[Viewpoint] Multiethnic tragedies

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[Viewpoint] Multiethnic tragedies

Another tragedy happened just this week. A 37-year-old husband ruthlessly and repeatedly stabbed his Vietnamese wife, who was 14 years his junior, at their home in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang. Lying next to the victim was the couple’s baby, just 19 days old. It should have been an unimaginable crime, but in fact, this tragedy has happened before. In 2008, a Vietnamese woman committed suicide by jumping from an apartment building after suffering violent abuse from her husband and mother-in-law. In 2010, another Vietnamese woman was brutally murdered by her husband only a week after their wedding.

Such tragic fates also befall women from other countries who marry Koreans. Whenever such a terrible incident takes place, the Korean ambassador apologizes to the victim’s home country and family and offers some money so that Korea can lessen its guilt. I feel extremely frustrated that this pattern of violence against foreigners keeps repeating.

A few days ago, Grand National Party Representative Kim Sung-dong and Kyunghee University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Communication jointly hosted an academic seminar to discuss what kind of multiethnic society we should be building. Kim made a presentation on “A new historical leadership in the era of multiculturalism.” Some of the problems in Korea that he pointed out were policies that exist just to show that something’s being done, the overlapping efforts of different ministries and agencies and the absence of a national multiethnic strategy.

For example, a total of 88.7 billion ($82 million) won is allocated to nine ministries, including the Ministries of Gender Equality and Family, Education, Science and Technology, Health and Welfare, Employment and Labor and Public Administration and Safety for this year. Each ministry spent its budget and there are 21 support projects, 16 educational programs and six cultural programs.

Even though the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is promoting a project to support the employment of female marriage migrants, the Ministry of Employment and Labor launched a similar project. “Although the multiethnic family policy committee was established under the Office of the Prime Minister to coordinate the policies, the committee only had three meetings since it was created two years ago,” Kim reported. “The committee is nothing but empty words.”

And naturally conflicts arise. A few years ago, a civil servant in charge of multiethnic family programs in a county in South Gyeongsang, known for its superior support programs for the families, was questioned by the police. He was questioned because it is illegal to keep personal information on the immigrant wives, such as their addresses and phone numbers. The Ministry of Justice, to protect human rights, strictly bars collection of such information.

As it turns out, the Justice Ministry’s ban makes it difficult for the district offices in urban areas such as Seoul to run their support programs.

A “control tower” to coordinate the policies is urgently needed. We do not need a new ministry, but a system that can effectively utilize the current budget and manpower.

Equality in educational opportunities for the children of multiethnic families is the top priority. And a key is Korean language lessons for the women and their children. When they lack the language, they will fall behind in all other fields and will face serious disadvantages in the future.

And when the mother’s Korean language ability is lacking, her child will inevitably face inequality in educational opportunities from an early stage. The latest Vietnamese victim in North Gyeongsang reportedly spoke almost no Korean. According to government statistics, 80.8 percent of the children from multiethnic families aged 7 to 12 are enrolled in elementary school, but only 60.6 percent of them go on to middle school and 26.5 percent to high school.

Germany makes a special effort to teach German to the children of its immigrant families. And yet, the drop-out rate for those students is still twice that of German students.

Although the government has said it has paid attention to the issue of Korean language education, it has a long way to go. The National Institute of the Korean Language’s materials for teaching the Korean language to foreign brides is nothing more than a single textbook. When the women actually attend conversation classes, they ask to learn the most urgent phrases first. “My child is sick” and “I am hungry” are the first phrases they ask to learn. That’s not a good sign.

Korean lessons should be diversified to better serve the differing needs of wives who come from many countries and have lived in Korea for different lengths of time. The way things are run now, we’re basically kicking the children of multiethnic families out of their schools. If this situation continues, we will soon see more and more, and even worse, tragedies in our supposedly “multicultural” society.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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