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和平
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MIGRATION

ASIA
26 March 2014

Lonely Man

Marriage migration in East Asia

Migration by women from developing Asia for marriage with men in rich Asian countries is now a dynamic form of migration in East Asia. But it has also become a new avenue for human trafficking.

Migration by women from developing Asian countries like China, the Philippines and Vietnam for marriage with men from rich Asian countries (Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) is now the most dynamic form of permanent migration in East Asia. It has also become a new and growing avenue for human trafficking.

All things considered, could marriage migration help create useful connections that might contribute to creating a real Asian community?

A few decades ago, "marriage migration" was virtually non-existant in East Asia. It started in Japan in the 1980s, and then spread to Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. In the years to come, China, today a major source for brides, will likely become a destination for marriage migration. While marriage migrants can meet their spouse through tourism, work or even chance encounters, a large share are organized through commercial brokers.

Marriage migration has accounted for one-quarter of permanent migration in recent years in Japan, and one half in Korea. (In reality, most migration is of a "temporary" nature in East Asia.)

Indeed, in the mid-2000s, more than 6 per cent of Japanese marriages were between Japanese men and women from China or the Philippines, the main origin countries for migrant brides. In recent years, one in 12 Korean grooms married a woman from a less developed country, notably the Philippines or Vietnam. In Taiwan, one in eight marriages involved a Taiwanese man and a woman from a less developed country, like Indonesia, Vietnam or China. In Singapore, international marriages accounted for 30-40 per cent of total marriages between 1999 and 2009.

Why this boom in marriage migration?

The marriage market is like all markets, a question of supply and demand. And in the advanced countries of East Asia, we have witnessed a growing reluctance of some educated women to get married.

Improved job opportunities mean that many "modern" Asian women have the financial means to escape the burdens of "traditional" society which dictate that women are expected to take care of all household chores and care for parents-in-law. Cultural norms, particularly of the parents-in-law generation, are changing much more slowly than female job markets.

Kawaguchi and Lee estimate that in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, a college-educated woman is 50% to 200% more likely to remain single than her counterpart with no tertiary degree. In 2005, one out of every six women between the ages of 35 and 39, in both Japan and Taiwan, was single, as was one out of ten Korean women between the ages of 30 and 44. (Asian women generally prefer "hypergamy" whereby they seek a spouse of equal or high socio-economic status.)

Men with a low socio-economic status (farmer or lower-skilled job) are more likely to have an immigrant wife, rather than a native one, even though many immigrant wives have college degrees. For the period examined, there was not an overall shortage of women, raw gender ratios were balanced -- it was a question of the willingness of native women to marry.

Marriage migration is not mainly a rural phenomenon, although it has been promoted by some local governments concerned by rural exodus and depopulation. In Japan, most foreign brides are concentrated in Tokyo and other industrial metropolitan areas. Older divorced or widowed men, who have difficulty finding wives, are another group that has been marrying immigrants.

Despite the shortage of domestic and care labor, the Japanese government does not issue working visas to migrant domestic workers. As a result, Chinese, Filipinas and Korean women are entering Japan as marriage migrants in search of employment. And, more generally, marriage can sometimes be the simplest and least expensive way to migrate in East Asia, where barriers to permanent migration are very strict. In other words, there can be many bogus marriages.

Another factor behind the "marriage deficit" has been shrinking youth populations, as birth rates decline, which is already playing a role in Singapore and Taiwan, since men generally marry younger women. Over the next decade, such marriage deficits will open up in Korea and China.

In many countries, this effect is being exacerbated as married couples, especially in China and India, choose to have more boys than girls, thanks to both modern ultrasound technology and also infanticide. While the usual gender ratio at birth is about 105 males per female, the ratio in China is now 119.5 males per female, and in India 108.7. Since China and India comprise about 40% of the world's population, the migration effects on neighboring countries could be enormous in the future.

Another driver of marriage migration now is women in poor developing countries, who have seen friends and neighbors receiving remittances from women who have migrated for marriage, and who see marriage migration as a path out of poverty for them and their family. They may also be persuaded by their families who look forward to receiving financial remittances. Thus, these women seek out marriage brokers who play the key intermediary role in organizing marriage migration, and claim large fees from future husbands.

This means that anything can and does happen. Some marriage brokers are honest and the women secure good marriages offering a better life than at home. Other marriage brokers can deceive or even kidnap the women. They may ultimately be matched with a different husband from the one promised, or become a modern day slave, being subject forced labor, physical abuse or even being sold into a brothel, with their passport being withheld. Asia has long been a global hot spot for human trafficking, especially for its sex industry.

So to what extent could marriage migration help create useful connections that might contribute to creating a real Asian community?

As with all types of migration, it is not always smooth sailing, with "marriage trafficking" being the worst case scenario.

Even in the best of circumstances, the women can feel loneliness, culture shock, language barriers and discrimination upon arrival. It may not be easy to deal with a man who she does not know, and whose family may have many expectations regarding her responsibilities. Most husbands are very much older than the brides, and may not have been able to find a wife because they are "less preferred" in their own society.

It is not surprising that divorce rates are high, and that some women feel obliged to escape their plight. Immigrant wives often have problems integrating into the economy and society, although immigrant wives are becoming a sub-society unto their own, who can provide mutual support. And migrant support organizations (NGOs) are becoming more active.

All that said, very many migrant marriages do succeed, and there is no let up in the business. Migrant wives may be treated no less badly by their husbands than they would be in their home country, and they have a powerful incentive in sending remittances back to their families.

In conclusion, over time, marriage migration does have the potential to challenge East Asia's dominant ideology of ethnic and national purity, introduce greater mixity in different countries' ethnic structures, and create deeper bonds between countries -- thereby creating useful connections that might contribute to creating a real Asian community over time.

At the same time, if projected marriage deficits and expected marriage migration trends come to pass, they could also generate tensions through competition for scarce wives, as is already happening in Cambodia.

To see how this all plays out, we will just have to wait and see.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
www.asiancenturyinstitute.com
Tags: asia, migration, marriage migration, human trafficking

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