Mar­riages Made in Hell

Poor Nepalese women are duped into ty­ing the con­ju­gal knot with equally poor Chi­nese and Korean men.

Southasia - - CONTENTS -

In this day and age, where an abun­dance of re­sources as well as the avail­abil­ity of up­dated de­vel­op­men­tal meth­ods is en­abling nu­mer­ous coun­tries around the world to reach the height of their po­ten­tial, Nepal re­mains one of the poor­est coun­tries as per a study con­ducted by the Ru­ral Poverty Por­tal, a brain­child of the In­ter­na­tional Fund for Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment (IFAD).

The study cites state­ments made in the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme’s Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­port 2013 about con­di­tions re­lated to living stan­dards, un­em­ploy­ment and a lack of ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties, es­pe­cially in the coun­try’s ru­ral ar­eas. The re­port ranks Nepal 157th out of 187 coun­tries with a Hu­man Devel­op­ment In­dex of just 0.463. Although the over­all poverty rate for Nepal is 25%, the fig­ure in­creases to 45% in the mid-west­ern re­gion and 46% in the far-west­ern re­gion.

Nearly 80% of Nepal’s peo­ple live in ru­ral ar­eas and are de­pen­dent on sub­sis­tence farm­ing as a source for their liveli­hoods. Ac­cord­ing to an­other na­tional living stan­dards sur­vey con­ducted dur­ing 2010-2011, nearly 30% of Nepalese are cur­rently living on

less than US$14 per per­son per month. To add to th­ese de­plorable con­di­tions, many ru­ral Nepalese come from large fam­i­lies with lit­tle or no ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Dis­ease is ram­pant, thereby re­sult­ing in the preva­lence of a very high death rate which fur­ther com­pounds the prob­lem­atic cir­cum­stances faced by the Nepalese.

When faced by such ad­verse con­di­tions, it is only nat­u­ral for most ru­ral Nepalese to look to­wards other av­enues that could help them im­prove their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and ul­ti­mately pro­vide a bet­ter life for them­selves as well as their fam­i­lies. One of many means, and per­haps the most popular, by which they en­able them­selves to do so is through so-called ‘pa­per mar­riages’.

To­day, a grow­ing num­ber of Nepalese women be­long­ing to ru­ral ar­eas, marred by poor living stan­dards and hav­ing vir­tu­ally no ac­cess to proper san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties are opt­ing for such ar­range­ments through makeshift mar­riage bu­reaus. For a price, th­ese sham in­sti­tu­tions prom­ise such women chances for a bet­ter life abroad, com­plete with a com­fort­able home and lu­cra­tive job op­por­tu­ni­ties, in ex­change for mar­riage con­tracts be­tween them and Chi­nese and Korean men look­ing for brides.

The in­cen­tive for Nepalese women is high; bet­ter living stan­dards with the best ameni­ties imag­in­able as well as the chance to work and send money back to their des­ti­tute and ail­ing par­ents. Un­for­tu­nately, what is wait­ing for them on the other side is a far cry from what they ex­pect. Ac­cord­ing to many hu­man rights groups, a num­ber of Nepalese women, who agree to marry com­plete strangers in the hope of lead­ing bet­ter lives, even­tu­ally find their sit­u­a­tion to be any­thing but. One of th­ese women is Su­nita Ku­lung Rai*, who agreed to marry a Chi­nese suitor and move to China.

With vi­sions of a mod­ern city with the best fa­cil­i­ties, Su­nita’s hopes and dreams came crash­ing down when, upon ar­riv­ing at her des­ti­na­tion, she found an even tougher life than the one she had left be­hind. Un­like what her agent told her, her hus­band, whom she had met only once in Nepal, was not a civil ser­vant on his way up; he was a land­less farmer with no steady in­come. She was im­pris­oned by her in-laws, who would beat her mer­ci­lessly, while her hus­band sex­u­ally abused her against her will. “I wanted to get my fam­ily out of poverty,” said Su­nita. “I was told by the agents in Nepal that within one or two months of com­ing here, I would be able to work and earn money on my own.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent of the Nepal Po­lice and Head of the Cen­tral In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (CIB), Ki­ran Ba­jracharya, the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion came to a head when re­ports of a young Nepalese woman and her Chi­nese hus­band’s home in Harbin were re­vealed. This prompted the Nepalese po­lice to con­duct a raid of sev­eral mar­riage bu­reaus dur­ing which records emerged of five young Nepalese girls, aged be­tween 17 and 22, be­ing pre­pared to fly to meet their prospec­tive hus­bands, who were twice their age, in China and South Korea. It was es­ti­mated that an­other 15-20 girls were in the process of be­ing mar­ried off by the same bureau. “Most of the girls don’t even know the name of their hus­bands and what they do,” said Ba­jracharya. “They have been com­pletely brain­washed.”

Mar­riage across the Bor­der Ac­cord­ing to Nil­am­bar Badal, Pro­gramme Direc­tor at the Kath­man­dubased Asian Hu­man Rights and Cul­ture Devel­op­ment Fo­rum (AHRCDF), an NGO work­ing on migration is­sues, pa­per mar­riages con­ducted across the bor­der, or ‘transna­tional mar­riages’ have grown to be­come a se­ri­ous hu­man traf­fick­ing prob­lem. Though it is dif­fi­cult to find statis­tics on an emerg­ing is­sue such as this, it is still es­ti­mated that at least 1000 fe­male mi­grant work­ers en­tered South Korea with the help of th­ese mar­riage bu­reaus be­tween 2005 and 2013. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (CIB) of Nepal, there are at least 84 mar­riage bu­reaus, most of which are con­cen­trated in Kathmandu.

Pre­vi­ously found in coun­tries such as Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia and the Philip­pines, the trend of pa­per mar­riages has now shifted to China and South Korea, with an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese and South Korean men de­mand­ing young Nepalese brides for mar­riage. This is a di­rect re­sult of a ‘mul­ti­cul­tural devel­op­ment pol­icy’ cre­ated by the South Korean gov­ern­ment in 2006 that en­cour­aged un­em­ployed, di­vorced and un­mar­ried South Korean males to look to­wards for­eign coun­tries for brides as op­posed to those from South Korea, as many girls pre­ferred build­ing a ca­reer rather than be­com­ing a house­wife.

As per the pol­icy, the South Kore­ans wanted at least 1,000,000 for­eign brides by 2020. This re­sulted in the open­ing of a num­ber of crude mar­riage bu­reaus with agents who lure young ru­ral Nepalese women with prom­ises of a pros­per­ous life with enough money for them to help their fam­i­lies come out of poverty. On the other end of the spec­trum, th­ese agents con­vince their clients in China and South Korea that mar­ry­ing a Nepalese bride would be much cheaper as com­pared to mar­ry­ing a woman from their own coun­try. Many of th­ese so-called suit­ors are from ru­ral ar­eas them­selves and are, hence, un­able to make ends meet. In ad­di­tion, the pres­sures of be­ing un­able to find a Chi­nese bride who would bear a child and help look af­ter their aging par­ents are enough to drive them to such ar­range­ments, which can cost any­where be­tween $15,000 to $25,000.

The So­lu­tion Re­gard­less of what the num­bers say, many rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Nepalese gov­ern­ment and hu­man rights agen­cies agree that mea­sures must be taken to root out this dread­ful men­ace. “We can­not com­pletely stop the mar­riage be­tween a for­eigner and a Nepalese girl, but we can bring mea­sures that dis­cour­age young girls from fall­ing into traps through fake prom­ises,” ex­plained Badal. He fur­ther elab­o­rated that there was a need for ba­sic checks and bal­ances that would make it dif­fi­cult for such mar­riages to take place. Coun­sel­ing geared to­wards mak­ing Nepalese women aware of what they are get­ting them­selves into should be made manda­tory.

The pos­si­ble benefits of th­ese mea­sures notwith­stand­ing, the core is­sue seems to be the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties at home which is one of the ma­jor rea­sons that drives Nepalese women to opt for such ar­range­ments. “There is des­per­a­tion among Nepalese women to go abroad to earn money to sup­port them­selves and their fam­i­lies,” said Sa­pana Prad­han Malla, a lawyer and women’s rights ac­tivist with the Kathmandu-based Fo­rum for Women, Law and Devel­op­ment. “Both men and women don’t have al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in­side the coun­try to sup­port the poverty-rid­den fam­i­lies so they are forced to take up any op­tion that fa­cil­i­tates en­try into a for­eign coun­try.”

For­tu­nately for many Nepalese women, both gov­ern­ments have be­gun to take this is­sue very se­ri­ously as many high-level gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have pushed for stricter ac­tions and ‘proper legal frame­works’ in or­der to bridge the grow­ing in­equal­ity be­tween men and women in the coun­try.

Yet, for women like Su­nita*, it may al­ready be a bit too late. A year into her mar­riage, she gave birth to a baby. Her hus­band threat­ens that if she wishes to re­turn to Nepal, she must first pay him the US$16,000 in­vest­ment he made to marry her in the first place. She must also leave her new­born baby be­hind. “I was told that my Chi­nese hus­band would love me and take care of me,” lamented Su­nita. “But in­stead, I was duped into a fake mar­riage that has ended up mak­ing me a cap­tive in a for­eign land.” M.F.

*Names have been changed to pro­tect the pri­vacy of in­di­vid­u­als.

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