The number of marriages between men from Hong Kong and women from the mainland is on the increase, but so too are the reported cases of spousal abuse.
Last year, 18,000 such weddings took place, more than eight times the 2,215 recorded in 1996. One possible reason for the rise is that as the socio-economic status of Hong Kong women has risen, so men from the special administrative region have sought wives from across the border.
However, for many new brides, things often turn sour after they arrive in Hong Kong.
There is often a lack of understanding between the couple and wives find it difficult to adapt to their new lifestyles. Spousal abuse often results.
Figures released recently by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) show that 3,412 cases of spousal abuse were reported in the first three quarters of 2006, an increase of 37 percent on the same period a year earlier.
The number of reported cases of child abuse rose by 6.6 percent to 594 over the same period, while the number of cases of abuse of the elderly fell slightly to 325.
The figures showed that Kwun Tong District and remote areas such as Tin Shui Wai had the most cases of domestic violence.
In one case in 2004, a 45-year-old man living in Tin Shui Wai killed his wife and children before committing suicide. Last year, three women suffering from emotional problems resulting from unhappy marriages, committed suicide.
Margaret Wong, executive director of Harmony House, a women's shelter, said that more than half of the women living in its houses were new arrivals who had been in Hong Kong for less than seven years.
Wong explained that some mainland women often suffered from depression after moving to Hong Kong.
"Often there is a lack of communication between the couple when the woman is still on the mainland in the initial years of marriage. But because they might see each other just once a week or even only once a month, there is no time for conflict," Wong said.
"But when the wife gets to Hong Kong, the couple has more time together and that is when their troubles begin."
These women are often devastated after coming to Hong Kong, especially if they find that their living standards are not what they expected.
The economic growth over recent years has led to a decline in labor-intensive industries, which has put many people out of work.
"So women from the mainland become an economic burden on their husbands and this makes the situation worse," Wong said.
The problem is often worsened if young wives do not have any friends to talk to or fail to report the problems in the early stages.
"They think it is a disgrace to let others know about their problems. Some of our clients did not ask for help even though they had been abused for 10 years," Wong said.
Wong said that more preventive measures should be taken. Seminars could be held, for example, to brief women on what they can expect before they commit to moving to Hong Kong.
(China Daily May 10, 2007)