The South Korean embassy has denied accusations by the Cambodian government that Korean marriage brokerage companies in Cambodia have engaged in human trafficking, an embassy official said Sunday.
In a statement published in Saturday’s Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily, the ambassador from South Korea, Shin Hyun-suk, expressed regret that Cambodian officials have used the term “human trafficking” to identify what are legally permitted unions in what he called “married life in the era of globalization.”
The Cambodian government indefinitely banned marriages between Cambodians and foreigners from all countries on March 29, following the release of an International Organization of Migration report warning of the vulnerability of Cambodian brides, who have been flocking to South Korea in increasing numbers over the past several years.
“I have so far never heard those words of threats, kidnapping, deception and abuse using force, or taking a chance when the victims are weak…for the purpose of making business in marriages between Cambodians and Koreans. They all married of their own free will, according to the procedures of both countries,” Shin said in the statement.
While he admitted that “some aspects of the system of international marriages…need to be improved and corrected,” Shin said the IOM report focused disproportionately on a small number of failed marriages and “it is completely regrettable that Cambodian officials used the words of ‘human trafficking’ for international marriages between Cambodians and Koreans.”
Reached by telephone Sunday afternoon, South Korean Embassy Second Secretary Kim In-kook said he didn’t want to pass judgment on the marriage ban, but that the statement was meant to clarify the legality of the marriages that have come under scrutiny as a result.
“We just wanted to help readers understand that, in reality, these marriages are not human trafficking,” he said before declining to comment further.
Bith Kimhong, director of the anti-human trafficking police department at the Interior Ministry, said Sunday that while he hasn’t seen evidence of Cambodian brides being exploited in South Korea, he considered marriage brokerage in general to be a form of human trafficking.
“To the Ministry of Interior, marriage through brokers is a kind of human trafficking,” he said, adding that the large unregulated sums of money exchanged between husbands, brokers and brides’ families sets up a system ripe for abuse.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Chin Bunthoeun said Sunday that he hadn’t seen the South Korean embassy statement but added that the government has observed a few instances of trafficking of Cambodians to South Korea.
“The government just wanted to combat human trafficking,” he said of the recent marriage ban.
IOM project coordinator John McGeoghan said Sunday afternoon that he stands by the IOM report, which he said focuses on the brides’ vulnerability to exploitation but does not explicitly accuse anyone of human trafficking.
“We haven’t accused anyone of human trafficking. We just said that most of these weddings are happening in the informal sector without proper procedures or information,” he said, adding that despite a small number of failed marriages in South Korea involving abuse, there “hasn’t been one concrete case of human trafficking.”
“We just wanted to throw light on an issue that needed to have light thrown on it,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)