Criminalizing Matchmaking: Mail Order Marriage Laws
During his recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, actor Alec Baldwin, who has been involved in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife for years, offended many people when he said that he would love to have more children and was “thinking about getting a Filipino mail-order bride.” Mr. Baldwin has since apologized for the insensitive comment and admitted that “such anger and frustration about the issue of sex trafficking is understandable.” Admittedly, some mail order marriages are the result of sex trafficking, but does this mean that countries should criminalize the mail order marriage industry as the Philippines has done?
The Philippines has two statutes addressing mail order marriages. Republic Act No. 6955, enacted in 1990, makes it a crime for any person to “carry on a business which has its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction.” The penalty for violation of the Act is a minimum six years imprisonment. In addition, if the offender is a foreigner, he will be deported (after serving his sentence) and permanently banned from Philippines.
In 2003, the Philippines enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act,which, among other things, makes it illegal “To introduce or match for money, profit, or material, economic or other consideration . . . any Filipino woman to a foreign national, for marriage for the purpose of acquiring, buying, offering, selling or trading him/her to engage in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage.” The penalty for violation of the Anti-Trafficking Act is 20 years imprisonment and a minimum fine of one million pesos.
Despite these laws, the mail order bride industry continues to flourish. Experts estimate that one-third to one-half of all foreign fiancees who enter the United States each year met their American husbands-to-be through an international marriage broker. A large majority of the women come from Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, and the law has had little effect on international marriage brokers who do a lot of their advertising and matching online. Although the United States also has laws regulating the mail order bride industry, some commentators argue that these marriages exacerbate gender, race, and class inequalities and thus, the United States should follow the Philippines’ approach. Thoughts?