‘Suicide’ Shines Light on Brokered Marriages

IN A DISTURBING EXAMPLE of a brokered marriage gone wrong, a Vietnamese woman was found dead shortly after divorcing from her South Korean husband in what appears to be a suicide. But a number of confounding details have trickled out of the case, says the JoongAng Daily, leading to a police investigation and drawing attention to problems plaguing the marriage industry.

Back in February 2007, I discussed a growing trend of South Korean men heading to Vietnam and other SE Asian nations seeking brides, and posed questions about whether these women were being treated as commodities. The death of Tran Than Lan certainly makes an argument for the affirmative; her marriage to a man identified only as Ha dissolved after about a week. No considerations appear to have been made for the language barrier, and a series of difficulties ensued:

[Tran’s] diary, written from Jan. 17 to 29, revealed the typical problems in marriages between rural Korean men and women from developing countries.

“My husband slapped me across my face,” Tran wrote, “maybe because I didn’t do the chores the way he taught me. But I still don’t know what he’s talking about.”

The initial investigation showed that Tran “jumped ― or somehow fell ― on Feb. 6 from the 14th-floor balcony of the apartment she shared briefly with her husband.” She was 22-years-old.

Tran’s mother, Huynh Kim Anh, says that when the matchmaker who brokered the marriage between her daughter and Ha called to inform her that Tran was dead, she refused permission to have the body cremated. But it was too late; Tran’s remains were incinerated the day before.

Ahn is now in Korea searching for answers about her daughter’s death. Another mysterious aspect of the case is that Tran bought a ticket back to Vietnam the day before she was found dead — unusual behavior for someone contemplating suicide.

It appears not much has changed since last year. Resources to help foreign brides adapt to Korean life were largely absent then, as they appear to be now. This is irresponsible. While the local government may have little room (and little right) to interfere in issues of marriage, it has a duty to make sure its citizens — Korean-born and otherwise — are healthy and safe.

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