[VIEWPOINT]Taking a vow to change attitudes

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[VIEWPOINT]Taking a vow to change attitudes

There was a stir in Vietnam last week because of an article published in another Korean newspaper, under the headline, “Vietnam girls go to the land of hope, Korea.”
The article vividly described a Korean man “choosing” a Vietnamese girl among his many would-be brides. It was accompanied by a photograph of around 10 Vietnamese girls, whose faces were not blurred to conceal their identities and protect their privacy, waiting obediently in a row to be chosen.
The article angered the Vietnamese. Many Vietnamese newspapers, including the most powerful government organ, carried a report on the article and started to criticize it immediately. The largest Vietnamese women’s organization, The Vietnamese Women’s Union, sent letters of protest to Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, the Ministry of Gender Equality and various women’s organizations. They claimed “the article violated the honor, integrity and human rights of Vietnamese women” and pointed out that “illegal marriage arrangements should be judged by public opinion and punished by the law.”
One Vietnamese student studying in Korea said, “it is illegal to arrange a marriage in such a way in Vietnam,” and protested that he “felt insulted by the way Vietnamese women were treated like merchandise.”
Actually, the article was not that different in content from an advertisement for a marriage brokerage company. There was nothing wrong with the content, but the article was not balanced.
The responses of the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese student in Korea can be a warning. Korean society has maintained an attitude of indifference toward international marriages, which seem to have the element of human trafficking. This could lower the international image of Koreans and even could cause diplomatic problems later.
According to the National Statistics Office, 35.9 percent of young men in farming and fishing villages who got married last year found their brides in foreign countries. It is quite pitiful to think of young men in the countryside who have to go abroad to look for a bride because they cannot find one in Korea.
On the other hand, Asian women who come to Korea to get married and find a new life have often had a hard time due to the patriarchal culture and prejudices of Korea.
As international marriages rapidly increase, we must eliminate the human trafficking element and the tendency to treat women as merchandise. Sign boards and Web sites for matchmaking companies that advertise “pay after matchmaking” are self-explanatory. The same goes with the process of choosing a bride one day after the bridegroom’s arrival, and holding a wedding ceremony the next day.
The Korean government recently presented a plan to help women who are foreigners and married to Koreans. It says it will enact a law to supervise the international matchmaking business and make the process of international marriage more transparent to prevent human rights violations.
The government also plans to elaborate the process to issue a visa, by interviewing both the bride and the bridegroom at the same time to verify the genuineness of the marriage. Such measures can be seen as precautions, to keep a family from breaking up due to false information on the spouse’s educational background, the situation of family members, financial status and health.
The problem is how much false information on the Korean spouse can be filtered out in the process of issuing a visa. Also, if small matchmaking companies hide underground after the law is enacted, it will become even harder to supervise these companies. Taiwan already went through such trials and errors.
Another thing that is as urgent as establishing a system for international marriage is educating Korean men who are interested in international marriage, to adjust their attitude about it in a reasonable and realistic way.
An adjustment in the way people perceive Asian women is more important than anything. It is discriminatory and deceptive to see their marriages to Korean men simply as a way to “get rid of poverty.” These women choose international marriage out of a will to “start a new life.”
If people continue to think of them as “women who marry just for money,” it will be difficult to prevent their human rights from being violated. There are also dangers involved in human trafficking.
The foreign women shouldn’t be forced to assimilate to the lifestyle and culture of Korea ― their Korean spouses should have an attitude of opening themselves to the life and culture of the migrating women.
We should recognize migrating women as pioneers of life and respect them.
This is the best way to prevent fraudulent marriages, disguised marriages and human-trafficking marriages.

* The writer is a representative of the Women Migrants Human Rights Center. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Han Guk-yeom
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