Cablegate: Foreign Brides Flock to South Korea
DE RUEHUL #0810/01 0790755
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 200755Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3461
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2216
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2078
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2327
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//
UNCLAS SEOUL 000810
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SMIG KWMN KS
SUBJECT: FOREIGN BRIDES FLOCK TO SOUTH KOREA
1. (SBU) International marriages between Korean citizens and
foreign spouses are occurring at a dramatic rate. In 2005,
international marriages numbered 43,121 or 13.6 percent of
all marriages in Korea, up from 12,319 marriages in 2000.
More than 70 percent of these marriages (31,180 in total) are
between a Korean man and a foreign bride. The Korean
government is supportive of these unions as they provide a
partial resolution to the growing problem of some young
Korean men, who outnumber young Korean women by a sizeable
margin, having difficulty finding a wife and starting a
family, one of the key factors to Korea having the lowest
birthrate among the OECD. Demographic benefits aside, there
are a number of cultural, social, and ethical issues that
accompany this growing phenomenon as recounted to poloff by
Clara, a young Vietnamese bride in Seoul. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) Clara, as she is called by the Korean nuns who run
the Friendship House shelter where Clara currently resides,
is a 24-year old woman from a rural village in Vietnam.
Clara came to Korea in September 2006 following a wedding
ceremony in Vietnam with her Korean husband, Mr. Kim. One of
5 children in a family struggling to survive in an isolated
and poverty-stricken village, Clara embarked on the marriage
with her Korean husband after three other women from her
village successfully married Korean men and began sending
money back to their families. With the additional money, the
families built decent housing and provided a more comfortable
existence for the remaining siblings. Although Clara did not
want to leave her village, she wanted to do her part to help
3. (U) Clara's parents talked with the other families whose
daughters married Korean men. Eventually her parents made
contact with a Vietnamese business partner of a Korean
marriage broker company. Several weeks later, the Vietnamese
broker arrived with Clara's future husband, Mr. Kim. The
broker, speaking in broken Vietnamese and Korean, provided
very basic interpretation of the questions posed between the
prospective bride and groom. Clara asked why Mr. Kim had not
yet married and why he chose to marry a Vietnamese woman.
The broker responded for Mr. Kim saying that he had a slight
mental condition but he was taking medication and it did not
affect his daily life. This "minor affliction" prevented Mr.
Kim from finding a suitable spouse in Korea, the broker
explained. After a meeting that lasted less than an hour,
all parties agreed to the marriage which occurred two days
later. Mr. Kim and Clara spent an additional two days
together on their "honeymoon" in a nearby city before Mr. Kim
returned to Korea.
4. (U) Clara arrived in Korea approximately 3 months after
the wedding. Mr. Kim completed all of the necessary
paperwork required by the Korean immigration authorities who
issued F-2 visa for foreign brides in Korea. Upon arrival,
Clara was taken to her new home on the outskirts of Seoul.
Contrary to many of the marriages between Korean men and
Southeast-Asian women, Mr. Kim was not a farmer living in the
countryside; he had a low-paying job as a janitor for a large
office building in Seoul. Clara was also introduced to her
mother-in-law and brother-in-law. From the beginning, her
new relatives treated her well and were glad to see that Mr.
Kim had finally found some companionship as Mr. Kim was 37
with no viable prospects for marriage.
5. (U) Clara began her new life in Seoul but soon found it
was a very isolated and lonely existence. At home alone for
most of the day, Clara found little to do in her small
apartment and did not feel comfortable venturing out as she
did not speak the language and was not familiar with life in
a "big city". Her main source of relief was frequent phone
calls to her family in Vietnam and to her Vietnamese friend
who was also living in Korea. Eventually, her husband had to
limit these phone calls as the monthly bill became
burdensome. Although Clara was not physically limited in her
freedom to enjoy life in Korea, she was very aware of the
cultural and linguistic differences between herself and those
she came into contact with.
6. (U) Shortly after Clara's arrival, she began to see signs
in her husband's conduct and health that were not in line
with the explanations provided by the marriage broker during
the original meeting in Vietnam. Her husband had violent
seizures and was frequently agitated, causing Clara to fear
for her safety. His mental challenges and frustration with
Clara eventually led Mr. Kim to physically abuse her.
Despite the pleadings of her relatives in Vietnam and Mr.
Kim's family in Seoul, Clara decided to leave her husband and
seek refuge at a local Christian church. The church referred
Clara to the care of the "Sisters" or nuns who run the
Friendship House, a church-funded shelter for foreign women
who are victims of abuse.
7. (U) The nuns counseled Clara to try to work things out
with her husband and even arranged a meeting between the
couple. After the meeting failed to assuage Clara's concerns
about her safety or the true health condition of her husband,
she decided to seek a divorce and planned to return to
Vietnam. Although Clara said that she felt safe in the
shelter and was comforted by the care provided by the nuns,
she was very nervous about the reception that she would
receive from her family and friends back in Vietnam. Knowing
that she went to Korea to provide a better life for herself
and for her family, Clara is likely to face a difficult
transition back into the village where all will know that she
failed where others have reaped great success and prosperity.
8. (U) Started in 2003, Friendship House was founded to
support female victims of prostitution and human trafficking,
most of whom were from Russia. As Korea stopped issuing the
E-6 entertainer visas which were the main source of foreign
sex workers in Korea, the victims at the shelter have shifted
from Eastern European entertainers to Southeast Asian brides.
Each year, Friendship House assists approximately 50 women
seeking legal and medical counseling or to return to their
home country. The shelter is funded solely through
charitable contributions from local Christian churches. In
the past, Friendship House accepted government funding but
because of burdensome bureaucracy, they decided to stop
accepting government assistance.
9. (U) The shelter itself is a residential dwelling on the
outskirts of Seoul. Located in a quiet neighborhood, there
are no signs or markings to indicate to the common passerby
that the shelter exists. The shelter tries not to attract
public attention in order to protect the residents. Although
the interior of the house itself is cozy and inviting, the
curtains hanging on the large front window partially conceal
a metal security gate that the Sisters pull closed each night
to keep out unwanted visitors; a subtle reminder that these
women are victims and in need of protection.
10. (SBU) Many foreign brides are treated well and afforded
opportunities they would never have in their home country.
In general, overcoming linguistic and cultural differences
are often cited as the leading causes of divorce among
international couples. Despite these formidable challenges,
in 2005 only five percent of international couples requested
a divorce, far below the national divorce rate of 41 percent.
Not only are many of these couples staying together, most of
them are starting a family as well. Among Vietnamese brides
who came to Korea between 2003 and 2005, 94 percent gave
birth to children.
11. (SBU) Although the influx of foreign brides has helped
to raise the marriage rate among Korean men, there are a
number of long-term concerns that the Korean government is
just now beginning to address. Cultural assimilation of
foreign brides and the resulting "Korasian" children are two
of the more prominent areas of concern as one of the most
homogenous populations in the world tries to deal with the
idea of becoming more heterogeneous. Although it got a late
start, the Korean government is working diligently to help
foreigners in Korea and make their transition as smooth as
possible, but it will take several years to catch up with the
booming trend of international marriages.