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Foreigners are abused in arranged marriages in South Korea

Arranged marriages with foreign women are encouraged and even subsidized by local authorities in South Korea. Some couples have a happy and successful relationship, but many brides end up being victims of discrimination, domestic violence and even murder, as reported by one report published today by CNN.

Statistics show a bleak picture: in 2017, 42% of foreign brides reported being victims of domestic violence, including physical, verbal, sexual and economic abuse, according to a survey by the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea (NHRC, in English).

Among South Korean women, this share is 29%, according to data from the Ministry of Family and Gender Equality.

The tragic story of Vietnamese Trinh, killed by her husband Shin (fictitious names), is one such case. She moved to the city of Yangju, in the metropolitan region of Seoul, on August 16, 2019. The couple often fought, mainly because of the language barrier, the way they liked to live and financial issues, which led Trinh to want the separation.

Three months later, on November 16, she announced to her husband that she was leaving home to live with a relative in another city. Shin tried to stop her, and she tried to defend herself with a kitchen knife, according to investigations. He then took Trinh’s knife and stabbed it ten times in the belly and chest.

After she died, Shin packed her body in plastic, put his wife and belongings in his car and drove to a persimmon orchard in Wanju County, 200 kilometers from his home. There, he buried her.

In April, Shin was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The evidence presented during the trial included photos of the crime scene, his testimony and, of course, his international marriage contract.

“The victim is now returning to his homeland like a corpse,” said the judge Kang Dong-hyeok in his sentence.

Rising market

The incentives for arranged marriages began in the 1980s, when local governments in South Korea began to subsidize private “matchmakers”, paying between 4 and 6 million won (about $ 3,800 and $ 5,700 at the time) for engagement. It was an attempt to get men to have more children and thus contain the aging population.

In the following decades, however, the brides were no longer just South Koreans – but also Filipinos, Vietnamese and Cambodians.

Today, most foreign brides come from Vietnam. In 2018, 16,608 marriages between South Koreans and foreign women were registered, 6,338 with Vietnamese brides; 3,671, with Chinese; and 1,560, with Thai women.

According to CNN, one of the reasons why so many brides come from Vietnam is the search for better living conditions. In 2017, the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was $ 6,900, while South Korea’s was $ 39,500.

These women are usually young: while South Koreans who resort to matchmakers are, on average, 43.6 years old, foreign brides are 25.2 years old.

What needs to change

It is not easy to be a woman in South Korea. Among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) members, the country is among the last in the “Global Gender Gap“, ranking prepared by the World Economic Forum that measures the level of gender inequality in countries.

According to Heo Young-sook, head of the Human Rights Center for Migrant Women in Korea, the situation is even worse for foreign brides.

“Migrant women face discrimination at various levels. They are often the target of gender and racial discrimination, combined with institutional issues, which create problems,” he explains.

This year, MP Jang Hye-yuong has already proposed a bill against discrimination that, if approved, would be the first in the country. She believes the proposal can help foreign women, even though the text does not mention possible abuses committed against them.

“If [a maneira com que estrangeiras são tratadas] is defined as discrimination and can be punished, I think that many migrant women in our society will live safer and with more dignity “, he evaluates.

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