SEOUL • Increasing a rural population that has been declining for some 30 years in South Korea has long been near the top of the government agenda, with some municipal governments resorting to helping to pay for foreign brides.
More than 35 municipal governments that depend on the agriculture and fisheries industries have implemented by-laws providing marriage subsidies to men who tie the knot with foreign brides. The subsidies range from 3 million won (S$3,610) to 10 million won.
This year, the highly controversial subsidies are offered by more than 35 municipal governments that have been facing decreasing populations since the 1980s due to urbanisation.
Yangpyeong county in Gyeonggi province, for instance, provides 10 million won to men between the ages of 35 and 55 working in the agriculture, fishing or forestry industries who have never been married and have lived in the area for more than three years.
Since the by-law was adopted by Yangpyeong county in 2009, 57 people have received funds. Most of the brides are from Vietnam.
Marrying women from Uzbekistan is the most expensive, costing about 18.3 million won a person, followed by the Philippines at 15.2 million won, Cambodia 14.4 million won, Vietnam 14.2 million won and China 10.7 million won, according to a 2017 study by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on the international marriage matchmaking business.
Among international marriages, brides from Vietnam accounted for 73 per cent.
In terms of age, South Korean grooms averaged 43.6 years old and foreign brides 25.2, according to the research.
"This form of marriage is basically bride-buying - marriage based on money rather than love," said Mr Jang Han-up, director of the Ewha Multicultural Research Institute.
"Such an approach to shopping-like marriage leads to linguistic barriers and human rights problems. The foreign brides are vulnerable to human rights abuses, and are treated as property and expected to take the roles of a housekeeper and a sexual object."
According to a National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey of 920 women marriage migrants, 42.1 per cent replied that they had experienced domestic violence, while 68 per cent had experienced unwanted sexual advances.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK