[Viewpoint]End the marriage industrySouth Korea has had an international marriage industry since the 1990s.
In recent years, marriage brokers, which now number in the hundreds, search Asian countries looking for poor young women to marry Korean men for a price.
In other words, all types of Korean men, from rural farmers to urban bachelors, go on five-day overseas tours to buy a wife for around $10,000, have a quick wedding, bring their brides home to set up house, but then don’t always live happily ever after.
Many of these men beat their wives and some even kill them. The recent sentencing of a man to 12 years in prison for beating his young Vietnamese wife to death has increased the calls for an end to the practice that demeans and takes advantage of impoverished women and violates their human rights.
According to a Vietnamese woman I interviewed for this article, a number of young Vietnamese wives have died under mysterious circumstances while trying to escape from their abusive husbands and many more live with violence on a daily basis.
“The young wife thinks she is marrying into a family. But many husbands think they have bought a wife. So the wives are just servants, serving the mother-in-law, the sisters, the grandparents. Others are expected to change overnight into Korean women. But these women know nothing about Korea and can’t change fast enough to please their husbands,” according to this source.
International marriage brokers claim that both parties benefit. The young woman escapes the harsh life of the rice paddies; the Korean man gets a wife and the help he needs at home.
But when a man buys a wife it is not an equal two-way contract. He wants a return on his money. If the young wife doesn’t meet the husband’s expectations, he becomes disgruntled and lashes out.
These men do this because they can. There is nothing to stop them. Young foreign wives are extremely vulnerable and at high risk in a strange land where ethnic homogeneity is closely tied to self-identify.
When a man buys a wife, especially from a poor country far enough away not to matter, he will not see her as a partner or even a human being. She has been purchased and can be disposed of as the novelty wears off.
These wives deserve protection by their own countries and the Korean government. They have come here for a better life and opportunities, not to experience a living hell.
Vietnam is a popular country for such marriage tours, second only to China.
Large billboards advertise the glowing reputation of young Vietnamese brides as family-oriented, dutiful and hardworking.
Other advertisements denigrate them, clearly exposing the Korean international marriage industry as a predator in a culture that encourages men to “view and buy” a bride because “she smells nice,” is a “virgin” and will even marry a disabled man.
“There is a demand for foreign wives in Korea,” a friend told me. “Korean women won’t live in rural areas and they choose their husbands carefully.”
Indeed, the rising status of Korean women and the scarcity of marriageable Korean partners have sent men to other countries in search of wives. Last year, there were 9,000 marriages between Korean men and Vietnamese women. According to government statistics, 20,000 Vietnamese women have married Korean men since 2002.
“Adapting to a new culture is difficult and requires help from the husband and the community,” the Vietnamese woman told me in our interview.
These foreign wives are not temporary immigrants and should be able to participate fully in society. Unfortunately, in Korea, they are entering uncharted territory where race and class expose them to potential domestic violence.
Korea is on its way to becoming a multicultural society. That means it is engaged in the long, slow process of accepting cultural change in its pursuit of globalization.
But so much prejudice and hostility towards immigrants remains. In recent international comparisons, the Swiss-based International Institute of Management Development ranked Korea 51st out of 55 countries in resolution of racial discrimination.
In the world community, Korea is not a weak country that everyone ignores. What happens here is noticed.
A country is globally rejected or respected for its policies and behavior towards women. Korea must legislate against the business of buying and selling foreign wives.
The government should immediately crack down on this shameful practice.
At the same time, the government must grant quick citizenship to the foreign wives already living here so that they can have full equal rights under the law.
It is time for Korea to protect its minority citizens.
*A country is globally rejected or respected for its policies and behavior towards women. Korea must legislate against the business of buying and selling foreign wives.
by Susan Oak