police officer in Ho Chi Minh City said. [Source: AP, September 24, 2007 ~~]

"The broker was suspected of taking women to the karaoke bar on Sunday where they were introduced to two South Korean men, the officer said. The women, aged between 18 to 36, were sent back to their home provinces, mostly in the southern Mekong Delta, he said. The Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper quoted one of the women, a 21-year-old, as saying she wanted to look for a foreign husband to help her family. Customers pay the broker US$1,500 for a bride, which includes US$500 for the woman, the paper said. " ~~

In April 2007, AFP reported: "Police in Vietnam said they had raided and broken up an illegal match-making business where eight South Korean bachelors were choosing potential brides from among 118 local young women. Police detained the Vietnamese couple who were organizing the business from a house in Ho Chi Minh City and sent the women back to their home towns, mostly in the poor Mekong Delta region. "They thought their lives would change for the better if they married a foreigner," a police officer told AFP, adding that the women had also been handed into the care of provincial women's unions. [Source: Agence France Presse - April 10, 2007 ><]

"Police said they would fine the operators, Sen Cam Diu, 44, and his 37-year-old wife Huynh Thi Thu Thuy, who were running the business from a Tan Binh district house, said the state-controlled Thanh Nien newspaper. The couple had arranged about 40 marriages over more than four years and charged three million dong (187 dollars) for each successful match." ><

Vietnamese Factory with 3,500 Virgins Looking for Foreign Husbands

In February 2005, the Straits Times reported: "In an industrial suburb in Ho Chi Minh City, a single-storey zinc-roofed factory staffed by 3,500 young women churns out items like sports shoes and polo T-shirts for foreign brands. It’s not unlike hundreds of other factories, except this one has something else: virgin brides for foreign men. The Mr Cupid International Matchmakers service was the brainchild of the factory’s owner, a reclusive semi-retired Vietnamese man in his 40s. While businesses offering brides are hardly rare, the idea of using eligible young virgins as workers while they wait for husbands is almost certainly unique. At first, the factory hired scouts to scour the countryside for "suitable" virgin village girls they could advertise for foreign bachelors through their agencies in countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia. Now they don’t have to go looking. Parents bring their daughters to them. Girls like willowy 20-year-old Huynh Thi Phuong Thuy put up with long shifts sewing shirts and gluing shoes hoping it is a first step to marriage. [Source: Straits Times, February 1, 2005 \+/]

"I went to work in the factory because I wanted to marry a foreign man," she said in a phone interview. Ms Phuong Thuy got what she wanted. She married a 40-year-old Singaporean storeman last July and now lives in Jurong. "Life in Singapore is much better than back in Vietnam," she said. But the factory won’t take just anyone. In fact, there is strict "quality" control. New arrivals are given the once-over by matronly female supervisors who look out for telltale signs of previous pregnancies, such as stretch marks or caesarean scars. Those who fail are sent back. Those chosen are given a medical examination to check their hymen is still intact. If it isn’t, they are rejected. After being hired, the women are expected to work hard and behave well. Female supervisors at the factory penalise lazy, talkative or rebellious girls by barring them from matchmaking sessions. No work, no husband. \+/

"Said Martin Wong, managing director of Mr Cupid’s Singapore office: "These girls are marrying abroad. They have to be obedient to their husbands. We’re preparing them for their new lives." Before she got married, Ms Phuong Thuy used to work 12-hour shifts seated on bare floors, earning less than $5 a day. But despite the long hours, most village girls find life at the factory easier than working in the paddy fields, plantations or shrimp farms back home, where many of them had no electricity or running water, ate one meal a day and bathed in river or rainwater. \+/

"So far, Mr Cupid has found brides for around 1,800 men in the region, 300 of them in Singapore. The girls are given photographs of the men and they choose whether they want to go for the matchmaking session. After that, the decisions are down to the men. The process can be brutal. In one case, 2,200 girls wanted to be set up with a Taiwanese businessman. "Can you imagine, they’re so hopeful. They stay back in the dormitories, dress up and they only have two seconds to impress before they’re turned away," said Wong. \+/

"If the groom makes his choice, the rest of those in the queue are sent back. It sounds degrading, but Wong insists the young women are willing. "They’re born in a poor country. For many of them, this is their only chance to break out of poverty," he said. For many, it’s a long wait. Out of the 3,500 girls working at the factory, only about 300 get hitched each year. The prettier ones usually get chosen within six months, while some have gone for more than 200 matchmaking sessions without success. Most quit after two or three years and go back home if they haven’t been chosen, said Wong. Some cling on. The oldest worker there is a 35-year-old seamstress, who faithfully works her shifts and lives in hope of being picked one day. \+/

According to a United Nations study, 40 percent of Vietnamese married men have had extramarital sex. Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: "In general, Westerners living in Vietnam view Vietnamese as abiding by traditional norms, but it is not a prudish society. "Rice six days a week and pho (noodle soup) on the seventh," is a comment some Vietnamese make to indicate an extra-marital affair or liaisons with a prostitute. Sharp beeps or vibrations on a married man's mobile phone can elicit quips about "the cat" (lover) calling. Research on youth by a variety of organizations show that young people are sexually active at the same age as their parents, but the difference is that their parents were married and they are not. [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, July 11, 2007 *^*]

The Encyclopedia of Sexuality reported: "It seems that the younger generation in particular, which grew up during doi moi, tends to excuse adultery. Unhappiness in marriage, being sexually unfulfilled, or just being attracted by another person are now regarded as legitimate reasons to have sexual contact with another person other than one’s partner (Khuat Thu Hong 1998).According to Fahey (1998), middle-class urban women often confide during informal interviews that their husbands have a mistress or entertain several girlfriends. Because women are still responsible for family finances and the welfare of children, it is common for them to have secret savings as a buffer against their husband’s indiscretions with other women. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]

A quite questionable story found in different sources dating back to the nineteenth century is that a woman found guilty of adultery would be thrown to a specially trained elephant, which in turn threw her into the air with his trunk and trampled her to death when she landed. Quite telling is the gusto with which this story was spread by European authors. The early Annamite Code contained the following article: "An adulteress shall receive ninety blows of the rattan upon her buttocks, and her husband may afterwards marry her to another, or sell her if he pleases, or keep her in his house." Jacobus X. (1898) quotes the Le Code: "Shop men who commit adultery with the wife of their master shall be treated as servitors or slaves, and punished by strangulation." \*/

As O’Harrow (1995) shows, moral values in Vietnamese society are enforced by constraints of shame rather than guilt. A Vietnamese woman can cheat (in the Western sense) on her husband without regret, as long as it is not known. The following saying illustrates the point: "Flirtations with desire, I wore a wedding ring for protection; I lost my wedding ring, but my desire remains." Vietnamese men, in their turn, know the "rules of the game" and have less of a tendency than women to brag publicly about their conquests. \*/

Cheating Couples and Wife Swapping in Vietnam

According to an undated United Nations study, 40 percent of Vietnamese married men have had extramarital sex. In 2003, ABC Radio of Australia reported: "Fretting over the erosion of traditional values, officials of a city in communist Vietnam are to publicly expose anyone caught having an affair. District police chief Tran Dinh Thich from the central city of Danang said the names of people caught in adulterous acts would be displayed in media. [Source: ABC Radio Australia, August 9, 2003 \^/]

"Police and local government will carry out regular inspections of "resting houses", or cheap motels that rent rooms by the hour, to "wipe out the social evils" that have aroused public concern, he was quoted as saying on Saturday in the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper. Thousands of "resting houses" have sprung up around Vietnam, catering to unmarried couples seeking to circumvent taboos on co-habitation and pre-marital sex in the conservative south-east Asian country. State employees violating the rules will be reported to their offices. \^/

In 2000, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "Two couples are living in bliss - if not in sin - in southern Vietnam after swapping spouses in a move left unchallenged by local authorities, the state press reported yesterday. Bao Thi Lieu and Nguyen Thi Chien, girlfriends since childhood, switched their husbands in the mid-1990s after working with the other's spouse on a rubber plantation, according to the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, March 31, 2000 }={]

"The article, which ran under the headline "Wife Swap!" and carried photographs of the cheery families, is a risque departure from the normally sedate stories in communist Vietnam's official media. The paper laid out the story of Ms Chien and Ms Lieu, who each found themselves working with the other's spouse in what Ms Chien called the "lonely rubber forests". "I don't know if it's destiny, but management assigned me to work in a team with Mr Phung, and my then-husband Nhan was in the same team with Lieu, my current husband's former wife," Ms Chien was quoted as saying. The women have since moved in with the other's husband, with both giving birth to children from the new unions. "I can't believe it," the chairwoman of the plantation workers' union, who identified herself as Miss Huong, barked when she learned of the story. }={

Divorce in Vietnam

Divorce is rare but on the increase in Vietnam. In 2003, Xinhua reported: "Courts in Vietnam received 53,573 applications for divorce in the first 10 months of this year, compared to a total of 51,548 divorce applications last year, local newspaper New Hanoi reported on Tuesday. As many as 63 percent of writers of the applications for divorces are women, it added. The numbers of divorced young couples and couples aged more than 55 have increased over the past few years. Major causes for their divorces are adultery and economic conflicts between husbands and wives. Vietnam reported 215,717 cases of divorces from 1995 to 1999. Causes included domestic violence with most of the victims being women, adultery and disputes among family members. [Source: Xinhua, November 4, 2003]

AFP reported: "Between 1991 and 2003, the official divorce rate rose by 240 percent, from 22,000 cases to 53,000, with more than 70 percent of initiators being women, according to figures released by the national committee on population, family and children. The figure for 2004 and 2005 will be sharply higher, say committee officials. Before 1991 divorce was rare as traditionally Vietnamese women have been subservient to their husbands, devoting their lives to raising children and serving their spouse as well as his parents, grandparents and other relatives." [Source: Agence France Presse, September 6, 2005]

Technically there is no divorce in Vietnam. One blogger wrote on XUVN.com: "There is no divorce in Vietnam. Vietnamese couples have only three ways to change the status of their marriage: legal separation, declaration of nullity, and annulment. Legal separation allows spouses to live separately but they may not remarry. Declaration of nullity presupposes that the marriage is void from the beginning and the court declares its non-existence. Annulment legally cancels the marriage and both spouses are restored to their single status. [Source: XUVN.com xuvn.com/vietnam

Pamela LaBorde, MD wrote: "Divorce in Vietnam is considered shameful for the woman. In the U.S. there is less of a stigma associated with divorce. Divorce is uncommon among Vietnamese in both countries, though in Vietnam the divorce rate is lower than in the U.S. This can partly be attributed to the values of a patriarchal society and that the notion of marrying for life is more pervasive. A man is considered responsible for his spouse until death. In Vietnam, the husband is the most powerful member of the family who makes the major decisions and brings in the primary income. [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese<+> ]

On Vietnamese-American women, Dr. LaBord wrote: "Many Vietnamese community leaders in the U.S. are concerned about the growing divorce rate. The higher U.S. divorce rate may be attributed to the fact that women in the U.S. have more freedom and often have the means to support themselves. If a woman is financially dependent on her husband, divorce is unlikely. Some immigrant women are not fully adapted to life in America. Women who are unable to speak English or who do not know how to drive are especially dependent on their husbands. Wives who are mothers generally put their children first, and keeping the marriage intact is seen as best for the children. So even if the woman is able to support herself, divorce will not usually be considered unless there is domestic abuse. " <+>

Divorce in Vietnam is No Longer Taboo

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, Elsa C. Arnett of Knight-Ridder Tribune News wrote: "If only she could have hung on to her marriage just a little bit longer. Yes, her ex-husband drank too much, his gambling debts drained her savings, he brazenly cheated on her, including with the woman who lived across the hall, and he even threatened to kill her. But when Ngoc Dung Pham filed for divorce in Vietnam in 1985, putting up with a miserable marriage may actually have been better than what she had to endure by leaving him. For centuries, women seeking divorce in Vietnam subjected themselves to a lifetime of public scorn, disgraced their whole household, and doomed their children's hopes for marriage into good families. Just a year after Pham suffered through that humiliation, the rigid taboo against divorce began to crumble. Since then, divorce in Vietnam has become nearly as common as it is in the United States. The divorce rate is highest in Ho Chi Minh City -- old Saigon -- where an estimated two out of every five couples split. In perhaps the biggest sign of change, about half the divorces these days are initiated by women. [Source: Elsa C. Arnett, Knight-Ridder Tribune News, February 10, 2001 /*\]

"In my time, women were not supposed to change husbands like they change a blouse," said Pham, 43. "Now young people rush into love, and if it doesn't work, they rush to leave." Vietnam for more than 2,000 years followed the teachings of Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher who was dismissive of women and frequently said, "Nothing is so hard to handle as a woman." As a result, women in Vietnam were expected to remain dutiful and faithful to their husbands, while their husbands could take several wives and do as they wished with each of them. When the communists took over the North in 1954 and the South in 1975, they tried to make men and women equal partners in marriage, but it didn't work. The ancient legacy of men behaving badly stuck. So did the taint on women seeking divorce. /*\

"So how did thousands of years of intractable social order unravel in just over a decade? The simple answer is economics. But the real explanation is more complicated. Desperate to lift its limp economy, the communist government decided in 1986 to ease its state-controlled grip over commerce and allow some private enterprise. The idea was to get an infusion of Western money. But the Vietnamese government also got a few things it didn't expect. A deluge of Western books, movies, and music trickled into the culture, spreading new attitudes about love, individuality, free will -- and instant gratification. Sociologists said these shocking, indulgent ideas were greedily absorbed by much of the public. Many Vietnamese, suffering for decades from wartime depravations, now had comfort for the first time in their lives. Comfort gave them the chance to think about something other than day-to-day subsistence. That led them to think about their own needs and desires. /*\

"At the same time, whole generations of young, impressionable Vietnamese were weaned on these new views of life. They had no intention of reverting to the cultural dark ages. In the once-repressive society that frowned on public displays of affection, the new social order meant more hand-holding and necking in public, and more premarital sex and abortions in private. It also meant that divorce was no longer as much of a stigma. "People look at divorce now with a more forgiving eye," said Le thi Quy, a Hanoi sociologist and one of the few academics in Vietnam who study gender issues. "They are beginning to understand that personal happiness is one important element of a marriage." /*\

"If statistics are any indication, it seems that many people were miserable in their marriages. For the five years between 1977 and 1982, when divorce was still discouraged, Vietnam courts recorded a total of about 28,000 divorces. In 1986 alone, the first year of the dramatic economic reform, the court registered 29,000 divorce cases. By 1996, the most recent year that statistics were available, there were 44,000 divorces granted. While the population was also rising during this time, sociologists say the rate of divorce far outpaced the rate of population growth. /*\

The liberalized cultural climate stunned women like Pham, women raised to believe that "happiness" in a marriage was measured only by stability, saving face, and serving their husbands. "You are taught to put up with everything," said Pham, in a gentle, solemn voice. "I knew women whose faces were purple from beatings by their husbands, and they still didn't dare leave them." Pham was the daughter of a rice farmer from Dalat, a community in Vietnam's central highlands, north of Saigon. She met her ex-husband when she was 17, a senior in high school. He was 24, and had just come back from the army. He seemed worldly, handsome and tall. She was pretty then, too. A young woman with a shy smile. There are only scant traces of that now in her swollen, melancholy face. "He was sweet," she said. "He told me stories about all his adventures. It was the time in my life to get married, so we got married." /*\

"The first few years of their lives together were tranquil. They had a baby daughter, they moved to Saigon. But by the fifth year of marriage, things began to change. Her husband frequently came home drunk from long nights gambling. He had affairs with other women, often flaunting them in front of his wife's face and cursing at her. Pham worked long days as a maid to support them. He did nothing. When she told him she was unhappy, he lunged at her with a razor, slashed her underpants and tried to force himself on her. As she fled, he told her he was going to kill her. "My heart was bleeding," she said. "I wanted to die. But I didn't, because I didn't know who would take care of my children." Pham tolerated all this for five years. It was what was expected of her. But enduring it every single day became too much. Finally, she filed for divorce. She knew everyone would blame her. It didn't matter that they knew of her husband's brutal, cruel behavior. It didn't matter that she feared for her family's safety. /*\

"There is so much shame," said Pham, sitting beside her 80-year-old mother, who wraps her in a protective embrace. Pham insists that she is not bitter. She takes comfort knowing that the future will be easier for her daughter. Pham takes comfort knowing that her daughter will be able to make a choice, if necessary, that will not brand her a perpetual outcast. And most important, she takes comfort in knowing that her daughter will have a chance at something that has eluded Pham all her life: happiness. That thought is the first thing to bring a smile to her face all day." /*\

Reasons Divorce Is Increasing in Vietnam

Huw Watkin wrote in the South China Morning Post, "Ten years of rapid economic and social change have been blamed for breaking down the traditional family, with a survey suggesting as many as one in three Vietnamese marriages now ends in divorce. The survey - conducted last month by the Van Hoa (Culture) newspaper - also interviewed couples from 900 broken marriages and concluded an emerging assertiveness in women was behind more than one-third of divorces, with disputes between couples and their relatives accounting for 20 percent more. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, April 8, 2000 >>>]

"More than 10 percent of marriages in Ho Chi Minh City fail and four out of five divorces are requested by women," she said. "Women mostly complain of their husband's adultery and their spending of the family's money on girlfriends and alcohol." Anecdotal evidence suggests women are increasingly involved in extra-marital affairs. Their abandonment of strict sexual mores further challenges Vietnam's image of itself as a society disciplined by traditional, conservative values. "I hate my mother because she abandoned us for another man," said 15-year-old Hoang Anh Thang. "I no longer believe in our so-called social norms and traditions. My experience is the exact opposite of what I have been told." >>>

"Dr Nguyen Minh Hoa, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City's University of Social Science and Humanities, said families were now at greater risk of breaking up. "Our moral values and traditional ways are being changed by our modern lifestyle," he said. Le Minh Nga, director of a family and marriage counselling center in Ho Chi Minh City, said her organization receives more than 50 calls a day. She said money problems, lack of sexual fulfilment and disagreements over raising children were the main causes of tension in marriage, and that couples were increasingly reluctant to tolerate unhappy relationships." >>>

AFP reported from Hanoi: "Nguyen Thuy Lan is a picture of poise as she shops in a fashionable mall in the Vietnamese capital, a sea change from the harried housewife's look she wore three years ago, before she divorced. "I am no longer stuffed with housework at weekends as I used to be," says Lan, 33, dressed colorfully in a yellow skirt and a white shirt dotted with red flowers. "I wanted my husband to share the burden of housework with me, but he did not. We divorced. Now, I have more time for my own life," she says. Lan, who has a seven-year-old daughter, is among tens of thousands of women who have walked out of their marriages in recent years as Vietnamese society shakes off rigid and traditional adherence to family unity that held through decades of war and post-war reconstruction. As economic development and westernisation have been taking hold in recent years, people are becoming more inclined to put personal happiness over family compulsions, experts say. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 6, 2005 /~\]

"During the long years of war against French, Japanese and American invaders, several generations felt compelled to put family unity before individual happiness, and national independence before family interests. "People forgot their personal concerns for the sake of the country and the community," says Nguyen Van Anh, a sociologist with the Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents. "Sometimes even the feeling of individual happiness was eliminated," she says. After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, which brought the curtain down on more than a century of foreign invasions, communist Vietnam entered a period of economic austerity. People were preoccupied with securing a square meal and sufficient clothing, again ensuring that families stuck together. "During this period, the state even tried to limit the number of divorce cases," says Le Do Ngoc, a senior official of the National Committee on Population, Family and Children. "Courts, social organizations and (communist) party committees and women's unions made all out efforts to ensure people did not divorce." /~\

"In recent years, however, things have begun to change. Vietnam embraced economic reforms and opened its door to international exchanges in 1986, and economic difficulties are gradually receding. "Vietnamese now pay more attention to their individualism. Women are more independent economically," says sociologist Van Anh. That has led to a loosening of the bonds that previously kept families together through adversities. "As the economy develops, people find more freedom. Many couples would not have divorced if the same conflict happened 30 years ago. But now, they decide to separate," says Ngoc. /~\

"According to court officials, allegations of infidelity and incompatibility are common reasons for divorce, but domestic violence has emerged as the dominant factor. Officials from Vietnam's supreme people's court said domestic violence has triggered more than half of all divorces, reaching 57.18 percent in 2000. Vietnamese men command all power in the family, commonly deeming their wives to be personal assets they are allowed to subjugate with punishment if need be. Many men subject their wives to torture, physical and mental, because of the traditional pressure to produce male offspring. Law enforcement authorities are helpless in the face of growing domestic violence as, apart from exceptionally serious cases, it is considered "a family business". "Many Vietnamese women think their husbands really have the right to beat them," sociologist Van Anh says. "We should make them aware that they have the right not to be beaten." /~\

"Older generations and experts also argue young couples these days lack adjustment skills in order to ensure a stable life together. "My husband and I did not know each other when we married," says Dao Thi Luyen, 82, who has six children. "Now, young couples seem not to know how to live together," she says sorrowfully as two of her grandchildren have divorced. Sociologists say people need to be trained to live together. "In the past, our grandparents' generations taught their daughters and sons how to treat the in-laws in an appropriate way before arranging a marriage. But now premarriage education is completely neglected," Ngoc says. Parents give their children material assets, not living skills, he adds, recommending that families focus on providing their children with better skills to enter a new life. "It's a difficult task, but it's prime time to start the process," Ngoc says, adding that divorces are leading to neglect of children. "Recently we found many youths using ecstasy in karaoke bars and a large number of them come from broken families." However, while most people deem it desirable that marriages last forever, no one should be condemned to remain in a bad situation, argues Van Anh, the sociologist, believing that divorces would only grow in number. "We cannot either condemn an individual or society as a whole," she says. "Divorce is sometimes a good solution. It is a tragedy if you have to spend your whole life with the one you do not love, or live together with torture and unhappiness." /~\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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