TAIPEI (Reuters) - In Taiwan, some men choose brides from the comfort of their living rooms by watching a TV show that airs photographs and biographical details of Vietnamese women looking for husbands.
The women are willing to marry men sometimes decades older than themselves to exchange a life of poverty at home for relative affluence abroad. These couples often don’t live happily ever after. Vietnam native Nguyen Chi, 28, was kicked out by the husband she married five years ago and now scrapes by working at an electronics factory in Taipei. Ten of her 20 Vietnamese colleagues have also been dumped by their Taiwan husbands.
“We’ve all got the same problem. We’re divorced or our husbands don’t want us, and some of us are raising kids,” said Nguyen, speaking in Mandarin learned during five years in Taiwan.
“I figured it would be a lot better than Vietnam here, but I hadn’t been before. It’s not that easy to make money.”
The story of women such as Nguyen has prompted Taiwan and Vietnam -- whose 75,000 nationals are the island’s largest non-Chinese immigrant group -- to get tougher on cross-border marriages to stop fraud and illegal residency following break-ups.
Taiwan men looking for “mail-order brides” are partial to Vietnamese women who they consider to be particularly submissive, matchmakers say. Often left on the shelf by local women, these men are looking for wives willing to have babies and help their aging parents, the matchmakers add.
Men often enlist friends and business contacts in their wife search. But the popularity of Vietnamese brides is so great that there is now a prime time television show that broadcasts photographs and biographical data of prospective wives.
Those who prefer a more personal approach use the services of about 300 marriage brokers operating in Taiwan who organize wife shopping trips to Vietnam at costs that range from $900 to $10,000 for stays up to one week.
Before leaving, the men can narrow down the field by flipping through photos of available young women.
Police are cracking down though. A new law that forbids women from marrying Taiwan men more than 10 years their senior has hurt business for brokers, a Taipei-based matchmaker said.
In early April, police in Ho Chi Minh City broke up a matchmaking ring and arrested two suspected marriage brokers. A raid on a home turned up more than 100 women seeking husbands.
But despite the risks, Vietnamese brides who come to Taiwan can enjoy lifestyles and amenities hard to find at home.
“Life in Vietnam isn’t great. I wanted to come here, and I did it by fate,” said Du Hsue-li. “Here there’s work. I can buy what I want,” added the 25-year-old.
Despite a more affluent life, some brides are ill equipped to deal with cultural and other issues, including large age gaps with their husbands and demanding in-laws. Lack of Chinese language skills can also cramp marriages.
Some husbands hold their foreign mail-order brides captive.
“The men control their ID cards, won’t let them contact other Vietnamese women,” said a Vietnamese woman who takes distress calls for a support group. She gets about 10 calls a day.
Vietnam’s state-run e-newspaper Vnexpress.net says most brides headed to Taiwan lack formal education and usually meet their husbands less than three times before getting hitched.
“We all wish Vietnamese women could find good husbands who love them and provide them with a secure life instead of the tragic plight endured by those who were unfortunate to marry Taiwanese or Korean men only for material purposes and no real love,” an article in Vnexpress.net states.
Some foreign brides brought to Taiwan under the pretext of marriage end up as forced laborers or prostitutes, according to a U.S. State Department report on human trafficking.
Taipei is trying to curb this through better screening of women moving to Taiwan and also by pushing marriage brokers to make home visits to check on the new brides.
Nguyen, stung by her husband’s rejection and obstacles to earning money, hopes to return to Vietnam one day.
“It’s a little bit better in Taiwan, a little bit safer,” she said. “But it’s difficult to live here.”
Additional reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam in Hanoi