Mail-order brides

Edit Article

Understanding the phenomenon


The mail-order brides industry is not recent. It has known a new birth with Internet but it already existed before, with the concept of “picture brides”. International marriage agencies used to have paper catalogues listing the brides-to-be. This process took its name through the idea that the marriage was preceded by an exchange of pictures of the future wife and future husband, in order to allow them to recognise each other, as they had never met before.

This phenomenon has known a new birth with the new technologies of information and communication. It is indeed easier to match people living on different continents with the help of Internet and emails than going through catalogues or writing paper letters. The number of international marriage brokers has exploded since then.[1]

Who are mail-order brides?

The data on the subject reveals that most mail-order brides come from the Philippines followed by women from the former communist bloc.

In the Philippines, the extent of the phenomenon can be explained by the fact that migration is common in the country. Following the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, about 10% of the population was led to work outside of the country. As a result, the economy of the Philippines relies a lot on the remittances sent by these workers and as a result, it relies on migration in general. We can also think that it has a role in explaining the big number of mail-order brides coming from that country.

Mail-order brides generally live in the countryside and they are very poor. Through the international marriage industry, they are looking for a wealthy man that could provide them with financial security. Many of these women are looking for American men, as marrying them is a way of accessing the American dream.[2]

Image of the typical “consumer groom”

The “consumer groom” is the man looking through the international marriage agencies’ catalogues for a young foreign woman. He is generally older than his bride-to-be (with often around 20 years of age difference), him being around his forties and her being around her twenties. He has been married before but he wants to have more children. Also, he is looking for a woman with traditional values, meaning a woman that will stay at home and take care of the children.[2]

An example in South Korea

Many Korean men benefit from the international marriage industry, looking for women in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Mongolia. In South Korea, the sex ratio] between men and women is very high. In 2012, it is thought that there will be 124 men for 100 women. This phenomenon can be explained by sex-selective abortions and other methods of gender selection. Therefore, men need to look for foreign women if they want to marry and have a family. As a result, 11% of the newlyweds on average marry a foreigner and among them, a big majority consists in a South Korean man marrying a foreign woman.[3] Thus in South Korea, going through the international marriage industry is a way of finding women to build a family.

Dangers for mail-order brides

Mail-order brides tend to be more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and prostitution.

Domestic violence

There have been cases of mail-order brides killed by their “husband”, fearing a divorce. However, it is very difficult to get data on the frequency of domestic violence among couples made of a mail-order bride and a consumer groom. Indeed, the studies in this field do not distinguish between mixed couples and others. Furthermore, mail-order brides are less likely to report such violence. In any case, not reporting domestic violence is a global tendency, since few women dare complaining about their husband due to moral and social pressure. Therefore, not only this phenomenon concerns mail-order brides but it is also more frequent among them, considering they are afraid of deportation, they are far from moral support from their family and sometimes they do not even speak the language of their host country fluently enough.[2]

Sex trafficking

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking can be defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”[4]

Some consider that international marriage agencies’ work is trafficking per se whereas others consider the idea of sex trafficking through the observation that mail-order brides are very often involved in prostitution circles once in their host country. Trafficking per se is defined by Professor Kathleen Barry as a “situation where women or girls cannot change the immediate conditions of their existence, where regardless of how they got into those conditions, they cannot get out; and where they are subject to sexual violence or exploitation”.[5] And yet, this corresponds to the situation of mail-order brides who, once in the country of their husband, have few possibilities outside of the wedlock.

As a result, Itta C. Englander[2] underlines that the only difference between sex trafficking and international marriage agencies if that the latter involves marriage. All of the agencies focus on the sex qualities of the brides-to-be.

National and international regulations concerning mail-order brides

In the United States

In 1996 the Mail-Order Bride Act (MOBA) was passed. It recognised mail-order brides as a distinct category in terms of immigration and it required international marriage brokerages to provide information to mail-order brides about conditional permanent status, permanent resident status, waivers available for battered spouses, marriage fraud penalties and the lack of regulation in the international marriage brokerage industry.

This text was replaced in 2006 by the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which aims at reducing the information gap existing between the bride and the groom. Often, although the groom can have a lot of information about the wife he is “ordering”, the mail-order bride knows nothing about the man she is about to marry. Among others, the IMBRA created a pamphlet to be sent to every K-1 visa applicant. This pamphlet is written by the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, in cooperation with several organisations related to immigration or sexual crimes. Furthermore, the international marriage brokerages now have to provide women with information about the consumer grooms. In parallel, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) specifically focuses on the problem of trafficking. It provides assistance to the victims of trafficking.[2]

In the Philippines

The Philippines outlawed the international marriage industry in 1990. However, it has not had a big effect on the industry. The law forbids any international marriage brokerage to be created in the country, so the result was that they relocated outside, but it did not prevent Filipinas to be involved in this industry.[2]

International Conventions

The UN General Assembly adopted in 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discriminations against Women (CEDAW).

See also


  1. Suzanne Sinke, “Migration for Labor, Migration for Love: Marriage and Family Formation across Borders in ‘’OAH Magazine of History’’, Vol. 14, No. 1, Migrations (Fall, 1999), pp. 17-21.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Itta C. Englander, “The search for June Cleaver: International marriage brokerages and mail order brides. A journey through the process of purchasing the perfect wife”, September 2008.
  3. Chloe Sang-Hun, “Foreign brides challenge South Korean principles” on, June 24, 2005.
  4. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000
  5. Susan Jeanne Toepfer & Bryan Stuart Wells, The Worldwide Market for Sex: A Review of International and Regional Legal Prohibitions Regarding Trafficking in Women, 2 MICH. J. GENDER & L. 83, 86 (1994)

External links