In South Korea, There’s A Brimming Business Of Buying Foreign Brides And The Culture Of Domestic Abuse

In South Korea, There’S A Brimming Business Of Buying Foreign Brides And The Culture Of Domestic Abuse
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The South Korean government grants subsidies to single men to marry foreign brides.

Yes, you read it right. To date, there are over 35 municipal governments in the country that are hoping the newly implemented bylaws will solve the dwindling population of South Korea’s countryside.

It’s All About The Single Man Subsidy

Korean bachelors aged 35–55 who have never been married before and must have lived in the countryside for at least three years are eligible for the subsidy. The amount received in the subsidy varies between 3 million and 10 million won ($2,600 to $8,800 USD) depending upon where the groom lives.

For instance, Yangpyeong County in Gyeonggi Province provides a 10 million won subsidy for each man. Foreign brides are often from nearby countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, procuring a wife from Vietnam costs around 14.2 million won ($12,600 USD); from China, it costs around 10.7 million won ($9,500 USD); and from Uzbekistan, brides are the most expensive, costing an average of 18.3 million won ($16,200 USD). The report by the ministry (2017) shows that 73 percent of foreign brides are from Vietnam.

The Story of Rural South Korea

Since the 1960s, South Korea has been facing a low fertility rate. Its skewed population is a grave matter of concern. The problem is more pressing in rural areas where traditions require men to stay where they’re from. Tend the farms, and keep the family business alive. As a result, there is an increasing number of single men in rural South Korea. If you are wondering where the women are, according to reports, most Korean women migrate to cities for better livelihoods and opportunities.

An anonymous official told the Strait Times, “Most Korean women refuse to be set up with Korean men (in rural areas), who ultimately settle with married migrant women.” So we want to help them find a spouse.

The other side of this subsidy program that doesn’t get highlighted is domestic abuse and a rampant crime against foreign brides in South Korea.


In a 2017 poll by the National Human Rights Commission in South Korea, more than 42% of foreign wives reported having suffered domestic violence, including physical, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse.

Most foreign brides polled when asked if they had reported the crime to the authorities or their families said they didn’t tell anyone about the domestic violence they had suffered. They said they were embarrassed, didn’t know who to tell, and didn’t expect anything to change by doing so.

In comparison, the survey by the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family last year showed 29% of South Korean women reported having been a victim of domestic violence and abuse. To this,

experts say discriminatory rules, coupled with sexism and racism in society, are to blame and are pushing for institutional changes to keep foreign brides safe.

“Such an approach to shopping-like marriage leads to linguistic barriers and human rights problems,” Jang Han-up, director of the Ewha Multicultural Research Institute told the Strait Times. “They (foreign brides) are vulnerable to human rights abuses, treated as property and expected to take the role of a housekeeper and a sexual object.”

Needless to say, such subsidies gave rise to an industry of transnational marriage brokers. Or should we say, a growing, thriving industry? According to government data, as of May, 380 matchmaking agencies were registered in South Korea.

It, thus, becomes imperative to learn from the dangerous trends of China, where the high demand for foreign brides has resulted in cases of women being lured by traffickers into fake jobs only to be sold off as brides or domestic workers. In some rare cases, they become victims of prostitution. According to Vietnam’s Department of General Police, between 2011 and 2017, about 6,000 Vietnamese women were trafficked into China to become brides. Is South Korea following in the footsteps of China?

What’s happening in South Korea reveals a grim but real picture of the country’s future

The country ranks among the lowest in the OECD in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, partly due to unequal political and employment opportunities for women. The country has reported increased incidences of sex crime allegations against entertainment stars, politicians, and sports coaches, thereby hinting at traits of a deeply patriarchal culture.

Heo Young-sook, head of the Korea Women Migrants Human Rights Center, says, “Migrant women face multi-layered discrimination—it often is gender discrimination and racial discrimination, combined with institutional issues, that create problems.”

The concerns on subsidy are valid. There’s a pressing need for institutional change with respect to foreign brides in South Korea and for women in general.

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