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Cablegate: Marriage Brokers Out in Front of Korean Legislation

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RR RUEHHM
DE RUEHUL #1398/01 1300532
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 100532Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4458
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2093
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8037
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0309
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2613
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE 1133
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 0037
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 1965
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SEOUL 001398

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KS KCRM PHUM KWMN SMIG
SUBJECT: MARRIAGE BROKERS OUT IN FRONT OF KOREAN LEGISLATION

REF: SEOUL 810

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) The trend for international marriages continues to
rapidly increase in Korea as in other countries in the
region. Marriage brokers have quickly adapted to the
increased demand and have found ways to cash in on the
lucrative business. Despite the plethora of legitimate
broker companies, a number of unscrupulous businesses have
also emerged and caught the attention of the National
Assembly. Representative Kim Chun-jin of the Health and
Welfare Committee proposed a bill to regulate marriage broker
companies. The bill is likely to "weed out" many
illegitimate businesses and help improve the image of
respectable businesses in this growth industry that involves
large amounts of revenue and little supervision. The
National Assembly chose not to consider the proposed law when
it was first drafted in June 2006 and has yet to take it up
thus far in 2007. END SUMMARY.

-----------------
MARRIAGE IN A BOX
-----------------

2. (SBU) As noted in reftel, Korean citizens, predominantly
men, are increasingly considering international marriage as
relatively simple way to find a spouse and start a family.
In the case of men who are impoverished, divorced,
handicapped, or suffer from mental disorders, it is
increasingly difficult to find women in Korea who are willing
to marry. Many of these individuals rely on marriage brokers
for assistance. As a result, there are currently 2,098
marriage brokers registered in Korea.

3. (U) Building on a practice that has a long history in
Korea, marriage mediation continues today in various forms.
Parents often work behind the scenes to ensure that their son
or daughter marries an "appropriate" spouse who will allow
the family name to remain strong, if not increase the
standing of the family.

4. (SBU) The modern form of this practice is for a single
man to contact a marriage broker who finds the man a foreign
spouse. Comprehensive services ranging from a personality
assessment to plane tickets to Vietnam to the food at the
wedding reception are provided by most of the larger broker
companies. In addition to the larger companies, a number of
marriage brokers are smaller "mom and pop" businesses that
focus solely on international marriages because of the higher
profit margins over domestic marriages. In 61 percent of
companies listed as marriage brokers, the company president
also acts as a matchmaker, indicating a relatively small
operating staff. Many international brokers got their start
as an employee at a trading company that had business
dealings in the region; many of them are married to a foreign
spouse.

5. (SBU) Clients are often asked to pay USD 10,000 or more
for these comprehensive services. One NGO reported that fees
range as high as USD 17,000. A report from the National
Assembly showed that the average revenue for a broker is
estimated at between 20 million and 60 million won per month
(roughly USD 20,000 to USD 60,000). Many clients from the
poorer rural areas cannot afford these steep prices so they
enlist the help of families and friends to gather the
requisite money. In other cases, municipal governments have
subsidized the cost of international marriage in an attempt
to help keep residents in the outlying districts, typically
agricultural communities. Currently, 60 local governments
have programs to financially support international marriage
through a broker.

----------------------
CONCERNS ABOUT BROKERS
----------------------

SEOUL 00001398 002 OF 003

6. (SBU) The National Assembly's Health and Welfare
Committee identified a number of concerns that prompted the
proposed legislation to better manage marriage brokers.
First, there are increased concerns about the possibility of
trafficking in persons given the lack of transparency in the
recruiting of potential spouses in the sending country.
Additionally, false or exaggerated information about the
potential Korean spouse has led many foreign brides to report
that they were married under fraudulent circumstances.
Second, as profits soar and competition among brokers heats
up, there is increasing concern that the industry will foment
illegal or nefarious activity. Third, there is little
recourse for husbands in the event they are dissatisfied with
the outcome of their broker transaction. Whether the issue
relates to the fees that were paid or the promises that were
made, on a very basic level, there is a concern for the
protection of the consumer in a business transaction.


--------------------
PROPOSED LEGISLATION
--------------------

7. (SBU) Representative Kim Chun-jin, a member of the Health
and Welfare Committee in the National Assembly, told poloff
he proposed a law that would impose some basic restrictions
on companies that broker international marriages. Initially,
regulation of brokers will come in the form of consumer
protection laws focusing on the transaction between the
broker and the client. The proposed Act on International
Marriage Brokerage stipulates that before a broker can
arrange a marriage, an explicit contract must be drafted
between the broker and the client. This contract must
specify the terms of the deal including all fees and services
to be rendered. The contract must also specify the terms
under which a refund may be granted, if at all. The new law
will also specify the obligations of the broker and the
accompanying penalties if those obligations are not met.

8. (SBU) One area that is still under consideration is
whether or not to introduce a permission-based system of
marriage brokerage rather than the current registration-
based model. Under the proposed system, an aspiring marriage
broker would apply for a license from the Ministry of Health
and Welfare. Currently, a marriage broker need only register
with the local government, which does not conduct any
investigations into the business owner or business practices.
The National Assembly chose not to consider the proposed law
when it was first drafted in June 2006 and has yet to take it
up thus far in 2007.

-----------------------------------
COMPANY PROFILE: INTERWEDDING LTD.
-----------------------------------

9. (SBU) In a meeting with poloff, Lee Eun-tae, the founder
and president of the largest marriage broker in Korea, shared
his thoughts about the law and marriage brokers in Korea.
Founded in 1998, Interwedding LTD. boasts 30 branches
nationwide and 8 branches outside of the country. In 2006,
Interwedding was responsible for arranging 15 percent of
international marriages in Korea. Building on his background
as a tour coordinator, Lee founded the company after several
business acquaintances asked him for assistance in marrying a
foreign spouse. From the outset, the majority of requests
were for ethnic Korean Chinese or Russian spouses. After a
few years, the trend shifted toward Southeast Asia and now
the majority of Lee's business is done in Vietnam, Cambodia
and Thailand.

----------------------------
THE ABC'S OF GETTING MARRIED
----------------------------

10. (SBU) First, the prospective client registers with
Interwedding on the Internet and submits basic biographical
information. An Interwedding consultant contacts the client

SEOUL 00001398 003 OF 003


to discuss the company's services and options. Next, the
client visits an Interwedding office for a detailed
consultation to ascertain the client's preferences and begin
the search for a suitable foreign spouse. Although some
clients have already determined the country of preference,
other clients rely on Interwedding to make a recommendation
based on the personality and situation of the client.
Clients are asked to provide Interwedding with a copy of
their birth certificate and Korean ID, but no financial
documents, job information or police records. Lee said that
the initial processing of a new client usually takes between
one to two months before the arrangements are finalized to
travel to the foreign country to select a spouse.

11. (SBU) Lee described his typical client as a Korean male
who either owned a farm or a small family business. Most
clients were between 35 and 40 years of age and 80 percent
were not previously married. The typical spouse was a
conservative female from the countryside who was not
previously married. Complaints from foreign spouses
typically come from Russian or Chinese brides who have
difficulty adjusting to Korean culture or who are
dissatisfied with the housewife lifestyle in Korea. The
majority of complaints from husbands are because of brides'
requests to send money back home to their families.

-------
COMMENT
-------

12. (SBU) International marriage is not a new trend in
Korea. Ethnic Korean Chinese have been the predominant
source of foreign brides for Korean men for the past decade.
These women, who typically speak Korean, have managed to
integrate themselves somewhat into Korean society, especially
as members of the labor force. As more Korean men marry
brides from Southeast Asia, the ROKG faces new challenges
integrating foreign women into the Korean culture. While the
Ministry of Gender Equality and Family works to address these
concerns, the National Assembly continues to struggle with
its challenge of how to regulate the marriage brokerage
industry and protect the rights of both Korean and foreign
citizens. In the meantime, there is a steady flow of
customers lining up at Interwedding and other marriage
brokers throughout Korea.
VERSHBOW

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