A Japanese man accused of having 18 young wives in 1999 has bolstered his stable to 44, and authorities say little can be done to stop him.
The Siem Reap man, called “Mr JI.O,” according to a report by the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights, has been swiftly procuring wives through the help of a local tourist guide called “Mr Bot,” paying as much as $10,000 to the families of the girls.
“I will ask the authorities to take strict measures against the Japanese man,” said Yim Po, executive director of the center. The center’s report was issued to government authorities, human rights groups and Minister of Womens and Veterans Affairs Mu Suchua.
Siem Reap authorities confirmed Sunday they knew of the man and his marriages, but believed they could do nothing to stop him because no complaints had been lodged by any of the families.
The arrangements are made through Mr Bot, who receives as much as $2,000 for procurement, the report states. He also acts as the distributor of the cash to the families, according to the center’s investigation.
Mr JI.O also gives the families gifts such as motorbikes and houses, Siem Reap Governor Chap Nhalivuth said.
“This man did not force them to marry,” he said. “I don’t know how he did it with all those families, but we could not stop him from marrying.”
Mr JI.O, who could not be reached for comment, has told authorities he loves the girls, and wants to help improve their living conditions, Chap Nhalivuth said.
Nanda Pok, executive director for Women for Prosperity, said everybody has a right to get married, with proper licenses, but that foreigners must have permission from their embassy.
“But our government is careless about this, or corrupt authorities are involved,” she said.
“This case affects women’s honor,” she said. “If the Japanese man wants to help those women, he should not cheapen them like this.”
Authorities said that in none of the unofficial “weddings” were licenses issued at the commune level. A man may have only one legal wife, according to Cambodian law.
A Japanese Embassy official said he was unfamiliar with the case, referring questions to another official who is currently out of the country.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, called the unusual arrangements “a bit of a gray area.”
If the marriages are not legally binding, and the man is just exploiting an impoverished area, no legal action can be taken without a complaint from families.
“If [a person] can go to a brothel more than 40 times,” she asked, “why not have more than 40 wives?”
“I do not support that process,” she said. “But it’s nothing to condemn either.” But if minors are involved, it becomes another matter, she said.
The presence of minors around Mr JI.O was the main source of concern for the child protection center, and the reason for the investigation.
“Most of the wives who married Mr JI.O were minors,” the report states. They organized very small wedding feasts “without the official permission from the local authorities.”
Mr JI.O’s collection of wives consists of girls as young as 14, all of whom receive monthly support from their benefactor, the center says. If the girls break from him and remarry, the report states, “he stops providing monthly financial support to those girls immediately.”
Mr JI.O is thought to have moved to Cambodia in 1995, probably as a tourist. At the time, informants for the Child Center reported, he was covered with lesions and bruises. It is possible, the center suggests, that he believes intercourse with young virgins keeps him healthy.
He also reportedly has a 60-year-old guru who claims to be able to cure all diseases including AIDS. The center suspects Mr JI.O has spent as much as $300,000 on his wives. (Additional reporting by Brian Calvert)