Monday, April 21, 2008

Interracial Marriages Not Uncommon in Urban Areas

When it comes to interracial marriage, many Koreans picture farmers marrying women from China in suburban areas. However, a recent government report said the trend is changing fast ― many of the grooms live in urban areas and are marrying for the second time with Vietnamese women.

The report said many of these couples suffer from poor-communication and financial problems. They are also reluctant to have children, it said.

According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, only 12.4 percent of 30,208 men married to foreign women in 2006 made a living in the agricultural or fishery sector ― a huge decline from 30-40 percent in the past.

Many grooms were previously married. In 2001, 66.7 percent were getting married for the first time, but in 2005, the number decreased to 55.4 percent. The portion of males on their second marriage jumped from 32.3 percent to 43.2 percent over the same period.

Lee Sam-shik, a researcher at the institute, said in these cases many men who divorce try to get over the past with interracial marriages.

In 1995, only 4.6 percent of such couples had an age difference of more than 20 years with the men being older. However, the portion jumped to 15.8 percent in 2006, according to National Statistical Office.

The largest nationality among foreign brides has changed from Chinese to Vietnamese. In 2001, 70 percent of brides were Chinese, mostly ethnic Korean, but the number shrunk to 48.4 percent in 2006. However, the Vietnamese bride portion jumped from 1.3 percent to 33.5 percent over the same period.

``I think these days matchmaking agencies are in favor of Vietnam for some reason'' Lee said.

These changes have had side effects. Another researcher, Park Jong-seo, said the widening age gap and different cultural backgrounds brought problems to the marriages. Children from previous unions also contributed to the problem, he said.

When the study group conducted in-depth interviews with 23 migrant brides, they said poor-communication and men's indifference to marriage hurt them.

``They said most of the time their husbands were too old to have open-minded discussions with them and couldn't talk to them properly. They also had trouble with the children from men's previous marriages due to the language barrier,'' he said. The researcher said some women felt like they were married to feed the family and simply do housework.

The problems contributed to childbirth and divorce rates. ``Their birthrate has always been higher than that of Koreans. But recently, it dropped to about the same as Koreans and the decline is increasing,'' Park said, adding that more foreign spouses are complaining about their status.

``They want to earn money and be loved by their husbands, as they saw in Korean dramas back in their home country, but they can have neither. The cruel reality is actually driving some to take drastic steps,'' he said.

Both Lee and Park said the government should adopt certain measures for these couples. ``We need to support the wives in getting used to Korea in the early stages and encourage them to have babies and provide support for this,'' they said.

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