[Viewpoint] A support network for int’l marriages

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[Viewpoint] A support network for int’l marriages

Mixed marriages are on the rise, and they are having a strong effect on the political and economic situation in Korea.

Matchmaking agencies plan marriages between Koreans and people from other countries, including the Philippines. As of April 2009, approximately 6,000 Filipinos married to South Koreans reside on the peninsula. Philippine Ambassador to Korea Luis Cruz says, however, that the Embassy has been regularly warning Filipinos against illegal marriage brokers. A Philippine law, the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law (RA 6955), makes it illegal for a “person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity” to “establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction.” While international marriage broker agencies are legal in South Korea, they cannot legally operate in the Philippines because it violates RA 6955.

The Philippine Embassy in Korea has received many complaints from Filipino wives about abuses committed by their Korean husbands, either as a consequence or effect of abandonment of the home, separation and divorce. These complainants entered into the marriage through the services of illegal marriage brokers operating in the Philippines. Many are quick to accept the whirlwind marriage in order to seek employment abroad and have a better life. However, they receive false information on the partner’s family background and face human rights violations in their unregulated family home abroad.

Filipino spouses and partners of foreign nationals are required to undergo the Guidance and Counseling Program prior to applying for a Philippine passport.

According to Philippine Embassy Consul General Sylvia Marasigan, “Many Filipino women think that marrying a Korean is an easy, to gain entry for a job in Korea. After marriage, they think that it is easy to divorce the Korean husband.” Consul Marasigan points out that the divorce must be initiated by the foreign spouse, and only then can the divorce decree go through Philippine courts for recognition. This is a lengthy process. Many foreign spouses are not aware that changes in a civil registry record for marriages require a court order. A Filipino spouse who wants to end a marriage to a foreign spouse, such as a Korean, requires a petition filed with help from a lawyer to have the marriage recognized in the Philippines.

Philippine laws do not allow divorce. Divorce secured anywhere by a Filipino is not recognized in the Philippines except in the case of a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner, and then only if a divorce is obtained abroad by the alien spouse. In that case, the Filipino spouse can remarry under Philippine law. However, before a subsequent marriage can be performed, the foreign divorce must first be enforced in the Philippines, through a court petition. The documents must be proven authentic in court. The court decision is then registered with the Philippine civil registrar.

In 2008, Korea enacted a law to support multicultural families, who consist of Korean nationals, their immigrant spouses, and children. Korea’s law requires the regional and municipal governments to support such families actively in order to improve their quality of life in Korea.

With the number of multicultural families rapidly increasing, there is a need for Korea to foster a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity as it becomes a more multicultural society. In 2008, the number of marriage immigrants was 144,385, an increase of 13.7 percent compared to 2007.

Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in the number of Filipino women marrying Korean men. There were 3,790 marriages between Filipinos and Koreans from 2000 to 2007. Korean-Filipino marriages have rapidly increased, with 6,500 registered in 2009, and 3,600 Filipinos granted Korean nationality.

According to a report from the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, because of the language barrier and cultural differences, Filipina wives frequently encounter problems in communication, performing marital obligations and participating in family activities. The Philippine Embassy has documented many cases of Philippine wives in conflict with their Korean husbands, due to the following reasons:

? Domestic violence, due to excessive alcoholism by the husband

? Maltreatment from domestic in-laws, due to reasons such as “inefficiency by the wife in doing house chores”

? Infidelity by the husband, resulting in frequent fighting, shouting matches and misunderstandings

? Husband does not acknowledge children born after the marriage

? Husband refuses to provide financial support to the mother and the child

Complaints by Filipino wives of domestic violence and harassment by their Korean husbands lead to home abandonment, separation and divorce.

Children of multicultural families experience problems in language and education. Since Korean society is homogeneous, the presence of multicultural children and their appearance bring about anxiety and misunderstandings among the children in school. There is a lack of educational support for children whose economic and social foundations are vulnerable. Korean schools don’t provide systematic curriculums to nurture a multicultural mind-set from childhood.

In a forum on multicultural families, Prof. Chun Kyung-soo of Seoul National University observed that “consequently, the children of multicultural families are ridiculed and suffer identity crises due to social prejudice. Usually the Korean family members want these multicultural children to speak the Korean language to avoid discrimination and prefer that the native language of the mother be studied in the future.”

Korea’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Relations have undertaken several steps to address the issue of multicultural families. The ministry requires international marriage brokers to provide ethics education, according to the Act on Management of Marriage Brokerage Business of 2008. On the other hand, the registration of marriage brokerage businesses is being handled by local government units. The ministry also provides information and counseling about life in Korea to multinational couples prior to their marriages. Seminars are also taking place through a network of “transnational marriage and family support centers.” Korean language education is also available, and counseling is provided to transnational couples in remote areas.

The ministry plans to establish a nationwide network of translators to assist foreign spouses facing serious tension or crises in family relations, or in the event that they need to visit government offices, hospitals and courts for procedures. Counseling on domestic violence and victim protection will be provided through an emergency call center and at shelters. Foreign spouses who file for divorce proceedings or report domestic violence will need assistance, including the extension of their visas.

As multinational marriages and multicultural families grow more common in Korea, there will also be a greater demand for additional investment and resources, including proactive and preventive measures. Korea’s national and local government units need to coordinate to form a working framework, in cooperation with foreign embassies, to improve current responses, and bridge the gaps in legal frameworks and procedures.

Foreign embassies need to coordinate with Korea’s national agencies involved in family welfare, passport and visa controls, immigration and police as well as local governments to address the tensions arising from multinational marriages and multicultural families. Welfare and counseling programs need to fully integrate, and provide for gender sensitivity in all aspects, from source countries to destination. There is a need to disseminate proper information to level off expectations about a “happy marriage and life “happily ever after.”

Also, the concept of a “multicultural family” must consider cases outside marriage between a Korean and a foreigner. There are also marriages among immigrant workers where the husbands and wives are both foreign nationals; as well as children born between Korean nationals and foreigners outside of marriage. There are even cases of “stateless children,” due to the parents being undocumented.

Cooperative information sharing, joint research, policy coordination and regular dialogue are needed on the issue of multinational marriages and multicultural families. This web of cooperation requires the participation of foreign embassies; Korea’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Relations; the Ministry of Labor; the Korea Immigration Service; local governments that are the main destination of foreign brides; the International Police (Interpol), and representatives of immigration and welfare agencies of key supply countries for foreign spouses. Dialogue is needed with non-government organizations promoting human rights and the welfare of migrant workers. Investment in these resources will be needed as Korea attempts to mobilize resources to address the threat of a declining birth rate, through multinational marriages and multicultural families. This framework of cooperation must fully integrate global norms including human rights and gender sensitivity while combating human trafficking.


*The writer is a professor at the College of Economics and Business Administrati
on, Hanyang University.

by Maragtas S.V. Amante

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