Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Exploitation of Vietnamese Girls

Let’s say you’re a man in your fourties or fifties from Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, or Taiwan. You’re single or have been divorced. You’re unemployed or don’t have a great job. You may even have a physical disability. You want to get married but the women in your country don’t want to marry you because you don’t meet their criteria. What do you do? The answer is easy. You look for a pretty girl from Vietnam, one who comes from a poor village and is willing to marry a foreign man twice her age because she is told to believe that this will help improve her life. She is living in a poor situation, so she easily believes that anything else will help change the present state of things.

Because of the need for men to find wives, in these countries there are dozens of services set up to assist them in finding a bride. On the streets of Korea, there are banners advertising Vietnamese brides for Korean men, even if they are handicapped! In Taiwan, Vietnamese brides are advertised on television. In Malaysia, Vietnamese girls are put on display at trade fairs. In Singapore, there are websites that advertise services assisting men in this country looking for a Vietnamese bride.

Lifepartnermatchmaker.com is one such website. It advertises young virgin Vietnamese girls from the village selected for men from Singapore to marry. According to the website, “Since Aug. 2004, we have started to bring in these young & decent Vietnamese girls for local guy to meet and marry. Visit us today you may surprise to see such pretty girls sitting there. Our girls all are from village; they were carefully selected, interviewed and tested (???) by our director personally. They are ready and sincere to marry.”

In Singapore, going to get a Vietnamese girl to marry seems not much different from going to the department store to purchase a household appliance because they have a “Walk-in Selection in the Office”! And if the men aren’t happy with the choices in the office, they can take a bride selection tour to Vietnam that starts at a bargain price of 388 dollars, which includes transportation, meals, accommodation, bride selection, and even virginity test!!

If you’re reading this far and you haven’t become shocked and horrified at what I’m saying, then you got some serious problems. In fact, there is much more to say about the situation with Vietnamese brides in these countries, but I would need a lot more than two pages in order to go into details the all sorts of things that bring about this reality. However, what I want to reflect in this article is to use the situation of Vietnamese brides in order to talk about how we treat other people, specifically women and the poor in our society. Because that’s exactly what Vietnamese brides are – girls who come from poor villages, and are told to believe that by marrying an older man from Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, or Malaysia, they can turn their life and the life of their family around. As a result, they are willing to allow themselves to be looked over, to be picked, to be tested for virginity, and to be transported to another country like merchandise. If they are lucky, they can actually become the wife of the man who picked them (even though life will certainly not be easy). But if they are not, they suffer all sorts of problems. Many turn out to be the second wife of the husband, are forced to live in their house like maids. Many are beaten, some are even duped and sold into bars and brothels to work as prostitutes. Living in a foreign land, not knowing the language, not having people around to defend them, young Vietnamese women become victims of emotional, physical, and sexual brutality at the hands of many men who married them. They also become victims of men who pretend to marry them but in fact bring them to their country for other purposes.

Reading about this, you may feel bad for these Vietnamese girls. But then you tell yourself: Wow! That’s really terrible. But what can I do? Vietnam is far away. This doesn’t really concern me. This is one problem that I have no idea how to help.

I can’t really say I blame you if you thought this way. The problem, in fact, is very complicated. And unless you are really interested in this issue and find out about what ways you can participate in fighting for the dignity of not only Vietnamese women but women all over the world, reading this article may not affect you much at all.

Why then is it important for us to know about this problem? I think there are several reasons why we want to highlight this issue:

1) This is an issue that involves our own fellow Vietnamese. From the villages where your mother or your aunt may once have lived, girls are being married off in undignified ways. Sure, these girls are voluntarily saying yes to marriage. They are not being taken away in chains. But then, how much do they know about what they are putting themselves into? Are they being explained clearly about everything involved? Once they go to these countries, are their rights protected? These girls look like your sisters, cousins, and friends. And if you’re a girl, they look like yourself! The only difference between you and them is that you are lucky enough to be living in a prosperous country where your human diginity is better protected, but these girls are not so lucky.

2) This is an issue that involves how the poor are treated in our world. Poor people are taken advantaged of in all sorts of ways. They are exploited in the work place, disadvantaged in the economic, political, and educational system. Poor people are often treated as means for other people to make a buck. And agreeing to marry in this way is one more way of being exploited by people who are stronger and richer and more clever than them.

3) Finally, this is an issue that involves women. In society, girls and women are often the ones who have to face all sorts of discrimination. For example, in Vietnam, if all the children in the family cannot go to school, most of the time, it’s the daughter who has to quit first while the boy is allowed to continue studying. Similarly, many girls who agree to marry foreign men do so as a sacrifice for their family. In the U.S. where society is supposed to be more advanced and equal, statistics indicate that women continue to make lower salary than men, even though they are not necessarily doing less work. And in many countries throughout the world, women are being mistreated in unimaginable ways.

In Australia where you are living, maybe the problem of Vietnamese brides is not easily seen. But we don’t have to see the problem of Vietnamese brides in order to see that there are many other problems, and many of them have to do with the way we treat our fellow human beings, the way we treat the poor, and the way we treat women.
In this article, I would like to address a challenge to you to look around you and see what ways other people are being exploited or mistreated simply because they are poor or weak. We may not be able to solve the problems of Vietnamese brides from where we are, but we can certainly do something about the problems that are immediately around us – in our family, in our neighborhood, and in our city. Anywhere we live, there are organizations set up to address the social issues in our world. We can even set up our own groups to tackle the problems. All it takes is looking around to see what group we can join to help.

We can also do something about our own heart and the way we look at other people. How do we feel about the poor people in our midst? When we walk on the street and see homeless people, is our heart filled with compassion or fear and disdain? Are we apathetic when we witness other people mistreated? If everyone starts out by changing our hearts and solving the problems closest to us, then eventually all the problems in the world can be taken care of. And that includes the problem of Vietnamese girls being put on display in stores for customers to browse and take their pick.

(Dân Chúa Úc Châu, số tháng 7.2007)

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