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Marriage brokers face tough new regulations

Mar 16,2010
Stiff guidelines for international matchmaking agencies serving Korean men were announced yesterday by Korea’s antitrust agency.

Such matchmaking businesses - which match men from rural areas unable to find local wives with women from developing countries hoping to come to Korea - have met a barrage of consumer complaints in recent years. Charges include demanding excessive fees from desperate Korean men, offering little information about potential partners including ages, disabilities and marriage histories and refusing to return fees when clients do not receive promised services.

According to the guidelines announced by the Fair Trade Commission, agencies will have to return a portion of their clients’ up-front payments if they demand it, or arrange new blind dates if their clients get divorced from their spouses because of incorrect, or a lack of, essential information provided by the agencies. The companies will also be banned from asking for additional fees not detailed in the contract with their male clients before their would-be brides are brought to Korea.

In one complaint filed with the government, a Korean man, whose name and age were not disclosed, signed a contract in January 2009 with a local agency to make separate payments of $1,700 and 10 million won ($8,810) on top of an up-front fee of 3 million won if he were to marry one of the women introduced by the agency. He decided to wed a Vietnamese woman he met through the agency and paid the promised fees. But the agency dragged its feet for months and asked him for a never-before-mentioned additional $1,600 for marriage paperwork and the bride’s airfare.

Another man, whose personal details also were undisclosed, paid an up-front fee of 10 million won to the matchmaking agency in 2006, flew to Uzbekistan in August and married a Uzbek woman. He paid 3 million won dowry, forked over 6 million won in wedding costs and an additional 1 million won for a dental checkup for his bride. He returned home alone and waited for the bride, after sorting out her immigration-related paperwork. But the bride never arrived, and the matchmaking agency only said her whereabouts were unknown. It refused to return the man’s money.

“The new guidelines are aimed at making sure the obligations and rights of matchmaking agencies and clients are mapped out clearly,” the Fair Trade Commission said.

International matchmaking agencies have thrived in Korea as a growing number of Korean men, many of them from rural areas, are left unable to find Korean women willing to stay home and not relocate to larger cities.

As of 2008, international marriages accounted for 11 percent of the 327,715 marriages that took place in Korea.

As of last December, 1,237 international matchmaking agencies were operating in Korea. Some 38.3 percent of the 6,458 Korean men working in farming and fisheries who were married in 2008 tied the knot with foreign brides.

More than half of them married women from Vietnam, followed by women from China and the Philippines.

By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]





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