The Supreme Court says 29,660 international couples involving Korean grooms and foreign brides married last year, while 3,924 of those couples divorced. In 2003, there were 20,653 such couples and 1,018 divorces. The number of international marriages rose 43 percent over this period, while the number of divorces almost quadrupled. Last year alone, Korean men wed 14,450 Chinese, 9,812 Vietnamese, 1,131 Filipino, 559 Mongolian and 380 Cambodian brides.
These Asian women came to a strange land trusting their husbands-to-be and hoping to become Koreans and start their families. But because of a Korean law that does not give citizenships to foreigners who have no children and were married to a Korean spouse for less than two years, many of these women end up becoming illegal aliens or get deported. Even if they gain Korean citizenship, they must look for jobs in the new and unfamiliar country.
Most Korean men marry women from countries that are less developed than Korea. And the grooms typically choose the brides and pay travel and other expenses needed to bring them to Korea. That's one of the reasons why many of these brides fall victim to abuse, beatings, exploitation and other mistreatment. The sharp increase in divorces among international couples stems from an unequal relationship and domestic abuse.
Korea invited these Asian women because we needed them. For every 100 baby girls born in Korea, 110 baby boys were born since the 1980s, upsetting the gender balance. As a result, young Korean men living in farming communities had to rely on foreign brides, due to a shortage of Korean women. This gender imbalance continued until 2002, meaning many Korean men will have to turn to overseas to find brides for at least another 20 years.
The number of mixed-race students attending schools in Korea is expected to reach 100,000 by 2010. There are forecasts that a quarter of elementary school students in rural communities will be "Kosians" (Korean-Asians). In farming villages, it has grown increasingly rare to hear the cries of newborn babies. And most of the babies being born in those villages are Kosians. Nobody can deny or oppose this major trend, through which Korea is becoming multiethnic and multicultural. Each year, thousands of farming households are breaking up due to divorces involving international couples. This signifies that a part of our social structure is starting to get shaky. The government and society has a responsibility to make sure these households can find stability.