Authorities are cracking down on matchmaking agencies that charge Chinese women who want foreign husbands large fees but do not provide them with mates, an official newspaper reported Saturday.

The number of such firms has steadily increased with China's economic reforms, and there are more than 200 overseas matchmaking firms in the southern city of Guangzhou alone.The firms charge women a fee of $47 or more to locate bridegrooms that are either foreign or Chinese men living overseas.

"But many clients have complained that they have been cheated because the so-called matchmakers cannot keep their promises," the China Daily said.

An official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs said a draft of proposed regulations was submitted to the cabinet-level State Council. He stressed the measures under consideration were aimed at protecting the interest of the women involved, not to limit the increasing number of marriages between Chinese and foreigners.

The curbs would "discourage unauthorized agencies from illegally engaging in marriage arrangements for financial gain," the official said.

Statistics show 120,000 marriages have been recorded on the mainland in the past five years, mostly between Chinese women and overseas Chinese from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Many ventures, which boast they are able to find overseas husbands, have had their business licenses revoked over the past few months.

The popularity of foreign spouses further challenges Chinese men in China who already outnumber Chinese women.

The desire for male offspring instead of females coupled with China's strict one-child-per-family policy has resulted in an unequal number of men and women.

Ultrasound and ready access to abortions have made it relatively simple for parents to guarantee that their one child is a boy. Millions of girls do not survive to adulthood because of desertion by parents and inadequate medical care.

Such actions have led to the abduction of women, who are then sold to farmers desperate for wives, and a rise in prostitution.