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The Jerusalem Post, Internet News Article, July 5th, 2000:

Mail-order brides may be virtual slaves

By Heidi J. Gleit

 

JERUSALEM (July 5) - The New Family organization has asked police to investigate whether several Israeli companies providing mail-order brides from the Ukraine are operating legally.

The organization questions whether the companies allow the women to retain their passports and maintain their freedom, or turn them into virtual slaves wholly dependent on the men who "ordered" them.

New Family chairwoman Irit Rosenblum filed the complaint yesterday after Ma'ariv published a story about several companies providing Israeli men with "young, pretty, domestic" wives from the Ukraine for approximately $4,500. According to the article, the men select a wife from the agencies' photo albums and fly to the Ukraine to meet and marry them, and then bring them back to Israel. If they are not satisfied with the women when they meet them, the agency offers them others.

The mail-order bride business is an international phenomenon, according to Rosenblum. She began looking into it about six months ago after seeing a Web site advertisement. She explained that while New Family usually advocates for Israeli residents who cannot marry legally here, the organization also wants to ensure that the women are not held prisoner through marriage.

The mail-order bride business is new in Israel, and there are probably several dozen such brides here.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 women a year are sold as mail-order brides, Rosenblum said, adding that the industry generates $17 billion a year. According to statistics compiled in the US, only 10 percent of these marriages work out; in some, the women become prisoners.

Most of the women are from the Philippines and Ukraine, and enter the marriages willingly, seeing matrimony as a ticket out of poverty, Rosenblum explained. But they often don't realize the problems they can face, and are often powerless to fight them.

"The test is whether the women can leave the marriage [if she is unhappy]," she said, adding that the phenomenon raises complex moral and legal issues.

"The police and the Interior Ministry have an obligation to investigate what is happening [before the phenomenon increases here], and if it becomes clear that the women are being abused and imprisoned, it must be stopped," she said.

While the agencies are partly a matchmaking service, they exploit the fact that the women are impoverished, said Ronit Lev-Ari, who is awaiting the cabinet's approval to take on the chairwomanship of the Prime Minister's Office's Authority for the Advancement of Women.

When the women arrive in Israel they find themselves financially, socially, and legally dependent on their new husbands - a situation that is hardly a good start for a marriage, she said.

She noted that the man quoted in the Ma'ariv article made it clear that he wanted a wife who would care for and cater to him in a way that is not exactly suitable to modern Israeli society. While the women may initially agree to this, Lev-Ari wondered whether they feel differently once they become acclimated to Israeli society.

"Israeli women have demands that border on hutzpa. Feminism has gone too far here and I don't want to battle with it," Ofer Elkabetz is quoted as saying. Elkabetz, 44, of Sderot, married a Ukrainian woman provided by an agency in April.

 



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