The flourishing business of marriage
Arranged unions with immigrants soar thanks to internet networking3 March 2008
MADRID - On 22 January, Rocío, who speaks on condition of anonymity, celebrated her first wedding anniversary. There was not, however, a big party, nor did she receive any presents. As far as Rocío is concerned, her husband Aliou is almost a total stranger to her.
She does know some things about him. Rocío knows that he's from Senegal and that he arrived in Spain aboard a small rickety boat. Aliou had paid her EUR 8,000 to get married so he could legally live in this country.
When she was questioned by the judge who wed the couple, she had to know her parents-in-laws' names, the scars that her husband had on his body and some made-up facts as well, like where they first met.
Rocío is a 33-year-old from Madrid who works in a bank. Even though she's legally married, she has been in love with her boyfriend for years. But she admits that it was her boyfriend who lured her into some poor business deals that ended up leaving her almost broke.
She does not like to talk about her debt problems, but Rocío admits that they were such a source of worry that she even considered prostitution as a way to pay off her debts. In the end she opted to take part in an arranged marriage to raise the extra cash.
Rocío says that everything started when Aliou responded to an ad on the internet.
Her boyfriend, meanwhile, married a Colombian woman for EUR 5,000. Now their financial situation is looking much rosier.
"We're doing pretty well but hoping to get divorced so we can have children and avoid any problems," admits Rocío.
The couple will have to wait two years before they can divorce, since that is the time it will take for their legal spouses to become naturalised Spaniards.
Thanks to the internet, the amount of marriages arranged in order to secure legal residence in Spain has grown. According to different ads on the internet, an arranged marriage can cost between EUR 2,000 and EUR 9,000.
Pilar Blanco-Morales, director of the civil registrar and notary office, expressed concern that these "fake" unions are giving a bad name to marriages between foreigners and Spaniards who wed because they really love each other. In 2006, over 10 percent of all marriages in Spain involved at least one foreigner.
Nonetheless, according to figures provided by Blanco-Morales' office, only 300 suspicious marriages were turned down in 2007.
Jaime Nicolás, chief superintendent of the central bureau for immigration of the national police, explains that Spaniards who take part in such arranged marriages are almost always heavily in debt.
But while in Madrid so-called mixed marriages are under close scrutiny, the entire process is more straightforward in other parts of Spain, such as Murcia. In that city, authorities are presently investigating 200 suspicious marriages between Spaniards and Nigerians.
But for the moment, at least, Rocío's arranged marriage appears to have avoided arousing the authorities' suspicion.
"We didn't give each other a kiss but I put on a white dress to fool everyone," she says, laughing.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / JERÓNIMO ANDREU 2008]