When the 40-year-old Cam-bodian-American bride-to-be landed in Phnom Penh at 10:30 am Tuesday, she was flying high.
There to greet her was the man she had been in love with for more than a year, despite their distance—she lives in Wichita, US, he in Kampot province—and whom she had never met face-to-face. They were to be married in a matter of days.
The ceremony was planned for Friday, and with only two weeks’ vacation from the meat processing plant where she works for an hourly wage of $11.50, it was important that all the wedding plans go according to schedule.
But by the time she got through with the US embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon, the bride-to-be was close to despair: She had learned of the Cambodian government’s recent suspension of marriages between Cambodians and foreigners and that it applied equally to men and women.
“I am very upset,” the bride-to-be, who asked to remain anonymous, said Tuesday afternoon inside the embassy’s consular offices.
“We like each other, then we fall in love and then we plan to marry. Now, here I am…. After today, I don’t have time until next year,” she said.
“I’m not a man. Why they put that on a woman?” she asked. “He loves me and I love him…. It’s not because he wants to leave Cambodia.”
The Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking police chief, Bith Kim-hong, confirmed Monday that the suspension of marriages between Cambodians and foreigners applies to everyone, regardless of gender.
“I want to add that the ministry’s order is also including men as well,” he said by telephone.
In a March 29 directive from the Ministry of Interior, the government suspended marriages between foreigners and Cambo-dians in a proclaimed effort to curb the trafficking of poor, disadvantaged women to foreign countries through marriage brokerage agencies that make large profits.
To “curb negative activities and to improve the nation’s and girls’ reputations and value, the Interior Ministry has issued the order…to temporarily suspend the issuing of permission and marriage certificates for Cambodian citizens to get married to foreigners until there is a new order,” the directive states.
The issue received international attention following the recent release of an International Or-ganization for Migration report focusing on the vulnerability of Cambodian brides going to South Korea in increasing numbers.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Monday that the government is working collaboratively to strengthen procedures by which foreigners can marry Cambodians, and that there is no word yet on when the suspension will be lifted.
US Embassy spokesperson Jeff Daigle declined to comment on the specific case mentioned, but said they had received some reports of US citizens unable to obtain marriage permits from their commune chiefs.
“We generally support Cam-bodia’s efforts to combat human trafficking in all its forms, and we hope the suspension will be of a limited duration,” he wrote by