11/18/2010, 00.00

Korean men mail-order wives

Marriages are arranged by brokers, who send farmers to poor areas of Vietnam or China to choose their brides. Mixed marriages, once opposed by Korean men, on the rise,. Also to counter the gender imbalance caused by the practice of selective abortion.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) – “Vietnamese girls, who never run away", or"Vietnamese daughters-in-law are really kind", are just some of the posters that can be found in the agricultural county of Bayo, one of the less developed and more traditional South Korean counties, where in recent years mixed “mail-order” marriages between Korean farmers and young women from other Asian countries have increased.

Typically the marriages are combined by intermediaries and agents – a booming business - who describe South Korea as an earthly paradise. The girls are painted a rosy picture of the country where they are going to live, fuelled by television shows that depict the life of privileged middle-class families. Not the farmers, the men who they are most likely to marry.

Intermediaries organize trips to Vietnam or China for farmers in search of a wife. Once there, they are presented with a number of potential candidates for marriage. Once the choice is made, the Koreans return home and begin filing documents by mail, while waiting for their bride to arrive in the months ahead.

This type of marriage is motivated by from practical needs beneficial to both parties: the Korean farmer finds a wife (usually much younger, hard-working and obedient), the girl from an impoverished background, has the prospect of a better material life than she will ever have in her homeland. For these young women even the modest home of a farmer is a paradise: it has running water, electricity, a television, a refrigerator. All things that are still a luxury in many parts of rural China and Vietnam.

The Koreans have never been fond of marriage with foreigners, although it became an established practice in the '40s, with the unions between American soldiers and Korean girls. Since 1990, the practice of selective abortion has caused a serious gender imbalance. Since then, "mixed" marriages, mostly avoided by Korean men, has increasingly been seen in a different light.

Given recent data, the turnaround in trends has been quick, as well as high. In 2000, 3.5% of recent marriages were with a foreigner, rising to 13.5% in 2005. In subsequent years the ratio has dropped, but remained constant in 2009 around 10.9% of marriages (approximately 33 thousand cases) were with foreign spouses. But the turnaround is what is most surprising: last year, 75.5% of all marriages were between a Korean and a foreign bride. About a third of the brides from China, Vietnam is the second largest "exporter" of brides. But women also come from Cambodia, the Philippines and Japan.
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