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Defining other forms of forced marriage: international marriage brokering

Drafters should consider whether to adopt a specific law on international marriage brokering. At a minimum, laws must protect a woman’s right to choose when, if and who she marries. In the absence of a specific law governing international marriage brokering, states may need to rely on a complex web of immigration, contract, family, criminal and private international laws. Drafters should realize these laws may overlook the specific needs and vulnerabilities of a mail order bride. For example, visa regulations that treat foreign fiancées as undocumented immigrants if they fail to marry within a certain timeframe place the fiancée in a vulnerable position by making her dependent on her fiancé.

Should drafters decide to adopt a specific law to address international marriage brokering, laws must reflect the dynamics of international marriages that create inequities between the woman and man. In a mail order marriage, or an international marriage facilitated through a broker, a woman may have consented to marry a person from another country. Yet, these women may lack critical background information about their foreign fiancés and therefore not be fully informed when they give their consent. Once inside the host country, these women are prime targets for domestic abuse due to their isolation, their unfamiliarity with the host country’s laws and agencies, potential language barriers, fear of deportation or retaliation from their spouse. They may even become trapped in a situation of slavery, domestic servitude or debt bondage. (Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005)

When developing a law on international marriage brokering, drafters should evaluate whether to regulate or prohibit the industry. Should drafters choose to regulate the industry, laws should establish an accreditation system for agencies that facilitate international marriage brokering. Laws should establish minimum standards to regulate the industry, which may include charging reasonable fees, ensuring that online agency site owners are clearly identifiable and requiring site users to identify themselves, monitoring marriages and providing an emergency contact number. Agencies should be compelled to conduct background checks on the male to verify he does not have a criminal record. (See: Domestic slavery: servitude, au pairs and mail-order brides), Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, 2004) Drafters should incorporate an additional measure that requires agencies to provide the histories of prospective bridegrooms to the foreign woman. (See also: Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls)

Promising Practices:

United States: As a destination country for mail order brides, the U.S. has issued regulations on international marriage brokering. The U.S. International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 U.S. International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005, which is part of the Violence against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, requires international marriage brokers to provide the marital and criminal histories of men who use their services to foreign clients, and requires the U.S. Department of State to provide information about U.S. laws on violence against women to fiancée visa applicants in their own language. The law bars the release of information on the foreign client until she has reviewed the information and given her consent. Finally, the law prohibits simultaneous applications for multiple foreign fiancée visas, since men may simply marry whoever is approved first.

The Philippines: As a country of origin for mail order brides, the Philippines has banned the international marriage brokering industry. Philippines International Marriage Broker Regulation Act Philippines International Marriage Broker Regulation Act prohibits any person or entity from directly or indirectly: starting or conducting a business for the purpose of connecting Filipino women to foreign citizens for marriages; distributing information to promote these activities; recruiting a Filipino woman to join a group that seeks to connect women to foreign nationals for marriage; and using the postal service to connect Filipino women to foreign citizens for marriages. It also prohibits any media, printing or advertising agency manager from knowingly allowing or consenting to the above activities (Section 2). Penalties include imprisonment between six years and one day to a maximum of eight years, and a fine between 8,000 pesos and 20,000 pesos. If the perpetrator is a foreign national, he is subject to immediate deportation and permanent bar from re-entry into the Philippines after completing his punishment.