Video of migrant woman being abused by husband incites public outrage

Posted on : 2019-07-08 17:14 KST Modified on : 2019-07-08 17:14 KST
Immigrant wives applying for citizenship require character references from husbands
Migrant wives protest domestic violence in front of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) on June
Migrant wives protest domestic violence in front of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) on June

A video on social media showing migrant women being abused by their husbands has sparked indignation among South Koreans. Critics are saying a combination of patriarchal attitudes and the continued requirement that husbands serve as “character references” in the process of obtaining citizenship are contributing to the fostering and neglect of human rights violations against women immigrating through marriage.

On July 6, Yeongam Police Station in South Jeolla Province placed a 36-year-old man surnamed Kim under emergency arrest on charges of special injury and violation of child protection law. Kim is accused of inflicting injuries against his Vietnamese wife “K,” 30, at their home in Yeongam County over a three-hour period beginning at 9 pm on July 4. The injuries, which include fractured ribs from Kim allegedly striking K with his fists, feet, and a liquor bottle, will require over four weeks of treatment. Kim was also charged with child abuse for striking K while she was holding their two-year-old son. Police relocated K and the son to a shelter to separate them from Kim.

After being routinely subjected to abuse by her husband, K finally recorded a video by placing her mobile phone on a diaper bag on the living room table. On July 5, she sent a video of her husband’s abusive behavior to acquaintances, who reported to it police and posted the footage on social media. Police examined the video at around 5 pm on July 6. Three hours later, they summoned the husband for questioning before placing him under emergency arrest. The police also decided to request an arrest warrant for Kim, citing the “gravity of the crime and concerns about reprisals.”

Domestic abuse is a common occurrence for women like K who immigrate to South Korea through marriage. Figures on female marriage migrant sojourn conditions published by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) in June 2018 showed 387 out of 920 female marriage migrants surveyed, or 42.1%, reporting experience with domestic abuse.

Among the different forms of abuse, 81.1% of respondents who reported abuse (314 individuals) said they had been subjected to psychological and verbal abuse such as severe insults in the home, while 67.9% (263) said they been forced to engage in sexual intercourse or been subjected to sexual abuse. (Multiple responses were permitted.) Fully 19.9% (77) reported having been threatened with a weapon.

Sokha (not her real name), a Cambodian who married a South Korean man in 2007, was first subjected to violence by her husband during their third year of marriage. Early on in the marriage, he verbally abused her, telling her he had “paid money to bring you here to work with me in the fields.” Later, he began engaging in routine physical abuse, including grabbing her by the hair and shoving her into walls or throwing objects at her. When their child – just below elementary school age – tearfully pleaded for him to stop, the husband would turn the volume of the television up loud and continue striking Sokha. She asked for help from other village residents, only to be told that she had to “put up with it.” Around the 10th year following her arrival in South Korea, Sokha persuaded her husband to apply for her citizenship. He withdrew the application when she subsequently fled to a shelter.

Experts pointed to South Korea’s patriarchal culture as the chief factor behind the abuse against female marriage migrants.

“In addition to the sexual discrimination issues in South Korea as a society where wives and husbands do not hold equal power, there’s also an issue of hierarchy in international marriages, with an average age difference of over 10 years,” explained Kang Hye-sook, co-representative of the Korea Women Migrants Human Rights Center.

“As a result, South Korean husbands often either do not recognize their young foreign wives as part of the family or think, ‘I brought you into this house and can treat you however I see fit,’” she said.

Critics said the problem of domestic abuse has been exacerbated by the relationship of subordination to their spouse that migrant women are placed in as a result of legal provisions granting South Korean spouses full authority when female marriage migrants acquire citizenship.

Legal power S. Korean husbands hold over migrant wives

In 2011, the NHRCK submitted an opinion to the Ministry of Justice recommending the removal of an enforcement rule in the Immigration Control Act requiring South Korean spouses to serve as “character references” when female marriage migrants receive permission to extend their sojourn status in South Korea – a requirement intended to prevent “marriages under false pretenses.” The character reference requirement was subsequently abolished, but female marriage migrants who have not yet acquired citizenship still require a guarantee from their South Korean spouse regarding their marital relationship when applying for a visa extension or requesting permanent residency. When a South Korean spouse unilaterally withdraws that reference, it becomes difficult for the migrant woman to remain in South Korea.

“Quite often, South Korean husbands deliberately refrain from helping their marriage migrant wives obtain citizenship because they believe they will flee once they have it,” said Ko Myeong-sook, director the Daegu Migrant Women’s Shelter.

“At the very least, the system should be reformed so that once their child or children are of elementary school age, the authenticity of the marriage is recognized and migrant women are able to acquire citizenship on their own,” Ko suggested.

By Seon Dam-eun, staff reporter, and Ahn Kwan-ok, Gwangju correspondent

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