Out of sight, in a bind: labor export breaks families

By Xanh Le, Minh Hanh   October 4, 2022 | 02:05 am PT
Thousands of Vietnamese go overseas to work, seeking life-changing opportunities, but for some people, it is the cause of their divorces.

Cuong* of Long An Province, who works in Japan, recalls: "The year I left my second daughter was five years old. I knew my wife was lonely. She was a vendor and met many male customers, but I did not suspect she was having an affair."

One day, when he video-called his wife, he found her face swollen. She confessed to having an affair with a married man and said she’d been beaten by the latter’s wife.

"I was shocked and upset. I persuaded her to think about our children, stop the affair and take better care of them. She apologized and promised not to do it again."

But his wife broke her promise and his heart, having another affair. Besides all the money he’d sent home, Cuong also ended up losing his wife.

The breakup of a family as a result of a husband or a wife going abroad to work is not rare in Vietnam.

In the central province of Ha Tinh, in just one commune, Cuong Gian in Nghi Xuan District, over 200 couples have divorced after one partner went abroad to work.

The district’s Xuan Lien Commune has more than 1,700 people working abroad, and in recent years, about half of them have divorced.

A Vietnamese employee works in a factory in Japan. Photo by VnExpress/Thai De

A Vietnamese employee works in a factory in Japan. Photo by VnExpress/Thai De

Thinh*, a laborer who returned home after working abroad for 10 years, found his wife and children were cold and distant.

"When I came back I felt that the relationship between me and my wife was different. She did not want to be close to me. She refused to kiss or hug me. We no longer slept in the same bed.

"My children are closer to their mother."

Sine he’d been away during their childhood and and did not talk to them much, "when I was back they did not understand why they had to call me, a man appearing out of nowhere, their father."

Thinh felt that he was an invisible person in his own house.

He told his wife they could get divorced if she no longer had feelings for him.

When families break up, the worst sufferers are children.

Ninh* thinks the cause of his parents’ divorce was his mother going to Taiwan to work. He and his sister lived with their alcoholic father.

"My mother worked in Taiwan for a total of 10 years. The frequency of my father's drinking increased day by day. He cared less and less about us. My sister and I were very unhappy, especially her."

When his mother returned, the relationship between his parents was not the same as before.

Ninh says his father was different, not working hard anymore and rarely talking to his mother.

"He was like a ghost in the house. Every time he came home from work, he drank and broke things. Every time mother had a customer at her tailor shop, father came out and caused trouble. Perhaps the alcohol affected his mind and actions. Or maybe my father felt it was unfair that he had to take care of the two children while my mother was working abroad."

Depressed, Ninh’s mother decided to divorce his father and took him and his sister with her.

Truong Thi Thanh Thanh, head of the psychology department at Vinh University, says when people live abroad for 10-20 years, they are influenced by local lifestyles. When they return home, their mindset has changed, conflicting with their families.’

According to the Ministry of Labor, Invalid and Social Affairs, Vietnam began to send guest workers abroad in the 1980s; and since then, more than 100,000 have gone to work overseas every year.

Today, Vietnamese workers are present in more than 40 countries and territories, work in more than 30 industries and send back more than US$3 billion each year in remittances.

Some people go abroad to work and send money back to support their families, but their partners misuse it, for instance to gamble or drink, leading to conflicts and families breaking up, Thanh said.

Despite the breakup, Cuong does not regret going abroad to work. He says there are faithful people, who focus on working and sending money back to their families.

"Now I'm focusing on building a new life in Japan and taking my two children there and giving them a better life."

*Names in the article are changed.

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