Kristine (not her real name), a 25-year-old Filipina, decided to run away from her Korean husband of five years after he tried to strangle her last April. She endured years of occasional physical abuse, but could no longer live with a man who nearly killed her.
Another Filipina, 35-year-old Carla (not her real name) found herself widowed only two months after being married to her Korean husband. However, her husband’s family refused to give her any assistance and evicted her from her husband’s home.
Another Filipina did not even realize her husband had divorced her until the divorce papers arrived at her doorstep.
These cases may seem extreme, but these cases of abuse and hardship are not unique to Filipina wives of Korean men. There are dozens of foreign wives, whether Chinese or Vietnamese or other nationalities, who ran away after having experienced physical and verbal abuse at the hands of their Korean husbands. Others may have found themselves divorced and alone in Korea, and living in fear of being deported.
It’s these kinds of problems that prompted the Filipino Korean Spouses Association-Korea to seek more rights for foreign wives of Korean husbands.
The association recently presented a petition entitled “Foreign Korean wives demands justice and equal rights,’’ signed by 116 women, to the Philippine Embassy in Seoul.
Fe S. Kim, president of the Filipino Korean Spouses Association-Korea, said a Manila-based non-government organization (NGO) had earlier interviewed several Filipina wives to discuss problems with living with their Korean husbands.
“The NGO asked for our help, so we gathered the information to see what were the main problems and how to fight this kind of problem. We are not looking for a perfect solution but how to lessen it,’’ she said in an interview with The Korea Times.
With the increase in the number of foreign women getting married to Korean men, Kim noted there are also many incidents of domestic abuse. Some of these problems may be rooted in the mail-order bride industry, where Filipinas are recruited as wives to Korean men. Kim noted some of the Filipinas may have been “victims of circumstance,’’ but some mail-order brides may have also been “willing victims”.
Among the common complaints from the Filipina wives are domestic violence, forced sex, threats of deportation and lack of financial support.
Based on the interviews conducted by the NGO, Kim said they have compiled the petition for proposed reforms that are aimed to give more protection to foreign spouses of Koreans.
This includes the right to Korean citizenship after two years of residency in Korea, whether they are still married or divorced; and the right to equal economic opportunity.
“Application for Korean citizenship should not be at the mercy of their Korean husbands who use this as their weapons to abuse (blackmail) their wives,?the petition stated.
The petition also noted any divorce application filed by Korean spouses should be first investigated before the petition is granted, since there are many cases of foreign wives who are unaware they were already divorced by their husbands.
“If divorce is granted, the men should pay a monthly alimony to their wives and children, as well as giving them security of abode,” it stated.
The petition proposed that the Korean government create a special body or court to hear cases of foreign wives who file cases of domestic violence or marital rape against their husbands.
Lastly, the petition proposed that a course on the Korean language and culture be given to foreign women before getting married to Korean men. Korean men should also learn about their wives’ cultures and languages before getting married.
“These may not lessen cases of domestic violence, but it will give them both ample time to think before plunging into marriage. In any intercultural marriage, differences in norms, values, expectations and habits may lead to tension and conflict,” it said.
When asked about the petition, Philippine Ambassador to Seoul Aladdin Villacorte said he will have to carefully study the proposals from the association. He noted the proposals would affect not just Filipina wives, but all foreign wives, so it would need careful consideration by the proper Korean authorities.
Root of Problem
Kim, who is married to a Korean herself, said the problems are not just with Korean husbands. “If some of the Korean husbands have their faults, the Filipina wives also have their faults. It goes both ways,” she said.
Fr. Raymundo T. Sabio, chaplain of the Inchon Catholic International Community, has been in Korea for more than 10 years and has counseled many Filipinas who are married to Korean men.
In an interview with The Korea Times, Sabio said most of the problems between Korean-Filipina couples are because of cultural differences.
“Filipinas come here expecting their lives with their Korean husbands to be easy, but they encounter difficulties… In Philippine culture, women are treated differently. Women are put on a pedestal, and they are meant to be respected as ladies and mothers. In Korea, the women’s job is to take care of the husband, the house and the children,” he said.
Sabio said there are many problems are faced by those Filipinas who marry Koreans without any background about the language and culture. These are usually those Filipinas who marry Korean men through the Unification Church or mail-order bride agencies.
While the tales of abuse and heartbreak at the hands of Korean men grab headlines, Sabio noted there are also Koreans and Filipinas who end up happily married. He said these happy marriages are usually between couples who know about each others’ culture and language.