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Marriages with foreign women in East Asia: bride trafficking or voluntary migration?

Population and Societies

469, July-august 2010

In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, where it is difficult for some men to find a spouse in their home country, a growing number of wives are brought in from abroad. Immigration of this kind has developed rapidly in recent years. Danièle Bélanger explains the reasons behind this influx of foreign women and its demographic consequences.

A growing number of East Asian men marry a bride from a foreign country. In the late 2000s, marriages in which the wives were of foreign origin accounted for 15% of new unions in Taiwan, 8% in South Korea and 6% in Japan. The largest group of immigrant spouses in these countries come from the People’s Republic of China. Vietnamese women are the second largest group of immigrant spouses in South Korea and Taiwan, and likewise for Filippino women in Japan.The  quest for spouses abroad stems from the difficulties encountered by men in their own countries. Women are increasingly unwilling to accept the traditional role of wife and mother, with an unequal division of tasks between spouses and, in many cases, the obligation to leave their job.
Matchmaking agencies play a key role in the rapid increase of these marriages. A large majority of foreign spouses who migrate to get married do so of their own accord and not because of parental pressure. Their objectives are to marry and migrate. Like most migrants from developing countries, they hope that migration will enable them to send money back to their families and to improve their own lives.

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