Many children of Korean fathers and Southeast Asian mothers are starting school this spring, and some 200 of the children from the first wave of cross-cultural marriages are already serving in the military.
Among the children of marriage migrants from Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere, the number of school-age children increased 32 percent from 1,700 last year to 2,250 this year, according to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security on Monday. The number is expected to jump to about 9,000 in five years.
The number of children of Vietnamese mothers more than doubled from 436 in 2011 to 909 in 2012 and will keep rising.
The number of children of Philippine mothers had hovered at the 900 range until last year but increased to more than 1,000 this year.
The increase is due to a jump in the number of international marriages since 2004. Until that year, Korean men from rural areas, who often have trouble finding a local bride, tended to marry ethnic Korean women from China. But since the 1990s the number of school-age children of Korean-Chinese mothers has been in the area of 2,000 per year, and that of school-age children from Japanese mothers at about 300.
"At the moment, children of Korean-Chinese mothers top the list of all school-age children with a foreign mother, but in three years they will be overtaken by children of Vietnamese mothers," said Lee Sang-lim of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. "If they fail to adapt to school because of their skin color or cultural differences, that could lead to a serious social problem."
Korean-Chinese mothers typically speak Korean fluently, but many Southeast Asian mothers do not, which means that their children are also slower to acquire Korean. There are concerns that their children could also be slower learners since many of them are from low-income families and therefore have less access to private tuition.
At one elementary school in Gyeonggi Province that has many multicultural children, 42 of 51 slow learners are from multicultural homes. Experts say the government needs to come up with ways to help them adapt to school.