'Brides are not commodities'
Rights groups want more help for foreign brides, such as matchmaker accreditation, marriage preparation courses. -TNP
Buying a bride is nothing new.
Neither is the issue of protecting the women who leave their families and friends in the hope of marrying someone who can care and provide for them.
Sarah (not her real name), a Vietnamese in her 30s, married a Singaporean man some years ago.
He took her home, where she was expected to do all the chores and care for her elderly in-laws and her husband's sickly sibling.
Even when she was pregnant, there was no relief.
She still had to handle all the chores.
When her father-in-law died, her husband and his family blamed her for bringing bad luck to them.
Her husband physically abused her and during Chinese New Year last year, the family chased her out.
Sarah turned to the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants andItinerant People (ACMI), which gave her shelter.
She returned to her husband a week later.
She has since given birth and they are still together.
ACMI executive director Jeremy Khoo, 44, told The New Paper yesterday: "She is resilient and tough and she knows where to seek help.
"The challenge for these foreign brides is that they are here alone. There is very little support or community, they have no friends and can't speak English or Mandarin."
ACMI was started in June 1998 by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore to help migrants regardless of race, language, or religion.
This year alone, it has received eight calls from foreign brides.
When compared to the 30 cases it handled last year, the figure is a cause for concern, said Mr Khoo.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received seven complaints against matchmakers last year, up from just two theyear before.
The complainants were unhappy because the prospective brides either refused to marry them or wanted to return home due to language barrier, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.
Others complained about the agencies refusing to refund their money.
Besides risking an unhappy marriage, the women also face problems when their husbands divorce them or die.
Said Mr Khoo: "If she is not yet a permanent resident or citizen, she would be on a social visit pass.
"If she has children holding Singaporean citizenship, it becomes more complex."
In the event of a divorce, the women have to fight for their children and rights without much financial help, Mr Khoo said.
He added: "If she is on a social visit pass, she can stay for three to six months. How can she fight for maintenance and her kids if she has to go home?"
Mr Khoo added that to improve the matchmaking process, both parties should attend a marriage preparation course, just like a regular Singaporean couple.
He said: "The course can help the couple with normal husband-and-wife issues, cultural and language differences. It can also help the foreign bride adjust.
Cut off from world
"Unlike local women, they have very little avenues for assistance and are possibly unaware of them in the first place. They are cut off from the world, without any friends or family.
"How depressed would you be? It's ironic because they come looking for happiness," he said.
Mr Jolovan Wham of Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (Home) agreed that the women shouldn't be treated like commodities.
He said: "The agents can promise the girls a good life, a nice husband and money. But when they arrive, the reality can be worse.
"They can face abusive husbands. If their family has paid a lot of money or made a lot of sacrifices to let them leave the country and come to Singapore, they might feel compelled to remain in the abusive marriage."
Ms Poonam Mirchandani, chairman of women's group Aware's foreign brides sub-committee, said another issue is that the woman does not know the groom's background.
"By marrying a man from an unfamiliar country, particularly through a matchmaking agency, she is usually not in a position to screen him as much as she is screened," she said.
"For instance, she may not know if he has a criminal record, is a bigamist or has a history of mental illness.
"Many men who feel that they have bought their wives feel they can do anything with them - some are locked up at home or treated like maid-cum-sex partners."
Calling for regulation of the matchmaking industry, Ms Mirchandani asked for a code of ethics and guidelines to be implemented.
"Aware also calls for the setting up of a quasi-government body to accredit such matchmaking agencies and assist in the affairs, including a helpline for foreign brides who don't know what to do or where to go for support and counsel cases of abuse or hopelessness."
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