Why more South Korean men are looking for foreign brides
South Korea has been grappling with shifting demographics that have left many middle-aged men looking for foreign brides to start a family.
Seoul, South Korea
To put it simply, says Renalyn Mulato, the daughter of a Filipina immigrant married to a South Korean man here, the key to happiness in her multicultural home is love and understanding.Skip to next paragraph
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That may seem like a painfully obvious prerequisite for most marriages, but for many immigrants in South Korea, it doesn’t always work that way.
South Korea has been grappling with shifting demographics that have left many middle-aged men – particularly in the countryside – cut adrift amid a potential-wife deficit in a country that prizes the rosy picture of marriage.
As young – and now assertive – Korean women flock from their hometowns for careers in the big cities, the men left behind are increasingly looking overseas for brides. That has meant an influx from poorer Asian nations such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Mongolia. Government figures show the number of Koreans marrying foreign spouses increased from 4,710 in 1990 to 33,300 in 2009. And numbers are expected to continue rising.
This influx of foreigners has sped up multiculturalism in Korea. But many of those marriages don't turn out well, as shown by a few recent incidents of violence.
Last month, a Korean man stabbed his Vietnamese wife to death, reportedly as her baby lay sleeping next to her. Last summer, another South Korean man fatally knifed his newlywed Vietnamese bride just days after she arrived in the country.
Part of the problem that has led to these fatalities, say experts, is a lack of oversight on agencies who locate foreign brides for Korean men.
Lack of oversight
The result, say critics, are hundreds of unhappy marriages between middle-aged Korean men and young foreign women who are often motivated by the desire to escape poverty – a situation exacerbated by huge cultural and language barriers as well as the Korean preference for homogeneity.
“Many illegal marriage agencies try to get the job done without checking background information such as age, educational background, job, wealth, and marriage status, etc. – which often comes with bad intentions by the applicants,” says Hong Min-ji, who leads the migrant workers and transnational marriage services team at Seoul Global Center. “This leads to mistrust between couples and family breakups.”
She highlights an example from her current caseload in which an immigrant Vietnamese woman came to the center for help. “She got married to her husband through a marriage agency in 2003. After she came to Korea, she found out that not only her husband had mental problems but was also violent,” explains Ms. Hong. On top of that, she says, her mother-in-law never acknowledged her as a daughter- in-law.