Vietnamese girls marrying Taiwanese men: the harbouring of illusions

This article describes the situation of poor young girls in the rural areas who try to escape from misery by marrying Taiwanese men.

Marrying Taiwanese husbands is not a new phenomenon [for young Vietnamese women], but during the wedding season in Cuu Long River Delta, it is very common to see young girls accompanied by Taiwanese men, who are dozens of years older than them.

The speeding up of procedure for nationality registration in the judicial departments of many provinces in Cuu Long River Delta, needed to complete marriage requirements, explains the increase in the number of marriages to foreign husbands from 80% to 100 % compared to last year.

The illusion that they can change their lives makes thousands of rural girls from the Cuu Long River Delta take the risk of going through a mediator. Many of the more than 46.000 Vietnamese brides in Taiwan return disillusioned to their villages!

The illusion of a new life

It took us a long time to find TTH., living in Thoi Long, O Mon (Can Tho). She is a 20-year-old girl, who divorced her Taiwanese husband two months ago. Like many other houses in the village, her house is ramshackle and its door is always closed. A neighbour told us that she had come back months ago but she had already gone away to find work. Her parents were not home either; they also had become hired labourers. Although we were not able to meet her, just by seeing her house and getting to know her family situation through her neighbours, we were still able to understand why nine months earlier H. was forced to marry a Taiwanese man 12 years older than her. The desire to change her life forced her to hand herself over, despite the fact that the two could not communicate with each other and that she lacked any knowledge about her partner's life style. This illusion exploded just one week after they had started living together. Upon returning back home, she found herself once more with nothing.

In 1999 and 2000, the courts in Can Tho had to deal with over 170 divorce cases involving the 'foreign' factor. Many cases involve marriages with Taiwanese husbands. N.N.T, 20, in Tan Loc, Thot Not, married a man, but after only 23 days in Taiwan she fled home in order to divorce him. T.N.H., living in Can Tho City, lived with a Taiwanese husband a little longer - four months. Once she managed to get back home she did not return to Taiwan because she wanted to divorce him. She said that when she lived in her husband's village, he did not care about her, the income was too low, and he also did not respect her parents.

In every province, their is a stream of girls suffering from "Taiwanese disillusionment" peacefully flowing back home. A woman of the Women's Union Association of Can Tho told us: M.T., whose village was in Vinh Long, had been a waitress in a restaurant in Can Tho City. After living for several months in Taiwan, she could not stand the way they spurned. She was treated as a housemaid. So she wanted to come back to get a divorce. "I don't have the face to return to my village. If my parents find out about my situation, they will no longer be able to face living in the house that was built with the money I brought into the home at the time I married my Taiwanese husband" M.T. revealed.

In spite of this, the phenomenon of rural girls from Cuu Long River Delta marrying Taiwanese husbands continues to grow. In the year 2000, 1,800 young girls of Can Tho province were married to foreign husbands, most of whom were Taiwanese. This is 600 girls more than the previous year. In the same year, the number of girls in Dong Thap marrying Taiwanese husbands doubled, from 433 in 1999 to 910 in 2000. In many villages, the "seeking" of Taiwanese husbands has become a big movement, such as in Tan Loc (Thot Not, Can Tho) with 245 cases, and in Hung Hoi (Vinh Loi, Bac Lieu) with 230.

With the help of the people in Hung Hoi, we met N.H.T., who had just fulfilled the requirements for Taiwanese marriage procedures. She did not hide the fact that her aim was to marry a foreign husband. She said, "I have thought it over thoroughly. Those who are illiterate, like us, have only way of relieving their families' hardship, and that is by marrying a foreign husband".

The story is told of a girl in Hung Thanh, K.T., who was handed over to a man who was about 60 years older than her who was already married. She was treated as a housemaid. Because of her plight, she escaped back home. "But, aren't you frightened because of this?" we asked her. And she replied to us, "A bit, but I must take the risk. There are those who are lucky and those who aren't. But not all are unlucky"

Mediation or trade in human beings?

"Many families in the rural areas are so poor that they want to change their life despite the risks that flow from marrying off their children to Taiwanese," said Pham Kim Huong, vice president of the Women's Union Association of Can Tho province, who is also responsible for "information on the crusade against trading in women and children".

If a girl marries a Taiwanese, her family will receive about 1,000 or 2,000 US dollars. However, not everyone takes so many risks as N.H.T. in Hung Hoi. If they knew in advance the high cost involved, many would be discouraged and would think twice before deciding to marry a Taiwanese. However, although the many unhappy cases, this fact is still not clear to many eyes. Meanwhile, in the rural areas, people can see families whose house was made of bamboo yesterday and now have a "new life" after their daughters have married foreign husbands. In My An Hung A (Lap Vo, Dong Thap), a family achieved better living conditions (at least they managed to raise their heads just above the surface) after they had married off their two daughters to Taiwanese. This accelerated the Taiwanese-marriage phenomenon.

"What do you find most difficult while you are spreading the "information on the crusade against trading in women and children?" we asked a woman of the Women's Union of Tan Loc (Thot Not, Can Tho).

She replied: "For the rural people there is a saying, 'hundreds of times heard is not better than once seen'. We organise many forms of propaganda, distribution of leaflets etc. But in the commune there are families whose daughters were married off to Taiwanese, and they were then able to pay off their debts and build new houses. In addition to that, those young women who, after being ill-treated in their husband's villages, ran away, either did not go home but fled elsewhere to find work or did not tell the truth because they did not want to lose... their faces".

In fact, for every one hundred of "Taiwanese disillusionment" girls that return to Can Tho from Taiwan, only ten collaborate with the Women's Union in this crusade. Moreover, there are women who do not speak out about the real situation, but quietly become mediators for other girls in order to earn some money. According to the Police in many communes of the provinces of the Cuu Long Delta, mediations are taking place silently and frantically throughout the rural villages. The final meeting place is Ho Chi Minh City where Taiwanese men "look" at the girls.

At the end of the year 2000, over 220 girls from Ben Tre, Tien Giang, Dong Thap, between the ages of 18 and 25, were "held" in seven rooms in Dai Nam Karaoke (Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City) for 17 Taiwanese men to gawk at. This is only one of the cases that was disclosed.

Escaping from poverty, for oneself and for one's family, is everyone's dream. However, the illusion of being able to change one's life through foreign marriage has caused many young girls of Cuu Long River Delta be ill-treated. They have burnt their youth, together with the youthful desire for love, by going into marriages decided by dollars. The young beautiful face of the girl from Hung Hoi (Bac Lieu) who had just fulfilled the requirements for Taiwanese marriage procedure, and her saying to us that she was putting her life in the hands of fortune, keep haunting us. How can the love and the life of a very young girl with her future ahead of her, be left to the luck of destiny like that? Can these young girls in the poor rural areas, answer this question themselves and find a way out?

Reported by LNG

(from the Vietnamese Newspaper Lao Dong, 5th February, 2001)