Friday, February 24, 2012

Multicultural 'Deceit' in Korea?

Monument to Multiculturalism
Francesco Pirelli
Some cultures would destroy this statue . . .

I read a disturbing article in yesterday's JoongAng Daily about cases of migrant workers in Korea deceiving Korean women into marriages of convenience. This is the sort of thing one ought to expect, but according to Yim Seung-hye in "Woman recalls deceit in migrant marriage" (February 23, 2012), the women are naively taken advantage of in many 'multicultural' marriages involving a particular subgroup of migrant workers:
As the number of international marriages continues to rise, there is no shortage of stories painting multiculturalism in a positive light. But one such marriage has left a woman fighting for custody of her son in a trend of marital deception that appears to be growing.

The woman, who asked to be identified only as Oh, 38, is part of an Internet group with thousands of members who have suffered as a result of marriages with Pakistani and Bangladeshi men. The Korean women writing there have shared stories of being tricked into marriages with migrant workers from the two countries as well as verbal and physical abuse.

The most disturbing point is that this sort of deceitful marriage has happened to thousands of women. I wish some statistics had been provided, but if the reference to "an Internet group with thousands of members" is accurate, then this may be a huge problem indeed, for this internet group could be just the tip of a very large iceberg. Most of the stories that we read in the papers about so-called 'multicultural' marriages focus on Korean men marrying foreign women, and if those marriages fail to work out, blame often gets placed on the Korean husbands or the Korean in-laws, but the focus in most articles is on successful marriages and on how Koreans need to change and be more open to foreign ways. That message has its downside, as Ms. Oh's case shows:
"There are so many women who have similar stories as mine. Most of us were hesitant to marry a migrant worker, but all of the TV shows and news stories beautifying multiculturalism and the stories of multicultural families living happily in Korea comforted us," Oh said. "But now, all of us are suffering from broken marriages. I just don't want to see any more victims like myself."

My advice to Korean women considering marriage to foreigners is twofold: Get to know the man well first and also get to know the man's culture. Don't depend only on what he says. Read about his home country and the treatment of women there. Find out what his religion teaches about the treatment of women. Don't rely on sources with an interest in painting a rosy picture of other cultures. Look for the dirt that's being swept under the rug. Turn over a few stones and see what turns up. Think hard about the future with a foreigner. For instance, consider what might happen if you did marry a foreigner and had children with him. Could you be certain that on a visit to his home country, your children could not be taken from you by your in-laws? That could happen in some countries where the husband has the legal control over his children.

This advice is sound no matter what the statistics concerning cases such as that of Ms. Oh.

UPDATE: Readers in comments have expressed skepticism about the prevalence of such cases, a point on which I also had questions, but my doubts were very carefully couched, so I've now added a question mark to this blog entry's heading to indicate that I have lingering questions.

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At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how widespread the problem really is. The Korean media is found of making mountains out of molehills or declaring summer is here after seeing a few swallows. Migrant workers do not make much money and do not have extended relatives able to provide support for a young couple in Korea, so they would not be seen as desirable spouses by most Korean women, and certainly not by their families. The gender imbalance favoring women seeking men and changes in attitudes about gender roles give young Korean women more attractive dating and mating choices compared to previous generations. Marriages between foreign migrant workers and Korean women do happen, but I doubt the numbers are very high, and in any case, the woman would have a better chance of obtaining custody of children in the event of a divorce than if she had married a Korean man. The story is a media example of cockblocking.


At 10:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I also wondered about these things, which is why I'd like to see some statistics to corroborate the claim that there are "thousands" of such women.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have expected Jeffery Hodges to have been taken in by this type of reporting but hook, line and sinker apparently.

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Not entirely taken in.

I had some questions and a lingering skepticism, which is why I wished for statistics on the topic.

I also wondered (albeit silently) why no link was given to the website (though I considered the possibility that the women wished for privacy)

My advice, at any rate, was carefully couched to apply to such cases, no matter what the statistics might prove to be.

The subject is a delicate one. Not knowing for certain how to evaluate the report, I didn't want to be offensive to either side, which is why I gently raised the issue of statistics and carefully avoided discussing Islam in particular and spoke of religion and culture more generally.

But I ought to have supplied a question mark in the title to indicate a degree of uncertainty, and I will do so now.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, it's a red riding hood narrative plain and simple. it warns young Korean girls to stay away from male Muslim immigrants.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree . . . though the article avoids the label "Muslim." It uses the code words "Pakistan" or "Bangladesh" to refer to the country of origin of specific migrant workers to be concerned about. But concern for religious and cultural differences isn't irrelevant. Koreans are relatively ignorant of Americans (I've often been astonished at the ignorance!), so imagine their ignorance of Muslims, whatever the national origins of the particular Muslims.

Jeffery Hodges

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