Rights Workers: Brides Exploited in Taiwan

Three Cambodian women who migrated to Taiwan through marriage brokers in 2005 have re-turned to Cambodia after being exploited for labor, rights workers said Tuesday.

Lux Sovann, 24, who returned to Cambodia on May 13, and Lorn Lay Heang, 26, and Khoeun Khim, 22, both of whom arrived May 14, were assisted in returning by Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, a local organization that worked with Tai­wanese police and an NGO in Taiwan.

The three returned brides initially traveled to Vietnam in January 2005, after a marriage broker in their home town in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district told them they could marry Taiwanese men who would give them better lives in Taiwan, CARAM executive director Navuth Ya said.

Once in Taiwan, however, the women were handed over to Taiwanese businessmen who subsequently forced them into labor situations where they worked exceptionally long hours for minimal pay under the threat of violent abuse, he said.

“Those girls are victims of labor exploitation…. The girls could not save money despite being forced to work long hours in butcher shops selling pork and poultry products,” he said, adding that they were each obliged to pay Taiwanese officials $3,300 to ensure their return to Cambodia.

Cambodian brides migrating abroad through marriage—and the unregulated brokers that often arrange these transactions—have attracted much attention recently as a result of an International Or-ganization for Migration report issued in March that focused on the growing numbers of Cam­bodian brides heading to South Korea.

The government has subsequently banned marriages be­tween Cambodians and foreigners pending legislation to better regulate the process.

IOM project coordinator John McGeoghan said the brides re-turning from Taiwan illustrate how widespread marriage brokers have become and highlight the need for regional efforts on the issue.

“These types of issues are popping up everywhere at the mo­ment,” he said, referring to anecdotal cases of marriage brokers working in Vietnam and Laos.

But there is reason to believe Cambodian brides in Taiwan face higher than average risks of abuse because Cambodia does not recognize Taiwan in accordance with its strict One China Policy.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs Secretary of State You Ay could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said at a closed-door meeting on May 22 that the Cambodian government was not in a position to directly help Cambodian victims of trafficking in Taiwan but encourages NGOs to do so.

Rights workers complain that the lack of diplomatic relations with Taiwan has made it extremely difficult to gather accurate information on the number of Cam-bodian brides on the island and to help those that need it. And there is good reason to think many do, according to the Cam­bodian Women’s Crisis Center.

In April 2007, CWCC Secretary-General Nop Sarin Sreiroth visited Taiwan and interviewed 21 Cambodian brides; two reported being sold into slave-like labor situations, and most reported physical and sexual abuse.

Taiwanese officials estimated there were 5,219 Cambodian brides in Taiwan, Nop Sarin Sreiroth said Tuesday.

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