Friday, February 03, 2012

Being alien in Korea

Multiculturalism in Korea... hmm. It's growing, but still not as smoothly as desired. The problem is always brought up by the 'foreign brides' issue. The fact those women are from Asian countries doesn't speed things up. 
I bet if it was up to us, western strong-willed, independent b*tches, Korean society would go through a revolution, mehehe.
Right now, the number of foreigners is slightly above 2%.
When we're moving, ladies?

Few articles I gathered on the issue. Plus, there are few movies on this as well. I went up looking for some info because Kim Raewon's upcoming movie. It depicts the story of some talented foreign kid in Hanguk. Whatever.

All articles come from The Chosun Ilbo English version.

Multicultural Children Still Face Discrimination

Children born from cross-cultural marriages have steadily increased their presence in Korea but they still face serious discrimination and bullying at school. According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, their number rose about 3.4 times in less than four years, or 25,000 annually, from 44,258 in May 2007 and 151,154 in January last year, as the country has seen increasing migrant workers and cross-cultural couples.

In a survey of 186 children from cross-cultural homes last year, the National Human Rights Commission found that 37 percent had been bullied at school. Some 41.9 percent were ridiculed because of their strange accent, and 21 percent were told by their classmates to "go back your country."

Many of the children come from poor families and their Korean is faulty. Due to persistent bullying and because they find it difficult to keep up, they often lose interest in their studies and even drop out of school.

"Some of them decline scholarship offers because they don't want other people to know that they're of mixed parentage," said Kim Jae-woo of charity Rainbow Youth Center. "We should raise awareness that multicultural families are simply our neighbors, rather than attempt to give them special support or benefits."

The children sometimes suffer discrimination even from their teachers as well as their peers. Dr. Kim Yi-sun of the Korean Women's Development Institute said, "Some teachers do not take the bullying of those children seriously or hurt them themselves without realizing that it is racial discrimination. We need to educate teachers from the early stage on how to be considerate of those children's feelings." 

Multicultural Couples Remain on Society's Margin

There are now more than 120,000 foreign wives who are married to Korean men and living in Korea. International marriages accounted for 11.1 percent of the country's total matrimony in 2007 -- one in nine couples being multicultural. Over 58,000 babies were born into multicultural families. Korea has briskly become multicultural. But the country has yet to fully accept those from multicultural families as its true members. But unless it embraces them, it will be difficult to gain trust from the international community in this globalized world.

◆ Measures Required to Secure Residential Rights

Wedlock between Korean men and foreign women increased steadily from around 7,300 in 2000 to over 19,000 in 2003 and more than 31,000 in 2005. The government and civic organizations have devised a variety of policies and programs designed to assist foreign wives, but their lives in Korea are still often harsh. The most serious problems stem from domestic violence.

Experts say foreign wives are defenseless in situations of spousal violence primarily because of their insecure qualifications for residence. The status of migrant wives who have not secured Korean nationality, falling short of the two-year conjugal requirement, depends on their husbands. When they apply for Korean nationality, applications must be guaranteed by their husbands, who also exercise the right to apply for annual visa extensions. If migrant wives divorce before securing Korean nationality, they are deprived of their residential status. The Nationality Law allows migrant wives to apply for naturalization when domestic violence is proved. But it is difficult and time-consuming to prove such cases, thus putting them at the risk of eviction during that period.

It is necessary to stipulate provisions guaranteeing residence and economic activities for foreign wives during the periods in which measures are undertaken against damage from not only physical violence but also economic maltreatment and sexual abuse," said lawyer Soh Ra-mae.

◆ Institutional Improvements and Support Programs Urgently Needed

According to a recent survey of 2,134 migrant wives in South Jeolla Province, 46.6 percent wanted to divorce. They cannot divorce, however, because of their children (66.9 percent), reasons that cannot be disclosed (13 percent) and lack of economic independence (4.9 percent). As the most difficult problems they encounter, they cited the language barrier (48 percent) and economic hardship (25 percent).

International marriage brokers are also responsible for the unhappiness experienced by migrant wives. A considerable number of Korean men pay large sums of money to brokers. "Some Korean husbands tend to regard their foreign wives as possessions they have bought with money and demand absolute obedience from them," said the head of a center for migrant wives.

Problems of migrant wives are wide-ranging and complicated, and the solutions offered by experts also vary. Kwon Mee-joo, a director of the Women Migrants Human Rights Center, asserted, "We must urgently improve laws and institutions so that migrant wives may enjoy fair welfare services as members of our society even before they secure Korean nationality." "Responses must take into account the regional characteristics of large and medium-sized cities and rural areas." said Kim Kyung-ah, the chief of the Multicultural Education Center at Honam University in Gwangju. "The regional community must be encouraged to accept multicultural families by offering programs through which they can play a constructive role in the regional community, rather than simply focusing on women migrants."

More Migrant Wives Seek Divorce

As more and more Korean men especially in rural areas marry mail-order brides from abroad, increasing numbers of these women are seeking divorce, often because communication problems lead to domestic violence.

Over 25,000 women have arrived in Korea annually since 2006 to marry Korean men, with the total reaching 123,866 as of late September last year. More than half or 52.9 percent are from Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

But even though many of these women have no one else to turn to when things fail to work out with their husbands, the number of divorces is on the rise.

According to the Justice Ministry, the overall divorce rate of Korean women dropped from 65.7 per 1,000 in 2006 to 62.4 in 2010. But the number of divorces among migrant wives roughly doubled over the same period from 3,933 to 7,904.

"The most common causes of divorce are conflict over cultural, language and age differences and men's deep-rooted contempt for women from Southeast Asia," says Kwon Mi-kyung of the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women.

Another major cause of the increasing divorce rate is that well-educated migrant women have a better sense of their rights and are therefore better able to resist unkind treatment by their husbands and in-laws.

Migrant women face a variety of difficulties. According to analysis of their calls to the emergency support center last month, about half of the women sought counseling for conflict with husbands, domestic violence and divorce. Some 22.8 percent complained about the difficulty of adapting to a new living environment, and 17.3 percent expressed grievances about mistreatment or prejudice in the workplace.

"Many migrant women come here and depend solely on their husband because they have virtually no knowledge of the language and culture," says Kwon Oh-hee of another support center for migrant women in Seoul. "We need to make more substantial attempts to support them, including providing daycare centers for their children so that harassed or divorced migrant women can support themselves and find jobs for where they can work comfortably."

Multiculturalism a New Theme in Korean Movies

More and more Korean movies, including "Pacemaker" by director Kim Dal-joong that opens next Thursday, are taking on the theme of multiculturalism that is changing the face of Korean society. In 2010, one out of every 10 marriages involved a foreign spouse, while the number of children from multicultural families has grown seven-fold from 25,000 in 2006 to 160,000 in 2010. And this trend is being portrayed more frequently on the silver screen.

It was TV dramas that first dealt with the issue. The SBS dramas "Hanoi Bride" (2005) and "Golden Bride" (2007) featured a Korean man who married a Vietnamese woman. But the main focus of those soaps was mostly about the love between a man and a woman that transcended borders. They avoided dealing with the complex issues facing multicultural families. However, recent movies have shown more interest in depicting how families from different social and cultural backgrounds manage in Korean society.

Shin Dong-il's "Bandhobi" (2009) and "Banga Banga" (2010) by director Yuk Sang-hyo drew a lot of attention due to their candid portrayal of the mistreatment of foreign laborers, which has become a more prominent social issue in the country.

"Bandhobi" focuses on the friendship between a Bangladeshi laborer and a high school student, while "Banga Banga" concerns a young unemployed Korean who finds work posing as a foreign laborer. The latter was a low-budget film that cost just W800 million (US$1=W1,159) to produce, but became a box-office hit that attracted over one million viewers.
Lee Han's "Punch," which opened last October, seriously highlighted the issue of multicultural families. But no one expected the movie about a boy with a hunchback father and an immigrant mother from the Philippines to turn into a box office hit, drawing over five million viewers.

In the film, there are several other minor characters who show the daily routines and realities of migrated workers in Korea.

"This movie not only reflects the changes happening in our society, but also tries to suggest solutions," said movie critic Jeon Chan-il. "Rather than adopting a patronizing approach to impoverished foreign laborers who come to Korea to make money, the movie makes us realize they are a part of our society."

One filmmaker said, "We cannot avoid multicultural families and foreign laborers as they have become so common these days." He added, "These changes have been taking place for some time now, so moviegoers are not unfamiliar with this subject. We will probably see more movies taking on this issue."