New law gives mail-order
brides a better picture
Hawaii enacts a law that lets overseas
women check their suitor's background
Reform advocates believe that the Internet-spawned growth in the global marketing of mail-order brides, some of whom end up in virtual slavery in a strange land, exists on the fringes of the trafficking of human beings.
Hawaii has taken a step to offer at least some protection to an overseas bride. As of Jan. 1, 2004, she'll be able to get a copy of her intended's criminal and marital record.
Gov. Linda Lingle last week signed into law a bill that allows anyone living abroad and using a for-profit matchmaking service to get criminal conviction and marital history information about prospective spouses living in the United States.
Hawaii's law, the second in the nation, went on the books the same week U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said 15 countries failing to make efforts to stop trafficking in humans may face U.S. sanctions.
"In our 21st century world, where freedom and democracy are spreading to every continent, it is appalling and morally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are exploited, abused and enslaved by peddlers in human misery," Powell said as he released the department's third annual report on human trafficking.
The Hawaii bill's sponsor, Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka), said the picture bride is not a new issue and is "just a small part of this whole issue of trafficking women.
"It's an old issue, but it's come to light again in view of the conditions in a lot of the world in which the condition of women has really gone down with a lot of poverty," she said in support of the bill.
In recommending the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee said international matchmaking has become a multi-million dollar industry that is largely unregulated.
"... many foreign women from poor economic conditions are recruited by these organizations," the committee said. "These women often suffer domestic abuse and are disadvantaged because of the language barriers, isolation from family and friends and unfamiliarity with state and federal laws," it said.
The Hawaii measure was modeled after the law passed in Washington State last year requiring international matchmaking organizations to provide the information if it is requested.
Washington's Legislature acted after a 20-year-old mail-order bride from Kyrgyzstan was killed by her husband who was later convicted. According to court records, it was the husband's second mail-order bride and he had already begun seeking a third before he killed his wife.
In supporting her state's measure last year, Washington Rep. Velma Veloria said if Anastasia King had known that she was the second mail-order bride, "I think that she would have thought twice."
Veloria urged Hawaii lawmakers to follow her state's lead.
Attorney Colleen Ching of Na Loio Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center told Hawaii lawmakers that she represents immigrant women who were physically, psychologically and emotionally abused by their new husbands.
While being courted by e-mail, letters and telephone calls, the women say the intended spouses were on their best behavior, she said.
Allicyn Tasaka, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, said many of the women utilizing picture bride services come from the poorest regions of Asia, especially the Philippines.
"They are often seeking to escape the adverse conditions created by the socio-economic circumstances," and many end up in abusive situations without knowing where to get help.