In recent years, an increasing number of women are coming to Korea from foreign lands such as the Philippines, Russia, and China to wed Korean men. Importing brides became a common solution for men living in rural communities who had problems finding spouses at home. But this system of mail-order brides can hardly be called international or match-made marriages. Recent developments have led to the shocking discovery that this system can be a new form of human trafficking.
The system of mail-order brides, which first appeared in the 70s in the United States and Europe, has now established a niche in Korea in the form of online "matchmaking" agencies. The brokers running these websites provide detailed personal information on marriageable foreign women that include their age, height, weight, schooling, career and so on. And when the Korean client picks his bride, the broker charges brokerage fees and a commission for mediating the first meeting in the bride's country and drawing up the necessary nuptial agreements.
Kim Eunju, secretary of the Korea Church Women United, comments that unlike ordinary marriages, mail-order brides come from less developed countries that are poorer than Korea, and the process involves paid brokers. Kim condemns the practice as an express form of human trafficking.
It is no secret that the mail-order brides come willingly to Korea mainly for economic reasons. In the case of Russia or Philippines, it is difficult for these women to get jobs even with impressive academic achievements. Also, the national income gap between their country and Korea ensures big money in a short time if they come to Korea. But the problem is that the Korean men who ordered them are mostly farmers, widowers or divorcees, old bachelors, disabled persons, or job shifters. In other words, men considered poor candidates for marriage. That is why in most cases, the mail-order brides who tie the knot in Korea find life a far cry from the life they had dreamed of.
Hong Kihye (masters degree in Women's Studies, Ehwa Women's University), who studies marriages between Korean men and ethnic Korean women from China, says, "even if a woman freely chooses to get married, it is wrong to put all blame on her for being victimized by the marriage." She stresses that human rights of immigrants can be violated not only in the workplace but also in the realm of marriage and gender differences.
Byun Hwasoon, senior researcher at the Korean Women's Development Institute, says that it has become the international trend to deal with human trafficking or prostitution by punishing the intermediaries who exploit the situation for profit. She explains that the same method should be applied to the practice of mail-order brides. But since there are no ground rules in Korea's legal system for rooting out this practice, the most urgent task is to legislate appropriate laws. Byun's proposes that the existing laws preventing prostitution should be completely revised to include clauses preventing the exploitation of mail-order brides.
However, the "ring" of brokers organizes itself through the Internet, and uses as channels nonprofit organizations that can hardly be called intermediaries of exploitation. So in reality, it is difficult to crack down on these brokers.
The first step towards eradication of the mail-order bride system, therefore, is to raise public awareness, get people to regard the practice as actual human trafficking. Another step would be to get the authorities to study the situation in order to regulate the sex industry that is closely related to the practice.