August 15, 2009 08:25
The number of North Korean women in South Korea has grown to such proportions that matchmaking firms now specialize in marriages between them and South Korean men. According to the Unification Ministry, in 2001 a total of 480 North Korean women came to the South, and the number rose to 960 in 2005 and 2,197 in 2008.
Adding the 1,282 women who came to the South until July this year, the total number is now 11,232, about double the number of North Korean men, which stands at 5,514. Based on their age at the time of entry to the South, six out of 10 North Korean female defectors or 6,756 were in their 20s or 30s, and 3,784 of them were single.
Currently there are eight companies in Seoul alone that provide services matching North Korean women with South Korean men. Two of them opened between 2005 and 2006 and the other six last year or this year. "It's a niche market for South Korean men who have considered the option of marrying women from abroad," says Youn Mi-ryang, the director-general of Hanawon, the government-run institution established to train and help defectors settle in South Korea.
North Korean women think the wealth and generosity of the potential partners are vital. They also review height, weight, occupation, income, where they live and marital history before a meeting is arranged.
One North Korean woman who herself works in a matchmaking firm says, "You are making a big mistake if you expect an obedient woman just because she's from North Korea. North Korean women who have been living in the South for a long time are not very different from South Korean women." She says young women are reluctant to move to the countryside. "Of course they're less picky about the qualifications men have than South Korean women because they came South without anything," she adds.
One 30-year-old North Korean woman in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province has been dating a 42-year-old South Korean man in Daegu from July and is thinking of getting married. "You can't imagine how many times I was deceived, suffered starvation, and had to hide since leaving North Korea," she says. "I wanted to meet a man who can be generous with me in both mental and material terms. I don't really care about the age difference."
Matchmaking firms say South Korean men are drawn to North Korean women because there is no language or cultural barrier as there would be with women from abroad and because North Korean women are famous for their perseverance and filial piety.
There are no official statistics on how many North Korean women are married to South Korean men. The CEO of one matchmaking service says about 550-600 such couples have married through the two oldest firms, and given the performance of the newer ones, he estimates the total at 900-1,000.
Some experts are concerned. Lee Keum-soon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, says, "North Korean women have usually undergone severe hardship for up to 10 years after escaping from North Korea and before settling in the South. Hasty marriage without a deep understanding of their particular life history can lead to family conflicts that are different from the ones observed in bi-cultural families."
But such unions could be a sign of things to come when the two Koreas unify. Prof. Do Ki-sook of Kwangwoon University says, "A lot of East German women became poor when they failed to adapt to the market economy after German unification. The social safety net is weaker in Korea than in Germany, and many people still think of marriage as equivalent to stability, so it's likely that a massive number of North Korean women will resort to arranged marriages with South Korean men after unification."
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