[Viewpoint] Help the farmers and their bridesI have an unmarried friend from my hometown. It is not that he chose to remain a bachelor, but more like he failed to get married. He is quite good at farming and has saved a lot of money through a second job. However, he did not have good luck with marriage.
Women who showed an interest in him at their first meeting suddenly changed their minds upon hearing the word “farming.” This is how he spent his 30s. When he entered his 40s, a trend that saw bachelors from farms getting married to Southeast Asian women began to grow.
Elaborate slogans were hung up here and there in his village. “All fees to be paid later to buy a young maid from...” or “As women are ready to marry, you can marry at any time” or “We guarantee the happiness of bachelor farmers.”
My friend said the posters got him interested. “Why should I care what other people think? I should meet a young girl and live a sweet life...” However, in the end he gave up. He said he did not have the courage to have and raise a mixed race child. I felt sorry for him.
Bachelor farmers like him have a hard time starting a family. Therefore, after much deliberation, some have no other choice but to choose international marriage.
Most of the brides are from Vietnam, China or Cambodia. According to Statistics Korea, 33,000 marriages, about 10 percent of the total 309,759 marriages in Korea last year, were international matches. The number of marriages to foreigners has reduced by 8 percent compared to 2008.
But the number of foreign brides has increased in farming areas: 3.5 out of 10 marriages were between a Korean farmer and a Southeast Asian woman. I sincerely congratulate them and hope they will live as happy families.
However, marriage brokers abuse the humble dreams of bachelor farmers for their own sake. Recently, the Cambodian government prohibited women from its country from marrying Korean males. And “bride shopping,” in which brokers bring unmarried Korean farmers to Cambodia to meet with groups of young local women, became a hot issue.
It is astonishing that a bachelor could be charged more than 10 million won ($8,900) depending on the number of times he met with potential foreign brides.
The tricks of the brokers made the bachelors empty their pockets and broke the hearts of Cambodian women who felt like objects on a shopping trip.
It was such a big international humiliation that the Korean government should be blamed for leaving such illegal hoaxes unchecked.
The situation in Cambodia left naive young Korean farmers disappointed. The bachelors from Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang, are currently in a state of disappointment. But after all the fuss, Bonghwa created a Marriage Promotion Committee at the end of 2007 to help its bachelor farmers marry Cambodian women.
As a result of that, five couples got married in 2008, 19 in 2009 and five this year. They are setting an example of good international marriages by exchanging information beforehand and making matches cautiously.
This year alone, almost 20 bachelors are dreaming of starting a family. One provincial spokesperson said in frustration, “The Cambodian government’s recent decision has made it difficult for us to go forward.”
The idea of a racially homogenous nation was broken a long time ago. There were 24,745 elementary, middle and high school students from multicultural families around the country in 2009. The number increased by 32 percent in just one year.
They are proud Korean citizens. The schoolboys will grow to be soldiers guarding our country, just like the sailors on the Cheonan naval ship.
However, the government is not interested enough in them. The annual budget to support multicultural families, including financial resources for Korean language education, is just 6 billion won.
It is crucial to provide support and compassion to Southeast Asian women who have come to marry someone in a strange, unfamiliar land, as well as to the families that have welcomed them as their daughters-in-law and brides.
We cannot become a genuinely advanced country if we do not heal the shadows of international marriage. The government should recognize the heartrending situation of bachelor farmers, the foundation of our rural hometowns.
*The writer is an editor of social affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yang Young-yu