Tag Archives: marriage migrants

Day 5: Why South Koreans Won’t Have Kids- And Why Policy Cannot Solve the Low Fertility Issue (part 2)

16 Feb

In the last post, I said that the overarching policy frameworks are mainly patriarchal, and that is what is preventing the formation of long-term policies. And the specific problems that I can think of (or heard of) are below.

First of all, in my opinion, Korean culture (along with others) has demanded women’s tremendous sacrifices for their families, although its women got to take various social roles outside of their homes over the past several decades. In traditional Korean household, she is the one who takes care of domestic duties while the husband is the “breadwinner” who works outside, bringing income to the house. However, Korea’s economy has modernized in a very short time span, without giving people enough time to change the traditional family/social norms. Hence, even if both the husband and the wife are working, woman “naturally” has to take care of the work outside and inside household. For example, both of my parents work as teachers, and they bring similar amount of incomes to the family. However, my mother’s work doesn’t end at 5pm when she gets out of her workplace, but continues as she has to cook dinner, clean the messy house and fold laundry. When I was much younger, she breastfed me, read to me and helped my homework when I was enrolled in school, along with doing all the house chores. I don’t remember when the last time my dad actually did any of the work (no offense to him), and if he did anything, it was him offering help, not doing his duty. My mother was often at a place where she had to feel guilty as she had to leave me with my grandmother (who raised me since I was born until 9) and had to ponder whether she had to choose either her work or her wife/mother duty. And this was the 80s and the 90s.

Is it any different now in Korea overall? I don’t think so, unfortunately, although the modern fathers are more involved in childrearing than my parents’ generation. Even today, many young mothers have to ponder whether they are going to keep working, take some months off (maternity leave) or just quit her job so that they can devote their time for their babies, thanks to family friendly labor policies and practices. It is commonly believed that the child has stronger bond to the mother than the father, but I think it’s a matter of how we humans make it to be (i.e. it’s not a matter of nature, but nurture). I don’t think women are any more caring than men, especially in terms of parenting. What I mean is that many fathers have not been actively involved in raising children ever since they were born, and seriously, other than the fact that man can’t produce breast milk, there is no difference with the mother in terms of parenting. The child is the product of the two people, and let’s face it, the parental responsibilities have never been fair. Culture dictates people’s behaviors, while “policy making culture” within the country is the space for policy makers to influence the social norms (how things “should” be for the general social wellbeing). Policies which does not seek to influence shifting of cultures and behaviors are short-sighted and doomed to be ineffective. Korea needs a very deep gender role overhaul.

Another reason for not having children seems to be the economics of having children which is not economical at all. It’s just too darn expensive to raise even one child in a family. Even if both wife and husband work, it is impossible to have big savings from the beginning, as the housing cost is getting quite expensive in the urban area. Many couples start their lives with some debt, and then when they finally decide to have a child or two, the expenses are tremendous, starting with all the basics like diapers, formulas, and clothes (that they will grow out of so quickly). I remember watching news on how expensive these items are, way more than other countries with the similar purchasing power. When the child grows, they have to go to nurseries, kindergartens, schools and extracurricular activities, but they all cost tremendous amount of money that the parents may not have. The government came up with “free pre-school education policy” for the bottom 75% of the economic strata, but to be exact, the education is not free as the government provides about 150USD a month per family with a preschooler, while the monthly fee of a private kindergarten is often easily 300-500USD (or even more). So the name of the policy itself is pretty populist in itself as you see. I can’t imagine having 2 kindergarteners in my family and supporting them with my pay. I mean over 1000 dollars a month just for schooling? Even if both of the parents work, it is a huge chunk of spending. Now, the elections (both for the national assembly and presidential) are coming, the politicians decided that they will expand this to all households with pre-school age children as of this year. And what would happen to the budget of this country? I have no idea, and it’s only scary to think of the terrible cycle of near-sighted populist welfare policies and budget limits. I mean I’m all for welfare, and South Korea’s welfare system has a long way to go, but I hate these populist politicians and their policies playing with the tax money without much planning, while all they need is just a few more votes.

I’m sure there are many other reasons for low fertility rate. Some couples agree to not to have children, and it’s their life style choice that I have nothing against. Others choose not to marry, which reduces the chance of having children tremendously (In Korea, alternative family forms, such as single parents raising children without partners and gay couples adopting children, are not very common and perceived with much cultural stigma).

But in sum, Korea has many different elements that prevent young women and men from having more children (or having kids at all). Human, cultural elements are missing in family policies very often, causing other issues which require more new policies. Some Korean policy makers now seem to realize gradually that it’s not just “women’s problem” but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome in terms of social and gender norms, and policies should have long term goals which can drive the change of traditional mentality. After all, it is most important to create an environment where people can willingly have children, not because of the national economic issues, but because they want to have the joy of having more family members.

I wish I were a Lawyer- long way for justice for rape victims in Korea

31 Jan

By now, my dear friends, you already know that I can’t just sit down and write regularly, unless I get inspired and fired up by certain things or I have pressing needs to share certain things about my life with you. But here I am, writing, because I read about this terrible situation regarding justice system in Korea regarding survivors of rape, especially those who are already socially vulnerable, in this case, female marriage migrants. By writing this, I am not saying that I am an expert on any Korean legal issues, and I’m rather not. I’m purely basing my opinion on numerous articles that I read about it.

So I read this article on Chosun Daily, one of Korea’s major newspapers. Sorry that most of you won’t be able to read this, but this is a vague translation of it.

“Mr. Kim (52) was sentenced 7 and half years in jail as he was guilty of raping his Vietnamese wife (26)’s teenage sister (note: Nothing was mentioned that he was accused of spouse rape but it was mentioned that he beat up his wife severely. I’m not sure what kind of charge was pressed against him regarding the violence committed against his wife). The sister, ‘B,’ now 21, was interviewed by the journalist at a very secluded rehabilitation house that she has been staying after her and her sister were found terribly violated by Kim 2 and half years ago (note: yes, it took almost 3 years to find the minimal justice for the sisters). The officer remembers how awful the sisters looked, the older sister with a lot of bruises and the younger one simply filthy and full of fear. The husband conveniently had seizures whenever he had to discuss anything against his position.

B, a petite woman, seemed more like a middle school girl with her young face. She seemed to feel hopeful since she will be going back to Vietnam soon. The head of the rehab said that at the beginning, she always seemed so depressed and told people that she wants to die when she was talking on the phone.

B lived in a greenhouse, and she worked for 300,000 won (about 300 dollars) for her labor in the farm, but Kim took it all. She feared every Saturday when he came to pick her up, because she knew that he would rape her back home. She reacts with extreme fear towards the word ‘hyongbu’ (which is a term for older sister’s husband in Korean), as well as not being able to have conversations with new people and afraid of Korean men.

For the first fetus, after being raped by Kim, she was able to get abortion, and for the second time, she had a baby through c-section. The police said that she was ‘lucky’ that she could get medical care since she was found after the brother-in-law was under police custody. Her sister (Kim’s wife) had to have the children at home without any medical attention.

The journalist asked why B signed the ‘agreement’ with someone who imposed such terrible violence on him (I wondered about it too!). She said that she doesn’t want her sister to suffer from the in-law’s family while her sister is still married, have 4 children, and will probably have to live with the husband when he comes out of jail.”

By now, I said out loud, WHAT THE HECK?!?!? I suppose the domestic violence charge was dropped, and the couple probably signed an “agreement.” I was angry when I read this article about nothing further was done in terms of the violence that the wife had to suffer and what a short sentence he is obliged to serve.

But I realized that I’m probably coming from a privileged woman’s position with high education and much protection (lucky enough not to go through such trauma) where I believe that in facing sexual violence, a woman should do A, B and C. But the truth is that I really don’t know what would happen if my husband/partner was a violent psychotic predator who has the guts to impose such violence on me and my family. Especially for the case of B’s sister, she is in an extremely vulnerable position, perhaps worse than me. I would at least have social protection, friends who are lawyers, activists and therapists, proper connections, access to justice, and for god’s sake, language skill to explain what kind of situation that I had been in, although I would have been physically and psychologically damaged. But this woman, as someone who probably comes from a not so well-t0-do family back home, has limited human connections, knowledge and power to do anything in a society where xenophobia and racism are still largely prevalent. Even if she had the courage to get a divorce out of him, what is next for her for the rest of her life? As mentioned, she already has 4 kids, and she would have to fight for custody. Can she go back home? I don’t know much about Vietnamese culture, but I know Confucian culture is dominant, and she would be stigmatized with a certain notion regarding her status as a divorcee with kids. How would she maintain her livelihood in the future while she probably has not worked for a long time and is not likely to be skilled in anything specific?

Perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions here, and I may seem like I’m too focused on the victimhood. Yes, I’m so upset about this whole situation, and anyone with common sense should be. But what I’m more upset about this is to see the fact that the current Korean legal/justice system is still not ready to protect victims/survivors of rape, still not looking at it as a serious crime that should be punished more seriously than anything else. It is highly stigmatized, therefore many women still refrain from reporting to the police, and the un-supportive, largely patriarchal system do not take sexual violence as a grave crime which is extremely destructive to a society. It is a depressing cycle. Gender equality –despite the fact that the gender ratio in medical and law schools is roughly about 50:50– is something yet to come in Korea, and according to the US State Department’s Report in 2010, violence against women (mostly rape and domestic violence) is the most pressing issue regarding women’s human rights and Korea’s human rights matters in general (and this happens to be the most comprehensive English sources at the moment for me). According to the report, fewer than half of the 8,746 cases of sexual violence cases were submitted, and fewer than 4,000 were prosecuted. About 40% of married women suffer from domestic violence.

Now, can you imagine how many cases are not reported and/or ignored? What about spousal abuse against migrant women?

Of course, I do not want to undermine the various aspects in violence against women, but in this particular case, it is rather clear that Korean policies and justice system failed to provide proper protection for the women who suffered sexual violence and who are in an extremely vulnerable position as non-native Korean citizens. So what would happen in 7 and half years when the husband comes back out? Will the system really let this man get back to his wife and children while it seems rather obvious that the man is mentally unstable with violent tendency and would not be able to serve his responsibility as a father and a husband? And meanwhile, who is going to watch how the woman and the children will survive from this traumatic experience and excruciating memory? How does Korea prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again?

I’m not suggesting that I can come up with better laws and policies at this moment, especially when matters are so complex. And sexual violence has so many different aspects, that I won’t ever be able to understand the diversity of it fully. But I think there is a value in that we know these awful things happen everywhere in the world and that we should be concerned as, well, human beings.