[Outlook]Wives without borders

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[Outlook]Wives without borders

Many bizarre things happened in the 1990s in Korea. Teenage girls and women in their 20s who were on their way home from school or work were kidnapped and put into a van. We called the shameless perpetrators human traffickers. It was a well-known fact that they kidnapped women and forced them into prostitution.
Lately, international organizations including the United Nations defined arranged marriages between Korean men and women from other Asian countries as a form of human trafficking and urged the Korean government to resolve the problem. This must be hard to understand for not only the Korean men who found their spouses through matchmaking companies but also for Korean civil workers in government agencies that would address the issue. Women from Vietnam, for instance, wanted to marry Korean men. They were not kidnapped and brought to Korea by force. But according to the definition that circulates in the world, human trafficking means making people leave their homes using not only force or threats but also by giving them false information.
The problem is that there are too many ill-intentioned marriage brokers that care about profits and nothing else. These companies profit when a marriage is arranged, so it is important to make sure their customers find partners. They set up trips of four or five days so Korean men and the women they want to marry have a chance to get to know each other. The companies are especially skilled at convincing customers to marry within a short period of time. The trick is to give them false information. They say that Chinese women “are conservative because Confucian tradition is as well preserved in China as it is in Korea.” Vietnamese women are the “last angels on earth so they never run away from marriages,” and women from Mongolia have “the purest souls in the Eastern world.”
In fact, women in China, Vietnam and Mongolia are educated with socialist ideas so they have a strong sense of gender equality, and women are often more highly educated than men and have jobs. It is extremely incorrect to think that they have a limited vision of the world and themselves only because the national per capita incomes in those countries are lower than in Korea.
In particular, the parents of would-be spouses are equally respected in the women’s countries and most people live with their nuclear families. So they do not understand the concept of the hardship imposed by in-laws that many say characterizes Korea. A Korean man may say to his foreign wife, “You must be on good terms with my parents, as well as with me.” Women from these countries must think it very strange to bring up this issue.
In the process, false information is given. A Korean cab driver is introduced as the head of a transportation company. A man who stays home and plays computer games all day is introduced as a fund manager. Korean men are also under stress because they need to pick their partners in only a few hours. In some cases, matchmakers push them so hard to pick someone before the deadline that the men let the matchmakers pick one for them. Both men and women have difficulty choosing the best mate in this process. After a couple marries, if a wife gives up the marriage she must pay a huge amount of money as a penalty to the matchmaker. Sometimes, a woman’s parents write a letter promising that if the woman runs away after entering Korea they will pay $5,000 to the matchmaking company.
Because international marriages arranged by matchmakers usually don’t follow proper procedures and don’t provide enough information, they draw attention from the outside world. Some areas in Vietnam prohibit marriages of this type so if a woman marries a Korean man, she cannot register the marriage with authorities in Vietnam.
Civic organizations in Mongolia are dealing with cases in which Mongolian women moved to Korea, married Korean men but were treated badly so they went back to Mongolia. We must create a proper procedure for bringing foreign women who will marry Koreans to Korea and helping them live as Korean citizens. An international law is needed to regulate human rights violations in the process of international matchmaking. The Korean government signed an anti-human trafficking convention but it hasn’t been approved in the legislature. The government has been shouting about global standards but is delaying a chance to cooperate on human rights.
The entire country is having a heated debate about English education in schools and teaching our children to communicate in English on the global stage. But to learn that people living outside our territory are equally important is also vital. Globalization must begin with having an attitude of respect for other people.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Hyun-mi

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