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Cablegate: Vietnam Tip: The Taiwan Marriage Phenomenon

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: Taiwan has become the export destination of
choice for Vietnamese brides. 73,000 women - 95 percent of
Vietnamese marrying foreigners - have married Taiwanese men
since the phenomenon began to take off in 1995. Demand is
growing, driven by (1) the desire of lower-middle class
Taiwanese men to marry young women willing to play a
traditional family role and (2) the desire of Mekong Delta
women to escape from grinding rural poverty and provide for
their families. Some high-profile cases of abuse and
trafficking have hit the press, triggering intense scrutiny
of the phenomenon in Taiwan and in Vietnam, but so far
evidence points to trafficking cases being the exception,
not the rule. Taiwan authorities, the GVN, some NGOs, and
local support organizations in communities with large
numbers of Vietnamese who have married Taiwanese men all
agree that 90-95 percent of these marriages are successful,
and an even higher percentage are legitimate. End summary.


2. Some believe that the practice of Taiwanese men arranging
marriages in Vietnam with the help of for-profit matchmaking
agencies is a form of trafficking in persons. Paula-Frances
Kelly, an Australian author and academic, identified
"Confucian concepts common to Taiwanese and Vietnamese
cultures" as the main drivers of the Taiwan-Vietnam marriage
connection. According to Kelly, Confucian "filial piety"
obligations of Taiwanese men to care for their parents by
marrying a traditional woman who will help fulfill that duty
are increasingly hard to meet. Young Taiwanese women are
rejecting the traditional, subservient role of a Confucian
wife and daughter-in-law in favor of urban lifestyles,
higher education, and professional careers. According to a
2002 study by the Can Tho province Women's Union among
Taiwanese men seeking to marry Vietnamese women, 46 percent
of Taiwanese men said they came to Vietnam to find a wife
because it was "difficult and expensive to marry Taiwanese
women in Taiwan". Ms. Tran Thi Thuy, Vice President of the
Can Tho Women's Union, said Taiwanese men describe Can Tho
women as "beautiful, industrious, dexterous, and capable of
helping their husbands with work and domestic chores".

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3. The reality for most Vietnamese-Taiwanese marriages is
not romantic. According to Mrs. Do Thi Nhu Tam, Director of
the Mobility Research and Support Center (a Vietnamese NGO)
the usual pattern is for a Taiwanese man to contract with a
Taiwan-based agency to arrange travel to Vietnam,
development of a selection of potential brides, and
facilitation of the bureaucratic necessities surrounding the
marriage and subsequent immigration to Taiwan. Agencies
charge from USD 8,000 to USD 15,000 for providing these
services, according to media reports.

4. On the Vietnam side, Taiwanese agencies are affiliated
with Taiwanese or Vietnamese agencies in Ho Chi Minh City
which then subcontract with smaller for-profit "matchmakers"
in the Mekong Delta. These smaller matchmakers then recruit
potential brides and charge them a fee (refundable if they
are chosen) to prepare them for a selection process known in
the Delta as "the contest". The process is the beauty-
pageant style parade of women from which the Taiwanese
grooms in HCMC or Can Tho choose the "finalists". After the
preparation, which includes beautification treatments, a few
Chinese language lessons, and even in some cases surgery,
the candidates are brought to Ho Chi Minh City and presented
to the Taiwanese clients in large groups in a public place
such as a park or hotel. The successful candidate from the
group will then live with her new fiance for up to a month
in a hotel while the paperwork for her immigration to Taiwan
is finalized. It is during that month that the wedding
ceremony is performed and the traditional "bride-price" is
paid to the family. This amount ranges from USD 300 to USD
3000, depending on various factors, including the amount of
commission taken by the Vietnamese matchmaker. [Note: this
"bride price" is also paid in some Vietnamese-Vietnamese
weddings, though it is more common in rural areas for the
groom's family to pay in livestock or other commodities.
End note.]

5. Vietnamese women's own sense of duty to their families
encourages them to try to marry in a way that will improve
their families' condition, even though it may require the
considerable sacrifice of moving far from their homes and
families, noted Ms. Lu Thi Ngoc Anh, President of the
Women's Union of Can Tho, in a speech on September 20, 2002
in Can Tho. The Can Tho Women's Union 2002 study found that
90 percent of Vietnamese brides surveyed were under age 25
and came from families that were poor or in debt. Mrs. Do
Thi Nhu Tam believes that the combination of poverty and
family obligation "conditions" Vietnamese women and drives
them into marriages with Taiwanese strangers against their
will. To Mrs. Nhu Tam, poor Vietnamese girls marrying
Taiwanese men are being trafficked. In a December 1, 2003
meeting with Poloff in Ho Chi Minh City, she said "there is
no difference between a woman marrying a Taiwanese stranger
to elevate the family's economic situation and being taken
to Cambodia to be a sex worker."

6. Ms. Nhu Tam's view of all arranged marriages between
partners at different socioeconomic levels is at the extreme
end of the spectrum, but Vietnamese (and Taiwanese) press
outlets have also seized on more conventional trafficking
cases related to Taiwanese marriage. The Vietnamese Women
(Phu Nu) magazine, and the Youth Newspaper (Tuoi Tre) have
both run expose-style articles telling the stories of
Vietnamese women who have gone to Taiwan for marriage but
found themselves sold to brothels, forced to serve other
family members sexually, or kept in abusive conditions as
slave labor. The China Times in Taiwan ran an article on
October 9, 2003 identifying four Vietnamese girls trafficked
to the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung. The girls
said they had been brought over by "marriage brokers".

7. The Taiwan authorities, Vietnam Women's Union officials,
and provincial-level government officials acknowledge abuses
within the system but maintain that the rate of bad cases is
very low. Mr. Robert C. Lee, the visa official at the
Taipei Economic and Cultural Relations Office (TECO) in Ho
Chi Minh City, said in a meeting with Poloff and HCMC Conoff
that he estimated that trafficking cases represented less
than one percent of the marriage visas he issued each year.
He acknowledged that some marriages go bad, and that there
are abusive husbands in Taiwan just as there are elsewhere,
but said that only 5 percent of marriages between Vietnamese
and Taiwanese end in divorce. (Note: he also mentioned that
he had "several" inquiries each day from Taiwanese husbands
looking for Vietnamese wives who had left Taiwan, and that
dealing with these cases took a great deal of his time. The
5 percent figure seems low. End note.) Lee also noted that
Taiwan does not have a "fiance" visa the way the U.S. has.
Women going to Taiwan for marriage must marry their
Taiwanese husbands in Vietnam, and the couple must appear in
person both in the TECO office and in the Vietnamese Justice
Department to register their marriage. This, he noted, is a
significant logistical obstacle for traffickers who might
want to use marriage as a way to conceal human trafficking.

8. Women's Union officials in Can Tho and An Giang provinces
agreed with Mr. Lee's assessment. In Can Tho, Women's Union
VP Thuy said that for the most part, marriages between women
in Can Tho and Taiwanese men were both legal and successful.
She said that a small number of women who went to Taiwan
ended up as prostitutes there, but sad it was "not many".
In Long Xuyen, the capital of An Giang province, the Women's
Union was more explicit. "I wish," An Giang Provincial
Women's Union chief Nguyen Thi Lien said, "that the
marriages between Vietnamese in An Giang were as successful
as the marriages between Vietnamese from An Giang and
Taiwanese men". She acknowledged that she knew of some
cases where women had returned with stories of being forced
to be domestic servants or even to sexually service other
family members in Taiwan. These were rare, she added,
compared to the large number of successful marriages.


9. The GVN is sensitive to the perception that Vietnamese
women are a commodity to be bought and sold, noted UN Office
on Drugs and Crime representative Troels Vester. The press
has picked up on some of the stories of women who have been
mistreated in Taiwan, and this has put pressure on the GVN
to investigate the situation. At the same time, Taiwan
takes the position that "based on humane reasons and ethical
concerns. . . Taiwan must through the legal system protect
and take good care of foreign brides married to Taiwanese
men," according to a speech by David Wu, Director General of
TECO in HCMC. Taiwan makes an effort to educate Vietnamese
women prior to their departure for Taiwan, said Mr. Lee. He
showed Poloff and HCMC Conoff copies of various pamphlets,
books, cards, and brochures written in simple Vietnamese
explaining the rights and responsibilities of both parties
in a Taiwan marriage. The documents also featured phone
numbers staffed by Vietnamese speakers who were standing by
in Taiwan to help in an emergency situation.

10. The Vietnamese side is also alert and watching for abuse
within the context of marriage between Vietnamese women and
Taiwanese men, according to Nguyen Thi Lien. "We have a
propaganda program in place," she said, "to encourage
members of the Women's Union to be vigilant and look out for
abuses of Vietnamese women". Nguyen Thi Tuyet, Director of
the Justice Department of Can Tho province, said in a 2002
speech "We need to enhance the sense of responsibility and
the coordination among branches, [of government] in the
education, verification and assessment of applications for
marriage registration observing legal stipulations in order
to protect the well-being and human dignity of Vietnamese
women". Tuyet noted that Taiwanese-Vietnamese marriages are
legal under the laws of both countries, and that data so far
seemed to indicate that most of the marriages were
successful and legitimate. Still, she said, the GVN would
continue to monitor the situation, and "if the number of
unfortunate cases is large, it will become an issue
requiring the State's intervention".

11. Comment: The women participating in these marriages are
young, uneducated, and very poor. They are marrying men
from Taiwan for economic reasons and enduring the hardship
of living as a foreigner in another society. The decision
to marry is, however, a legal and permissible choice. The
fact that economic imbalances result in an outflow of young
Vietnamese women to Taiwan is an embarrassing and emotional
issue for Vietnam, and has provoked a great deal of official
attention. This attention, and similar inquiries by Taiwan
officials, have not revealed any evidence to conclude that
marriage to Taiwanese is a significant vector for
trafficking in persons from or through Vietnam.

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