The giving of a dowry remains an important part of marriage in Thailand. Nothing unusual about this in many parts of Asia. However, what is unusual is that in Thailand the dowry is given by the husband-to-be to the parents of the prospective bride. In Thailand this money is known as ‘Sin Sod‘.
The giving of Sin Sod is a complicated and delicate issue. It is tricky for Thai people and even trickier for Westerners marrying Thais. This practice, whilst traditional in Thailand, is also open to abuse both in terms of exploitation of the prospective husband and in terms of the bride-to-be.
Sin Sod could easily be viewed as either the selling of a daughter, or a girl selling herself for the benefit of her parents. This certainly does happen. However, it is a mistake to believe that this is the norm. The issue goes a lot deeper than this.
For many Thai families the giving of Sin Sod is a sign of commitment. To give this a positive spin, what it means is that ‘feckless’ young Thai men are made to show that they have the self control and work ethic to be good husbands. The ‘going rate’ for Sin Sod in the poor north eastern part of Thailand (so we are told) is 100,000 Thai Baht ($3,333). A young man in the same area, with a fairly good job during manual labour, will earn around 8,000 ($266) a month. This means getting married entailed saving a whole year’s wages. If a young man can do this by our reckoning he has more than amply demonstrated his ability to work and save and hence his suitability as a prospective husband for a loved daughter.
The amount you pay works on a sliding scale. Basically the more ‘desirable’ the girl, the more you pay. I know this is starting to sound more and more like the selling of a prize ‘cow’, rather than a sacred union. However, bear with me and let me explain this. Doubtlessly for some families this is seen as a money maker. However, even if this is true to some extent, there is also an element of pride involved for the family. Giving the money on the wedding day, and doing it publicly, is a big part of the Sin Sod tradition. For the parents of a girl who fetches a big Sin Sod, it is a source of pride, and a boast to family and friends, to show that they raised a daughter who fetched so much money. It also demonstrates that their daughter has been clever to snare a successful man. Big ‘face’ for the the family. How your family is perceived by the community is very important for Thai people, often more important than the money itself.
Foreigners getting married in Thailand generally have a big problem with Sin Sod, after all its not part of their culture and appears to be Thai people taking advantage. Often this is true. The majority of Thai/Western relationships involve 40+ Western men marrying bar girls. Of course they are being taken for a ride. A girl who sells sex for money is also going to sell marriage for money. The ironic thing here though is that quite often former bar girls make very loyal and loving wives. I know a fair few Westerners in Thailand who fall into this category. Go figure. Thailand is full of paradoxes.
Not all Thai/Western marriages fit this mold though. And there are a range of experiences in respect of Sin Sod for more ‘genuine’ relationships. One friend of ours gave no Sin Sod, the girl’s mum refused to accept. The mum works as an accounts administrator in Bangkok and had a very modern perspective on life. Another friend of ours married an older Thai lady and also paid no Sin Sod, but rather made a promise to renovate the family house (as yet an unfulfilled promise after 4 years since the nuptials). For other friends, with successful marriages, Sin Sod was paid. My point here isn’t about the amount you need to pay, but that even for Westerners the issue has to be dealt with one way or the other. If you think you can get married to a Thai girl in Thailand without dealing with the issue you are kidding yourself. If you are in this situation, and your approach is simply to refuse and not pay at all despite what the family say, you aren’t going to be getting married. Simple as that.