02/20/2019, 00.00
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Subsidies by local governments to marry foreign brides fuelling women trafficking

Some local administrations want to to counter rural exodus through financial incentives, ranging from US$ 2,700 to US$ 8,900. Most brides (73 per cent) come from Vietnam followed by other Southeast Asian nations. For critics, "shopping-like marriage leads to linguistic barriers and human rights problems." Women from Uzbekistan are the most "expensive".

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 35 rural municipalities in South Korea are offering economic incentives to male residents who marry foreign brides. The goal is to boost a population declining for the past 30 years and stem the exodus from the countryside to the big cities.

However, experts warn that such a policy by local governments is encouraging human trafficking, especially from Southeast Asia.

For their backs, subsidies, ranging from 3 to 10 million won (US$ 2,700 to US$ 8,900), serve one purpose: to help South Korean bachelors who struggle to find a wife by looking overseas.

Yangpyeong County in Gyeonggi Province, for instance, provides 10 million won to unmarried men, aged 35 and 55, working in agriculture, fishing and forestry who have lived in the area for more than three years.

Since the by-law was adopted in 2009, 10 per cent of local multicultural households have received funding. Most of the brides were from Vietnam, followed by other Southeast Asian countries.

Although the programme targets men, it is overseen by an official in charge of women’s welfare in the county's gender equality and family team.

Critics are worried. "This form of marriage is basically bride-buying - marriage based on money rather than love," said Jang Han-up, director of the Ewha Multicultural Research Institute.

For the scholar, "Such an approach to shopping-like marriage leads to linguistic barriers and human rights problems. They (foreign brides) are vulnerable to human rights abuses, treated as property and expected to take the role of a housekeeper and a sexual object."

According to a National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey of 920 women marriage migrants, 42.1 per cent replied that they had experienced domestic violence and 68 per cent had experienced unwanted sexual advances.

The international marriage subsidy partially covers marriage expenses, including airfares, accommodation and brokerage fees.

Upon selecting a number of candidates on a matchmaker's online website, South Korean men typically fly to the country to meet the women in person.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. marrying women from Uzbekistan is the most expensive, costing an average 18.3 million won a person, followed by the Philippines at 15.2 million won, Cambodia 14.4 million won, Vietnam 14.2 million won and China 10.7 million won.

Among international marriages between South Korean men and foreign women, brides from Vietnam accounted for 73 per cent, and it took an average 3.9 days from the couple's first meeting to the walk down the aisle.

In terms of age, South Korean grooms were on average 43.6 years old and foreign brides 25.2, for an average age gap of 18.4 years.

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