Why divorce is more difficult for abused foreign wives


For Kat (pseudonym), a Cambodian woman who divorced her abusive Korean husband in 2015, renewing her F-6 visa every year is a distressing process. Though the court which dealt with the divorce suit stated the cause of divorce was attributable to her husband’s physical violence, she must resubmit hospital records and harrowing photos of injuries from the beatings to renew her F-6 visa at the immigration office every year. “The court verdict clearly states the husband is culpable in the divorce, but they ask for evidence and other documents, effectively putting her on trial a second time,” Kang Hye-sook, director at the Women Migrants Human Rights Center in Daegu, told The Korea Times, Thursday.


Kim (pseudonym), a Chinese woman married to a Korean husband for four years, wanted to file for divorce saying her husband had stopped working and showed signs of delusional jealousy. But she stalled, scared she might be kicked out of the country.  Kat and Kim’s cases were presented by the human rights center in Daegu, a city where some 8,800 foreign wives reside, during a symposium hosted by the Korean Women Lawyers Association in Seoul, Wednesday. Both cases were examples of the uncertainties migrant women face when they want to divorce their Korean partners.


There are around 160,000 foreign wives living in Korea. Forty-two percent are from Vietnam, 29 percent from China, and the rest are predominantly from other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Cambodia. In 2017, one in 20 marriages in Korea took place between a Korean man and a foreign woman, according to Statistics Korea’s most recent report. But in cases where a Korean man ties the knot with a foreign partner from a relatively poorer Asian country, it’s rarely a marriage of equal partners. Marriage migrant brides ― 18 years younger on average than their Korean spouses ― are sexually objectified from the moment they are listed on international marriage broker sites. Many face various forms of abuse from their partners or in-laws in Korea, according to the center.


In a 2017 report by the National Human Right Commission of Korea (NHRCK), 42 percent of foreign wives said they experienced physical abuse, and 68 percent of those women were also sexually abused. Naturally, many think they want to end the marriage, only to realize they will be deported unless they prove in court that the divorce is due to the husband’s abuse. “It’s more difficult for foreign wives to collect evidence of domestic violence. Since many are unfamiliar with the local geography and language, they sometimes can’t even track down which hospital they went to for treatment,” Kang said. “Proper translation services are usually lacking at local police stations, even though the early testimonies are later important for court hearings.”


Even when the court battle is over, the women must continuously prove their victimhood to immigration authorities. When reissuing F-6 visas for divorced foreign wives or evaluating permanent residency or citizenship applications for marriage migrants, the immigration offices usually approve applications in cases when the woman has a child with her former or current Korean husband. But without a child, the chance of getting an approval is slim, according to rights activists. “The immigration authorities usually believe that divorce, or no longer forming a family here, means there is no reason (for foreign wives) to remain in Korea. That reasoning fails to take the woman’s situation into account,” Lee Jin-hye, a lawyer at migrant support center Friend, said during Wednesday’s symposium. “They made a major life decision to move to Korea before they agreed to the marriage.”


By Lee Suh-yoon

(Korea Times)

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