Young couples are shelling out thousands of dollars to rent parents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends to appease familial pressure to tie the knot.
Kha’s wedding day looked perfect from the outside but she was hiding a dark secret: the 27-year-old was three months pregnant and her husband was fake, hired for a staged wedding to avoid the social stigma of becoming a single mother.
Breaking from tradition in socially conservative Vietnam can come at a high price for the whole family.
“My parents would have been the first to be filled with shame if I was pregnant and without a husband,” Kha, barely showing, told AFP a month after the $1,500(approximately Shs 5.5m) fake marriage, which was quietly paid for by her baby’s father who is married to another woman.
The wedding-guests-for-hire business is growing in Vietnam where some 70% of people over 15 are married — and not just among pregnant women like Kha looking for stand-in husbands. Young couples are shelling out thousands of dollars to rent parents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends to appease familial pressure to tie the knot or avoid clashes between in-laws who disapprove of the union.
Kha and her fake husband were never legally married, a formality often overshadowed by lavish wedding parties in Vietnam, but she is forever grateful to him for playing the part in front of her friends and relatives. “I felt like I was about to drown but I grabbed a life jacket,” said a smiling Kha, whose name has been changed to protect her identity
Relationship norms are changing fast among youth in Vietnam, where more than half of the 93 million population is under 30. More couples opting to live together before marriage or shunning the family home afterwards and renting their own apartments.
Abortions are on the rise too, with as many as 300,000 officially documented last year, but the stigma remains high. But when it comes to wedding ceremonies, many still feel immense family or social pressure to hew to tradition, especially from ultraconservative elders.
“People don’t have the courage to live true to their hearts, they face traditional habits and customs, cultures and views,” said psychology researcher Nguyen Duy Cuong. “We should put ourselves in the shoes of those who have no way out,” he said, offering sympathy for those who pay for the actors to avoid causing a family rift.
‘Treating an illness’
Company founder Nguyen Xuan Thien says they’ve staged thousands of weddings over the years, though there are no statistics on how many fake weddings are held annually across Vietnam. Thien said business has steadily grown with more than 400 guests for hire today from less than a dozen about a decade ago. But even he has mixed feelings about social pressures that have carved out a market for his business.
“The message to society is that we are very worried. Like a hospital treating illnesses, we are helping brides and their families but we don’t want this to grow” Thien told AFP, adding that he considers his work a kind of community service and doesn’t make much a profit. Kha, who is due around April, says her fake marriage finally freed her from her lie. She said: “Hiding my pregnancy was so exhausting, but now I feel very confident about the present and the future.”