Why would anyone risk marrying a stranger? It may sound fussy but it happens. Marriage could be arranged as a joint undertaking of two people for practical or financial benefits rather than out of love or personal attachment. This is called marriage of convenience and is the current and common way taken by several Filipino women going to Japan. With Filipino – Japanese marriage, the Filipino spouse then becomes eligible for a “Spouse of a Japanese National” visa which would enable her to enter and work in Japan.
In March 2005, Japan started to employ restriction measures to Filipino entertainers going to Japan as part of its efforts to combat human trafficking. Japan no longer accepted the Philippine government issued certificate to prove that the holder is a bona fide performing artist. Rather, Japan requires that an entertainer must have at least two years work experience in an entertainment industry outside Japan. This strict policy has caused a sudden drop of the deployment of Filipino entertainers to Japan. Consequently, Filipino-Japanese marriages intensified and many of which occurred for convenience purposes only – for the sake of a spouse visa. This is a reality which Batis Center for Women eventually verified through its own cases.
From 2007 to 2010, Batis provided services to 42 cases of women migrants returning from Japan who were victims of trafficking. Twenty-seven of them entered Japan through spouse visas, 11 had entertainer visas while four had tourist visas. All of them have similar reasons behind their determination to go to Japan.
More often than not, recruiters and traffickers took advantage of the women’s vulnerability, offering them help to enter and find work in Japan. This help however involves deception and fraud which are present in cases of trafficking. The women were recruited to work as entertainers in Japan, promised with good pay and benefits but were told that they would need to marry a Japanese man in order to get a visa. In some instances, when the women observe ambiguities in the process, the tendency is for them to withdraw from going to Japan. Nevertheless, some would still pursue the flight despite the uncertainties as they and their families would be coerced or threatened by the brokers should they back out.
The lack of economic opportunities in the Philippines on one hand and the push factors (i.e. financial needs for medication of a sick family member, education for siblings, payment of debts, housing, etc.) coming from the family on the other hand are among the reasons behind the aspirations of the women to work overseas. For someone who is desperate to work in Japan and earn money for the family, they would be willing to do anything even marrying a total stranger. Recruiters would convince the women that the marriage is “fake” and will just be done to facilitate their entry to Japan.
The women then become more vulnerable on-site and would find themselves manipulated and coerced by traffickers, verbally and physically abused, trapped in an exploitative work, with restricted mobility, and in a debt bondage. Low salary, unjust deductions and penalty system in the club on top of the payment for the Japanese “husbands” would make the situation even worse.
Lucky are those who were able to escape or be rescued during raids in the club and were provided with necessary assistance and repatriation services. For some women, they get a divorce before they return to the Philippines. For those who do not know any better, they stay married till they return to the Philippines. However, divorced or not, the consequences are all similar when they return home.
There is no divorce in the Philippines, only annulment. So for the women who got divorced in Japan, they still would need to obtain an annulment in the Philippines in order for the divorce to be recognized in the country. This process is called “Petition for recognition of foreign judgment”.
Marriage annulment in the Philippines is a difficult and tedious process that would require a large amount of money for legal services. Annulment of marriage on the average would cost around PhP250,000 – an amount which the women hardly have. To date, none of the 27 women who entered into marriage of convenience pursued an annulment of marriage.
One step towards the recovery of the women from their negative migration experiences is the legal dissolution of their marriage. But since they could not afford the legal process of annulment, the women until now bear the effect of engaging to marriage of convenience. They might have recovered from trauma but they were not able to regain their civil status. Those who want to get married with their real boyfriends could not marry because the previous marriages with their Japanese husbands are yet to be annulled. In this case, the social cost of marriage of convenience could be for lifetime.