This comes more than a decade after a trend of Singaporean men – mainly older and blue-collared – seeking foreign brides from developing countries in the region such as Vietnam and Thailand began.
The data confirms what many counsellors and divorce lawyers have said for some time now: these unions have a greater risk of collapsing, given their often shaky foundations, and impact on the children if any.
Among marriages registered in Singapore in 2009, 7.9 per cent of those involving a Singaporean and a non-resident – such as foreigners on long-term visit pass, ended before their fifth wedding anniversary. They either divorced or annulled their marriage. This is higher than the 6.4 per cent for resident marriages – those involving at least one Singapore citizen or permanent resident.
Starting in the early 2000s, lower-income bachelors, who struggled to find local partners, sought wives from Vietnam and Thailand. Matchmaking agencies sprouted, hawking catalogues of photographs of “eager and docile Vietnamese women”, giving currency to the moniker “mail order bride”. These foreigners also came to Singapore for “holidays”, while really hoping to find a job – and a husband.
Marriage counsellors and divorce lawyers said such unions are often more vulnerable. One reason is that many of these transnational couples do not have a strong foundation for marriage.
They may hardly know each other, with some having met just a few times before saying “I do”.
Many soon realise they are not compatible after marriage and some do not even speak a common language, noted Care Corner Counselling Centre‘s counsellor Jonathan Siew. “We see many transnational couples where they have realised their spouses are different from how they had portrayed themselves before marriage.”
Lawyer Shone Aye Cheng said some of these foreign women may marry not for love, but for better prospects in Singapore – such as the chance to get permanent residency or citizenship here through marriage. The cultural differences and the challenges of adapting to life in Singapore can add further strain on a marriage.
Ms Teo Seok Bee, senior manager of Touch Family Services, said some foreign wives have not even visited Singapore before marriage. Adjusting to life here, on top of learning to live with a new spouse and his family, can place great strain on the union.
Last year, there were 6,450 marriages involving a Singaporean and a non-resident, down 5 per cent from the 6,777 in 2005. Three in four of these marriages last year were between a Singaporean groom and a non-resident bride, going by the Population in Brief 2016 report published by the National Population and Talent Division.
Steven (not his real name), a 43-year-old manager, married a Chinese national after a whirlwind four-month courtship. The nurse, who is in her 30s, was here on holiday when his friends introduced them. But the marriage soured shortly after the wedding. She kept asking Steven, a university graduate, for money to pay her housing loan in China. He gave her tens of thousands.
She also confessed that she was pregnant with another man’s child, which she aborted. The couple also have a son, who is now eight years old.
Some years ago, he decided on divorce as he felt he could not trust her and she neglected their son. They were wed for about two years.
He said: “Everything changed after marriage. She went from being loving to nasty and harsh.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Times