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."