Expert Commentary

Domestic violence, exploitation in marriage and the foreign-bride industry

2011 report published in the Virginia Journal of International Law on the commonalities behind two major “bride markets.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the human-trafficking industry is the second largest criminal industry in the world, with $32 billion in annual profits. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 2.3 million victims annually, while the U.S. State Department puts the figure at 12.3 million. While enforcement of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the U.N.’s Palermo Protocols can prevent some crimes, stopping exploitative practices that operate under the guise of the foreign-bride industry remains particularly challenging.

A 2011 report published in the Virginia Journal of International Law, “Trafficked: Domestic Violence, Exploitation in Marriage and the Foreign-Bride Industry,” examines the commonalities behind two major “bride markets” — the trade from North Korea to China, and Internet-based international pathways to the United States — and looks at common sociological threads. Based on those findings, the report makes legal recommendations.

The report’s key points include:

  • Nearly two-thirds of the thousands of North Korean refugees hiding in China are women; up to 80% are trafficked into marriages and exploitative labor.
  • Though women fleeing North Korea are considered refugees under international law, China regularly deports them. Traffickers and Chinese grooms exploit these threats of arrest and deportation and leverage “intimidation, geographic and cultural isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and threats against their children.”
  • According to the U.S. government, in 2009 alone 27,754 foreign fiancées and 15,419 foreign spouses were admitted to the United States on “K1” or “K3” visas.
  • Up to 50% of such women likely met their husbands through international marriage brokers.
  • U.S. grooms are “typically white, educated, politically or ideologically conservative, economically and professionally successful, and in their late 30s and 40s.” Most brides come from economically disadvantaged origins, in places such as Eastern Europe, Russia or the Philippines.
  • Brides found through international marriage brokers face high levels of domestic violence. They are vulnerable because of their “isolation, citizenship status, economic dependence, and the psychological use of [their] children.” Due to the structure of U.S. immigration laws, the process remains subject to the husband’s control.

The author notes that proponents of the foreign bride industry often cite principles such as the rights to privacy and liberty. The evidence suggests, however, that the process often involves “fraudulent promises of employment or ‘happy marriage’” and constitutes trafficking under international law.

Keywords: law, poverty, sex crimes, human rights, international law, violence against women, foreign-bride industry, international marriage brokers, north korean refugee women, palermo protocol, trafficking victim’s protection act, foreign-bride industry, bride trafficking, exploitation in marriage

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