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[Newsmaker] Marriage immigrant women in Korea vulnerable to financial abuse: study

Foreign-born women who moved to South Korea upon marrying Korean men are often subjected to financial abuse by their spouses and in-laws, a new government study showed Wednesday.

The study, organized and released by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, came to the conclusion after surveying 920 foreign-born women married to South Korean nationals last year.

The largest proportion of the surveyed women, 42.4 percent, came from Vietnam, followed by China (29.4 percent) and the Philippines (11.4 percent). The women on average had spent 16.37 years in South Korea as of last year. 

Migrant wives in South Korea learn how to wear hanbok (Yonhap)
Migrant wives in South Korea learn how to wear hanbok (Yonhap)

The study showed that 70.7 percent of the surveyed women were unemployed, and 60 percent had no personal income.

At the same time, it showed that foreign-born women married to Korean men also often experience financial abuse. 

Almost 35 percent of the 920 surveyed women said their husbands and Korean in-laws would not give them an allowance. At the same time, 15.5 percent said their husbands had used their assets for their benefit without prior consultation, including their monthly salary. 

Almost 28 percent of the surveyed women said they were made to do domestic chores to a degree that they could not find time for much else. Also, 27 percent of the women said their spouses and in-laws tried to stop them from wiring money to families back home.

A 35-year-old woman from Cambodia, who participated in the research, said she was forced by her family members to get a job and work as a cleaner, while she was also solely responsible for the care of their children and the domestic chores. “My husband is 48 years old and has been very irresponsible financially,” she told the researchers.

“He never does any domestic chores, never cares for the children. He rarely works and spends most of his time playing billiards.”

On top of financial abuse, the surveyed women were vulnerable to physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Almost 43 percent of all participants said they had experienced some form of domestic abuse. 

More than 80 percent of them said they have been insulted by their husbands, who used “vulgar and violent” language. Almost 40 percent said they were threatened with physical harm by their spouses, while 41. 3 percent said they were forced into “Korean ways of living,” such as cooking and eating Korean food only.

Meanwhile, 11.9 percent said they were coerced by their spouses or in-laws into unwanted an abortion, while 27.9 percent said they were made to perform sexual acts without consent.

Researchers found that among all forms of abuse, financial abuse is especially common among women who live in rural or fishing villages.

Kim Eun-joeng, the head researcher for the study, said compared to other forms of abuse, it is especially hard for the victims to prove damage from financial abuse.

“A law revision may be necessary for those who experience nonphysical abuse to legally live and work in Korea for a certain period of time should they want to proceed with a divorce,” she wrote in the study.

“Currently, many have no options but to leave Korea if they choose to leave their husbands (and have yet to obtain South Korean citizenship). This can cause unwanted family separations should the women have children.”

By Claire Lee (