Outsiders dial for ‘help’

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Outsiders dial for ‘help’

A 38-year-old Mongolian woman who moved to Korea in 2007 was brutally beaten by her 54-year-old Korean spouse and was hospitalized for a week.

The reason for the assault, she said, was because she wouldn’t have sex with him.

This case is one of thousands that the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women deals with 24/7 - by phone, e-mail and face-to-face talks.

In 2010, 54,194 people contacted the center for counseling, and 36.5 percent of them said they were suffering from domestic violence and conflicts with their Korean family members.

Some Korean husbands also called the center, seeking help for their foreign brides who couldn’t adjust to Korean culture.

According the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the number of international couples in Korea has increased in the past four years -from 126,000 in 2007 to 144,000 in 2008, 167,000 in 2009 and 181,671 in 2010.

However, the number of divorces for those couples has also risen. About 30 percent of international couples broke up in 2009, or 11,692 out of 33,300 couples.

In 2008, 11,225 international couples out of 36,204 divorced, according to the ministry.

“The biggest reason of disharmony between migrant women and Korean family members is that both sides expect different things,” said Kang Sung-hea, chief director of the center.

“Most Korean guys keep a strong patriarchy and expect their foreign brides to adjust to the culture as fast as possible and to play a role as a traditional Korean wife who will be subordinate to them,” Kang added.

“But many brides come from socialist or former colonial countries of the U.S. and have stronger values in gender equality. So they can’t understand the Korean patriarchal society well,” Kang said.

“And the foreign girls, who expected that marriage to a Korean guy would financially help their families in developing countries, became disappointed to see the financial status of their husbands in Korea, because the guys are not as rich as they expected.”

Officials at the center said some migrant women ask for advice about divorce after the illusion of “rich Korean husbands” was shattered.

The center said 18.7 percent of women receiving counseling last year asked for advice about divorce.

According to the center, the migrant women also had difficulties in intermingling with Korean family members.

A Chinese woman, for instance, said she was abused by her husband’s father, who once slapped her face because he thought the soup she had made needed more salt.

And some said Korean mother-in-laws make their lives very difficult.

“Some foreign brides said they feel frustrated when their husbands’ mothers cancel all plans that the couples set, as their husbands can’t resist the decision of their mothers,” Kang said.

Kang said a trivial misunderstanding can grow into serious quarrels among international couples because they can’t communicate at the early stage of the dispute due to language barriers.

“International couples usually communicate by body language, which causes a trivial conflict to become a serious misunderstanding,” Kang said.

The center can help with such troubles, she said, but many foreigners don’t realize this.

“They should have visited the center, where foreign counselors can translate their dialogues at the early stage of their conflicts. But many international couples don’t even know that the center exists,” Kang said.

In an effort to enhance the melding of different cultures, the Ministry of Justice in January announced an education program for Korean spouses.

The ministry is encouraging Koreans who are marrying women from Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Thailand to take a three-hour course on culture and the customs of the countries of their foreign spouses.

“The program is aimed at minimizing the side effects of international marriage and at encouraging the couples to understand each other,” a Justice Ministry official said.

But Kang said the most important thing is whether international couples trust and respect each other.

“Korean guys tend to hurry to get married to foreign brides, but they need to contemplate if the women are the right ones they are looking for,” Kang said.

“And after marriage, he and his family should help her live her own life in Korea, not pushing her to fit into their culture,” Kang stressed.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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