Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cambodia – The Kingdom of Wonders

And wondering we are – at the new marriage law that went into effect this week. The expat scene in Phnom Penh was abuzz with it. Normally, being not too much interested in anything the expat community is talking about, this new law did, however, pique my interest, being an expat who is married to a Khmer woman myself.

Now, by all accounts that law stipulates that no male foreigner, both Caucasian and Non-caucasioan, over the age of 55 or earning an income of less than $2,500 per month can marry a Khmer woman. It should be noted it says foreign man; this law does not apply to foreign women.

This law begs the question why it was passed in the first place and what is the objective behind it. I mean we are used to all kinds of stupid and ludicrous laws being passed, not only in Cambodia, but all over the world, and the U. S. is among the many Western nations that could do with a thorough overhaul of especially their state laws. But this law really shows the feeble-mindedness of some Cambodian politicians. Why set the age limit at 55 and why a minimum of $2,500 a month when the average male Cambodian makes only a small fraction of that, gets married and has a bunch of children whom he can hardly support? Were they possibly thinking of the proverbial old lecher who is salivating after Cambodia’s young pretty lasses? What about the guy who is widowed (like I was, though I was under 55)? What about a young strapping man in his twenties who came here as a volunteer, now makes $1,500 a month, falls in love with a Khmer co-worker? No chance, buddy, no Cambodian wife for you.

Some spokesperson said they want to protect their young women from being exploited by foreign husbands, probably having in mind those sad Korean stories. Of course, the government does not object to their young, uneducated rural girls to go work as maids in Malaysia, and other mostly Muslim countries. And from press accounts we do know how those girls are treated. Don’t they deserve the state’s protection?

Well, I personally know of an example where a sixty-eight year old man married a twenty-four year old country girl. In fact, he was older than the girl’s father. Only the dumbest person can believe that there was love involved on the girl’s part or on the man’s part for that matter. He told me himself he just got married so he would have a companion and somebody to take care of him. Apart from having to deal with a randy, wrinkled old man on a daily basis, this girl was set for life. He lived on his pension, 60% of which the wife is entitled to after the husband’s demise. So does the government want to protect these girls from their good fortune?

Sure, it’s rather an irritating sight to see an old man holding hands with his young consort in hot pants parading down the street. But he likes it, and she clearly makes money off it. If he wants to get married to a whore, he is just trying to get exclusive rights to her body. It’s their choice, and shouldn’t they be the masters of their personal lives and destiny. Never mind their level of education. She would be off the streets (hopefully) and he would get to spend his money on a worthy cause, since he would also be supporting the wife’s extended family, wouldn’t he?

And I am wondering why draw a distinction between foreigners and Khmer men? It is quite normal and customary for an older man, often over 55, to marry a girl 20 years or more younger. Don’t even mention the many old men who keep a beautiful, young mistress in clothes, jewelry, car, and apartment or house. Why this hypocritical morality all of a sudden? Now the most astounding thing is that Licadho, that otherwise reputable human rights organization, lauded this law. Do we even know the number of marriages of foreign men over 55 with Khmer women, some of whom may well be of the same age or only slightly younger?

It is a fact that it is mostly fellow Asian men that seek out much younger brides - like the Korean men who came here and who had no marriage prospects in their own country. So they exploited the plight of these gullible girls and took them to Korea and in many instances abused them. Surely, there are different ways of protecting these young, vulnerable women, e. g. mandatory pre-marriage counseling.

It is clear that somebody must have had too much to drink when they drew up the law and the legislature must equally have been mentally absent when voting for it. I would think that it is unconstitutional to begin with as it infringes not so much on the rights of the foreigner but on the Khmer bride’s rights first of all. It is discriminatory and contravenes the basic concepts of human rights. Yes, Cambodia doesn’t have the most stellar record on human rights and according to pundits some people just don’t have any rights at all. Much needs to be done even according to the Prime Minister, but why even bother with such an unnecessary, outright ludicrous and really stupid law. It’s a waste of time and effort and will in no way curb human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or any other abuses of women’s rights.

Personally, of course, although now over 55, I am not affected since I have been married for a long time anyway, and additionally, we were married abroad (in the U. S.). We were also married well before that other section of the family law went into effect under which the foreigner needs to provide all kinds of documentation to the foreign ministry and get their approval before they could be issued a marriage certificate. After all, that certificate is a prerequisite for obtaining a visa at most embassies so that the spouse can travel to Europe or the U. S., for instance. That process will set back the groom (it’s always a groom, isn’t it?) about $1,500. Well, if you are serious about this you will probably not mind spending that money.

Apart from those older men and that new silly law, the question of how to go about a possible marriage with a Cambodian woman will arise for most eager-to-wed foreigners contemplating it. First there is the incredible amount of red tape in this country. Then the $1,500 to get everything together and approved. Traditional girls or women would most likely want a nice wedding ceremony, which incidentally has no legal bearing on the couples marriage status. Depending on the number of guests and with all the razzmatazz, like multiple dresses for both, the wedding tent, the monks, the dinner and subsequent dance, etc. spending $10,000 is no rarity. If you want to get married here so you can take you wife to your home country, I wouldn’t go through with all this rigamarole. Try to get her a tourist visa by vouching for her so that she won’t become a charge of the state and get married in your home country. Marriage licenses in the U. S. require a minimum of paperwork and cost about $150. The Clerk of Court of the county or their representatives can administer the oath. Nothing to it, really.

As a U. S. citizen you could also get a fiancee visa. This takes some time but will usually be granted according to a knowledgeable source. Similar visas are available from most EU countries with varying regulations. The important factor for all of them is to provide credible proof that the couple has known each other personally for some time and that they intend to get married in the groom’s home country. This may involve registering for marriage at the magistrate’s office of your home town, or some other official confirmation. You need to check with your country’s regulations. Some countries require that the bride have at least rudimentary knowledge of the language spoken there. From what I hear this is the best albeit not the quickest way of getting your bride out.

If you want to settle in Cambodia, why get married in the first place? The majority of Khmer people I know never bothered with the civil ceremony.

When we applied for my wife’s visa at the U. S. embassy way back we applied for a tourist visa. The official asked why not go for a fiancee visa to which I replied that first, I am not a U. S. citizen, and second, I don’t want to go all the way right away but see how it works out. He completely understood and was very sympathetic to this. As a long-time resident, business and home owner in the U. S. I had no credibility problem either. So we got that visa and avoided all that hassle with the Cambodian authorities. Ironically, though, we are legally married everywhere else in the world except in Cambodia because the Foreign Ministry will not recognize our U. S. marriage certificate without that red tape I mentioned above. Aw shucks, I thought, what do we need that for anyway? If we want to travel we can get any visa we want for her.

As for that law, one could think that the writers live on a different planet. Smart people won’t be affected, and ignorant foreigners deserve no better, or do they?


Igor Prawn said...

Good article. My own guess is that the law was drawn up without much thought. I imagine the intent is to stop old Koreans marrying young Khmers as housemaids and nurses, but it just won't work. I wonder if there's a legal drafting team attached to the Assembly?

Steve said...

Don’t underestimate the Cambodian government’s ability to act in a totally ridiculous manner, and try to remember that Cambodia itself is an undeveloped, third world country, and one of the reasons why is because it has an undeveloped, third world government.

Apparently this isn’t an actual law since it hasn’t been passed by the National Assembly; but drawn up by a politician and sent as a cable to every foreign embassy in Phnom Penh. It will be interesting to see what the embassies do about it since, although this is a blatant abuse of human rights and international law, many foreign countries have more respect for these sort of things than the Cambodian government does.

The last time the Cambodia government played around with the marriage law, their solution lasted eight months, so it’s probably worth checking back in September to see if this hair brained solution has lasted any longer.

Anonymous said...

Bo says:

When I read Fred Morrice’s article in the Nation, I think this guy is a moron, let alone an idiot. The new marriage law did not say any thing about a person’s race, nor did it mention anything about the person’s national origin. Indeed, this new marriage law introduced in Cambodia is just another end of the flute which very much echoes the U. S. law that already existed.

According to the U. S. immigration law, the person who wants to sponsor loved ones from overseas must have enough income in order to support a new immigrant. The U. S. government requires the person to sign affidavits of support and he or she must prove that he or she has enough income to support the person he or she sponsors so that the new immigrant will not get support from public assistance such as welfare and food stamps. Also, the sponsor has to prove that he or she bought health insurance and life insurance for his or her love one when they arrive in order to remove conditional from the green card. If in case the sponsor happens to die, the new immigrant would have the support they need to live on.

So, If someone makes only minimum wage and wants to bring a loved one from overseas, his or her luck will just run out, not a chance. This U. S. law is trying to protect The U. S. tax payers from a burden while the Cambodian marriage law is trying to protect those women from a burden. I do not see anything wrong here. How the racism card comes to play in this case, I can not see it. Mr. Morric must be out of his mind when he said that this kind of thing would be unthinkable in the West. Well, think again.

However, I also do not have a crystal ball either. I can not see how the Cambodian government is going to enforce this new marriage law. It can not even properly enforce traffic laws, let alone the food safety law, this new marriage law is just another drop in the bucket.

KJE said...

That Fred Morrice obviously thought the law is directed at Western men, whereas it makes no mention of that, as far as I know. So the term racist is certainly ill-chosen. The fact remains, though, that it is completely irrational, biased, clearly non-sensical. While the U. S. immigration laws are designed to prevent immigrants from becoming charges of the state, the Cambodian law pretends to protect young women from ..... what? .... older foreigners that look for a young female body they would otherwise not get in their home countries? Usually, in return those old geezers pay dearly for those (possibly rare) pleasures by supporting the girl's extended family. Beasley's comment in the same paper, I believe, was much more to the point. I just cannot believe there are feelings or thoughts other than material security involved in any of those matches. But still, it should be a matter between the two partners; it's their choice. Most of those older gents don't get married anyway but just live together. The law is plainly redundant. That spokesman's comment about appearances (grandpa with daughter or grandchild even) is really laughable. Sometimes those spokespeople have no idea how ridiculous they are.

MacGregor said...

I'm a strapping 30 something year old, and me and my fiance have been gobsmacked by this one. I told her I was kind of poor, she thought I was kind of rich. Now she knows the truth but will marry me because love and loyalty is more important than money. Will have to have local ceremony then fly home to make it official. I hope her family are understanding.

MacGregor said...

I'm a strapping 30 something year old, and me and my fiance have been gobsmacked by this one. I told her I was kind of poor, she thought I was kind of rich. Now she knows the truth but will marry me because love and loyalty is more important than money. Will have to have local ceremony then fly home to make it official. I hope her family are understanding.

Anonymous said...

Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.

Anonymous said...

Cambodia sets age limit for foreign husbands:
Male foreigners over the age of 50 have been outlawed from marrying Cambodian women.
I personally support this law because it does help the old men whom they do not understand themselves what would be the consequential damage and pain being experienced. On the other hand, when they get legal papers to be in the USA, 98% of young Cambodian women committed adultery and say bye, bye codger or grandfather. Eventually, thanks Cambodian government that helps old Cambodian men who live abroad.
Ty Leng,

KJE said...

Ty Leng,

You may be right about the emotional aspect; but men over 50 tend to be somewhat more mature than 20somethings.
The more significant aspect is that this law is discriminatory in the extreme and violates basic human rights. But then, Cambodia is not know as a stalwart of human rights anyway.

Anonymous said...

It is the best law in order to protect and defend Khmer women getting away from committing adultery when they get into the USA.