KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 2 / April–May–June 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

FROM FINLAND: Excerpts from a speech presented at the seminar "Trafficking in Women — Problems and Measures of the Prevention," held in Saatytalo, Helsinki, Finland on 14 October 1996.

by Teresita Ruutu

It was not until a year ago when the Finnish public was fully exposed to the issue of trafficking of women in the form of marriage, commonly known as the business of "mail-order brides". A blown up picture of Filipino women, eagerly offering themselves for marriage to Finnish men, roused mixed reactions from among the Finns: sympathy, amusement, shock, and hostility...

Some people believe that the "mail order bride" business is nothing but an innocent romantic marriage match, thanks to agents who insist that they mean well and are only doing the couples a favour. The agents procure for lonely Finnish men a wife who is meek and obedient, industrious, and faithful, and for the part of the Filipino women, they are lured into the chance of a better life. The system may succeed for many couples. But for those whose relationships do not work (rifts are often caused by differences in many things including language, culture and age), most of the women often end up in the worst imaginable situation. As part of the transaction, the agent often comes in again to arrange a new match. For the women, it is their only chance to be able to stay in the country. For the men who are not able to acquire a new bride, they can demand for a refund.

Filipinas number in Finland between 500 to 600, a hundred of whom are claimed to have been brought here by several mediators... Some are not genuinely aware of such business and the others were simply warned against admitting to anyone about how they met their husbands. Even in their time of difficulty, some women would claim that they still care for their companions.

The women’s complaints followed a similar pattern: indifferent and uncaring husband who was quick tempered and violent especially when drunk. The wives were not trusted to socialise on their own and they were not given enough money for their personal needs... The women were made to believe that they have little right to be here in Finland and that they are entirely dependent on their husbands. Such benefits as the maternity, home care support and child allowance were kept away from them. They were made to blindly sign documents and when they started to be too inquisitive, they were threatened to be sent back to the Philippines, minus their child if they have one. The men kept their wives’ passports and deliberately neglected them until their visas expired.

Many women suffered in silence, accepting their misfortune and not being aware of their alternatives. So I discussed with those women who have contacted me about their responsibilities, rights and privileges and recommended social work offices and the shelter homes… Through these government agencies, some women were able to start a new life. Others were reunited with their husbands, while some found new partners. But the most unfortunate ones who were not bound by marriage and were childless, homeless, jobless, and with expired visas, were sent back to the Philippines.

It is very clear in the cases of marriages through these agents how Filipino women are being exploited without any regard of human dignity. They were treated like a piece of commodity that can be tried, sold, resold, and when broken, can be returned or dumped away.

I do not know whether a study on this matter has been completed here in Finland. Some government agencies are already working on informative and preventive measures and are acting towards supporting those who need help. But there is the need for more coordination with such offices that have direct contact with the victims; for instance the local police, the shelter homes, the health, social and judicial administrators, and most specially the center for interpreters. These women… need appropriate interpreter aid to know what is being done to them and for them. My recent experience has shown that... the Filipina [is placed] in a much weaker position than the Finnish party in such conflicting situations as divorce and child custody arrangements.

I hope the Finnish parliament will soon adopt a new law that will support the one in the Philippines, so that it would make the practice of mediating marriages illegal in Finland...

About the Author: Teresita Ruutu is a Filipina married to a Finn. She has lived in Finland for more than 20 years and is a member of the Finnish–Philippines Society.
Article reprinted from: Coalition, March ’97, published by Coalition Against Trafficking in Women–Asia Pacific.