*This is the letter of Woman Migrants Humanrights Center in Korea.
Two immigrant women in Korea were ruthlessly killed – one right after the other – by their own husbands. Yungbun Kim (Age 31, Cheolwon, Gangwon-do) was an ethnic Korean woman from China who, due to her husband’s assault, faced an unfortunate fate on July 4th after four days of being brain dead. The other Chinese-Korean woman was Sunok Lee (Age 59) who was also killed by her husband in Gangdong-gu, Seoul, on July 2nd. The two events explicitly display the true face of our society’s problem that we have refused to address: the denial of fundamental human rights for women marriage migrants.
One of the many problems that the migrant women face is the irresponsible attitudes of some husbands toward marriage. In the case of the two women mentioned above, both had faithfully supported their families while their alcohol-dependent husbands were unemployed. Victim Lee arrived in Korea in September of 2005, and remarried her last husband. When she was killed, they had been married for 7 years and all throughout their marriage, he had consistently abused her. Victim Kim had lived with her parents-in-law and her four children, and economically sustained the family by working in markets or restaurants. As such, the marriage migrants were taken advantage of financially as well as physically.
Another blame goes to the society and its prejudice against these ethnic Korean women. Both of the murdered women could speak fluent Korean which, in reality, had an adverse effect as they were left stranded without the help of support from organizations such as the multicultural family centers. The offender husband of Lee kept her away from any external contact which included Lee’s own sister. He had controlled every detail of Lee’s life by looking into Lee’s cellphone contacts and limiting her phone conversation, but all Lee could do was to hold onto the marriage in order to prove to the society that she was indeed in a ‘true relationship.’ She had to endure her husband’s physical and economic abuse just to clear the society’s suspicions that question the “ethnic Korean brides’ true purpose of marriage.” Kim had also hid her case of domestic violence to stay ‘loyal’ to her family life. Her obligation to live up to her role as a daughter and a mother of four children had held her back from reacting to her husband’s ruthless murder.
Thirdly, the process of attaining residency andn/or citizenship for migrant brides is largely dependent on their husbands. Migrant women often find themselves unable to earn citizenship even after fulfilling the required period of residency. To acquire the green card or citizenship is to support a stable, independent life in Korea without relying on another. Whenever Lee mentioned the word ‘citizenship’ to her husband, Lee was faced with violence and abuse. As such, the laws of acquiring Korean citizenship or permanent residency that require the involvement of the spouse became another entity that led Lee to her death.
Fourthly, the inadequate response of the police towards domestic violence is to blame. Lee’s sister had taken Lee to the police station twice when she learned that her sister had been beaten, but the police insisted on either taking the husband to court or nothing at all. To the sister, the police treated her as an unrelated, unnecessary figure and told her to not get involved in the matter. They did not even provide basic information of the many support centers that exist to support domestically abused women. They not only showed poor attitude toward the victims, but also lack a proper system to address such issues.
These murder cases cannot be fully interpreted without discussing the responsibilities of the Korean citizens and their ignorance that led so many women to their demise. In fact, Kim’s case of domestic violence was known throughout the neighborhood. Despite the knowledge, both the parents-in-law and the neighbors made no special efforts to ameliorate the situation. They treated the problem as simple cases of regular “fights” between spouses. As long as people equate domestic abuse to marital discord, the chain of deaths will never stop.
The victims were indeed surrounded by enemies on all sides and had nowhere to run. Most marriage migrant women do not voice out their realities of domestic violence, and even if they do, the respective organizations or societies may not respond properly. The combination of the two have led to have led to the tragedies of not only the two recent victims, but of the many that had suffered the same fate.
The homicides of these two Korean-Chinese women happened only three months after the death of a Vietnamese woman in March (Jeongseon). Despite the government’s effort to encourage multicultural families, immigrant women are still being killed throughout the nation. What are the problems that hinder us from moving on?
Recent events show a comprehensive outlook of our hypocritical society. There is an underlying stereotype that multicultural families are comprised of young migrant women who marry a Korean man to produce second generation Korean children. This image disregards the case of Sunok Lee and many others who have remarried at an older age group and form a different type of multicultural family than the one mentioned before. With remarriage rates of a soaring 40% for the Korean-Chinese population, this latter group of people are in danger of going through another case of victim Lee if the current society continues to view these migrant women with a prejudice, suspecting and mistrusting each of their words and actions.
Going back to the policy that demands the participation of a Korean spouse to apply for citizenship or permanent residency, the marriage migrants, as the main subjects of this residency procedure, are denied their rights to conduct their own lives. In the framework of this policy, made to control and constrict marriage migrant women under the justification of ‘family,’ these women are directly exposed to the economic exploitation and physical abuse. By settling on the excuse that there may be a risk of ‘sham marriage’ involved, we take the easy way out and stand by the viewpoint that the Korean spouse is more trustworthy and remain a bystander to such a troubling issue. By looking on these domestic violence killings of the migrant women, we are denying our moral responsibilities and, thus, are indirect offenders of these murder cases. As friends and neighbors, we are all obligated to partake in envisioning a society where migrant women are no longer abused to death by their own husbands.
May they rest in peace.
Woman Migrants Humanrights Center in Korea
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