The public rage over a South Korean man who has been taken into custody for beating his Vietnamese-born wife should alert government officials and lawmakers on the need to devise measures to protect the rights of marriage-based immigrant women in the country.
It is disappointing, however, as very few officials and lawmakers are serious about the case, which generated intense public anger in both Korea and Vietnam after a video clip of the criminal act went viral on the internet and social media.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Korean National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gab-ryong were a few officials who commented on the issue. In their separate meeting with visiting Vietnamese Minister of Public Security To Lam on Monday, they expressed regret and pledged to conduct a thorough investigation.
It is quite natural for the prime minister and the national police chief to mention the case to a Vietnamese security official who came to the country shortly after the violence occurred. What’s unnatural is that the case, despite its gravity, did not draw the attention of officials like those at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and numerous human rights-related government agencies, organizations and lawmakers.
The case of domestic violence, which took place in the couple’s home in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province, last Thursday, deserves due attention of the relevant officials and activists. The 153-second video footage showed the Korean man punching and kicking his wife while their toddler son was crying nearby.
Police said the violence lasted about three hours and the 36-year-old man, intoxicated at that time, said that he beat his wife, 30, because she did not speak Korean well. The woman, who suffered a fractured rib and other injuries that require four weeks of medical treatment, told police that he habitually beat her, like a boxing sandbag.
The case quickly grabbed public attention as one of her acquaintances posted the recorded video on social media. Police said the clip was recorded by the victim on her phone.
It is not rare for Koreans to encounter news of local men abusing their immigrant wives, but the latest case made bigger headlines because of the vivid scenes of violence.
The Yeongam case should remind all of us, not least government officials and lawmakers, that while the public uproar may be short-lived like other previous cases that shocked the public, the nation as a whole should do some soul-searching and tackle the problem.
Indeed, protecting the rights of immigrants, including workers and women coming here through international marriages, should become a national priority as multicultural families are steadily expanding.
Government statistics show that there are now more than 2.3 million non-Koreans in the country. International marriages have also increased -- between 7 percent and 11 percent of marriages in Korea involve foreign-born spouses.
As of 2017, there were 130,000 immigrant women in Korea on spousal visas. Many of them are vulnerable to violation of their rights as Korea is still a patriarchal, male-dominated society which also tends to look down upon immigrant workers and spouses from less-developed countries.
A 2017 survey of 920 marriage-immigrant women, which was commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission, found that 42.1 percent of the respondents suffered domestic violence.
This compares with a 2016 survey released by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family showing that an average of 12.1 percent of Korean wives suffered domestic violence.
Even without these comparative figures, one can notice that foreign-born wives can fall victim to domestic violence more easily than Korean women because they are separated from their families, have their visas sponsored by their husbands, and encounter language barriers and cultural differences.
As Korea has among the world’s lowest birthrates, it will face an increasingly more serious shortage of workers and spouses, which means the country will have to rely on a growing foreign-born population.
We need more effective measures to protect the rights of multicultural families and workers. The Yeongam case should serve as a wake-up call for the government and National Assembly to work on new policies and legislative initiatives in that regard.
The acquaintance of the victim wrote in the social media post that “South Korea is crazy.” Anyone who saw the video clip would agree with her. We ought to stop this craziness.