It is a national shame that foreign wives living with Koreans have suffered spousal abuse. This issue surfaced again on Tuesday when Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet asked the South Korean government to help Vietnamese married to Korean men lead better lives here. Triet made the request when he accepted the credentials of Im Hong-jae, the newly appointed Korean Ambassador to Hanoi.
Pham The Duyet, president of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, also made a similar request. He told Im that South Korea should pay more attention to the Vietnamese immigrants so that they can better integrate into Korean society. There is no doubt that the Vietnamese leadership is concerned about the alleged abuse of Vietnamese women by their Korean husbands. The Southeast Asian country has been hit by media reports that Vietnamese wives are the victims of various kinds of spousal abuse.
A horrible case in Daejeon in July involved a 19-year-old Vietnamese woman who reportedly died after being violently beaten by her husband. In another case, a Vietnamese woman entered into a marriage with a Korean man who only wanted her to give birth to a baby. The man divorced her and took the baby to reunite with his infertile ex-wife. Some people fear that such incidents could harm diplomatic relations between Seoul and Hanoi.
The abuse of foreign wives is not confined to women from Vietnam. Many foreign women getting married to Koreans in search of the ``Korean dream'' confront the stark reality of domestic violence, verbal abuse and discrimination in Korean society. Some of them even fall prey to human trafficking. An annual U.S. report on human trafficking showed that a growing number of foreigners are trafficked to South Korea for sexual or labor exploitation though brokered marriages. The report carried a photograph of a roadside billboard advertising an international marriage broker who promises to offer Vietnamese brides who would not run away. This indicates how serious the human trafficking issue is in the country.
Cases related to Vietnamese women have drawn much attention because their numbers are rapidly growing. The number of Chinese women married to Koreans last year was estimated at 14,450. But most of them are ethnic Koreans from China's northeastern provinces. The number of Vietnamese wives stood at 9,812. Thus, Vietnamese women have actually emerged as the largest foreign wives' group in South Korea. The number of women from the Philippines and Mongolia reached 1,131 and 559, respectively.
The Seoul government has worked out policy packages to protect the rights of foreign spouses and help them adapt to Korean society. However, such steps have yet to produce any remarkable results. A Seoul National University survey showed that one out of every 10 foreign spouses has suffered domestic violence, while three out of every 10 has experienced verbal abuse.
Policymakers should take more fundamental measures to ensure foreign wives' human rights and crack down on domestic violence and other types of spousal abuse. South Koreans will also have to warmly embrace not only foreign brides but also migrant workers as our society increasingly moves toward globalization and multiculturalism.