[SPEAK OUT]Foreign wives, domestic issuesIt has been widely known for some time that our single rural men are finding it difficult to find wives because rural women are fleeing the countryside for the cities. More recently, the effects of Koreans' preference for sons and the rising divorce rate have been felt in cities as well, and the number of single and divorced urban men unable to find wives is also growing. Men who have not been able to find spouses here at home are turning abroad to find wives. According to statistics from the immigration service and the National Statistical Office, most men who are looking for foreign wives are turning to Korean-Chinese women; that trend began after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing in 1992. Korean-Chinese brides are natural choices for Korean men because of the common language and culture.
With the increased number of marriages has also come a jump in the number of fraudulent marriages: women sometimes have a purpose other than marriage in coming here: They want a visa and abandon their husbands, to the men's dismay, after arriving here.
I have been a family affairs lawyer for over 30 years and have been asked by several men if I can arrange to find their runaway brides and have them punished or deported.
On the other hand, some of the Korean-Chinese women claim that their marriages were nothing like the bliss that matchmakers and their husbands had promised. Some say their husbands treated them like bought-and-paid-for slaves and confiscated their passports. Quite a few said they were beaten by their husbands but that they had been unable to get any help with the abuse from the police.
Recently a Korean-Chinese woman who had married a Korean man through a matchmaker four years ago came to see me. She said she and her husband lived in one small underground room that leaked when it rained. The family's only means of support is a monthly dole that their three-year-old Korean-citizen son receives from the government. She said her husband spent his time drinking, not working. She faces a circular problem: Because she has no job, she will have to post a 30-million-won ($25,000) bond to be naturalized to guarantee that she will not be a drain on public resources. But because she is not a Korean, she cannot find a decent job to demonstrate that she has the necessary skills to support herself. She only wants to raise her son properly, and begged me to help her get her citizenship to support her family.
Society accepts that husbands work outside the home and wives in the home. Both are equally valuable. If a wife could support her family for two years despite a penniless, drunken husband, then her household work should be counted as satisfying the requirement of having "skills or means to support oneself" to earn her Korean nationality.
by Yang Jung-ja
The writer is the director of the Korea Family Legal Service Center Inc.