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Phnom Penh Bans Marriages Between Cambodian Women and South Korean Men

The Cambodian authorities have banned marriages between Cambodian women and South Korean men because of concerns the women are at risk of being trafficked and abused.

Two years ago Cambodia imposed an eight-month ban on women here marrying South Korean men for fear that some were being trafficked and perhaps forced into the sex trade or abused.

This month Phnom Penh again banned the marriages.

The ban follows the conviction earlier this month of a Cambodian woman for brokering 25 marriages in exchange for cash, which is illegal.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman says the government wants to ensure marriages are genuine and there is no risk of trafficking. The government says it will lift ban once measures are in place to prevent trafficking.

Ministry of Interior Secretary of State Chou Bun Eng leads the government's anti-trafficking committee.

She says Cambodian women already living in South Korea sometimes encourage impoverished friends back home.

"They learn about the other women who got married already and have gone there, and they just communicate with each other and say 'I am now happy, I am rich,' so you see they just learn from each other and try, you know."

Chou Bun Eng says the problem marriages are in large part driven by economics and poverty.

"Many people dream to work abroad. For example they apply to be a labor force in South Korea because they think that there they will have high wage and some of them do not have capacity to apply to be at any job."

Forty years ago the economies of Cambodia and South Korea were closely matched.

But since then, Cambodia suffered through decades of war and the murderous Khmer Rouge government.

South Korea is today far richer than Cambodia, and increasing urbanization in South Korea means there is a shortage of women in rural areas.

The number of Cambodian women marrying South Korean men has risen steadily in recent years. In 2004 just 72 marriage licenses were issued, but by 2007 the number had rocketed to more than 1,700.

That prompted the International Organization for Migration to suggest the matchmaking game had become a money-making racket, with brokers taking big fees to arrange such marriages and women at risk of harm.

After the first ban, the number of licences issued dropped by two-thirds, but it was not long before it picked up again. Last year the Cambodian government issued around 1,400 licenses to women marrying South Koreans.