The first and only time Ouk Saveng visited South Korea, where her child and grandchild had lived for nearly a decade, she was brought there by a terrible tragedy: a traffic accident had claimed the life of her pregnant daughter, Y Silen.
Four months later, Saveng got calls from Cambodian and Korean police, who told her that her daughter’s husband had orchestrated the “accident” to collect on 26 life insurance policies that totalled almost $9 million, they said. Saveng barely knew her son-in-law.
“One day, in 2008, my daughter told me that a Korean man wanted to marry her, and that he was coming for the wedding,” Saveng said.
The 19-year-old bride was quickly wedded to a man – whom police identify only as Lee – 20 years her senior, and then flown to South Korea, where her family rarely heard from her except to receive deposits of cash – $500 to $1,000 – four times a year. Silen returned to her Tbong Khmum home twice.
Saveng was never told how her daughter knew her betrothed, but, with several of the neighbours’ daughters married off to Korean men, she suspected a matchmaker.
With plummeting birthrates and a steep gender discrepancy, South Korean businessmen have increasingly sought foreign mailorder brides.
Since 2000, 236,000 foreign brides have settled in South Korea, according to official data. Ten per cent of foreign brides in 2009 were Cambodian.
But the influx brought a host of new problems.
Due to accounts of abuse and even murder, the government temporarily banned Cambodian women from marrying Koreans in 2010.
“Before, I did not think that [my daughter’s husband] was cruel like this,” said Saveng. “I thought she was happy because this was her decision.”
Lee is now under investigation for murder, but details on the case have been scant.
The Cambodian Embassy in South Korea declined to comment yesterday.