We also feel that knowledge and understanding of other legal systems and policies is crucial to serving those sectors of society in Korea. As a consequence, conducting ongoing research, while maximizing our resources within Korea and tapping into our overseas networks, continues to be one of our priorities
Due to the rising rate of so-called “international marriages”, or marriages between a Korean national and a foreign spouse, one out of every ten marriages today are international marriages. Given this situation, there has been a rush into the brokerage business, those who act as intermediaries for these marriages, causing serious questions to be raised about their practices. Such practices include advertizing Asian women in a discriminatory manner that objectifies them, providing the parties with false information about the other, charging excessive fees, and arranging marriages that are in actual fact thinly veiled attempts at human trafficking through deceitful and forceful methods. Despite this situation, there was an absence of any regulation of these activities. Within this context, local government authorities, in their efforts to address problems faced by rural men in finding spouses and find a solution to the dwindling rural population in general, provided monetary support to men who wished to enter into an international marriage. This often meant implicitly sanctioning unscrupulous and exploitative activities of marriage brokers. As many foreign spouses coming to Korea seek to escape poverty and hardship in their own home countries, we recognized that careless, discriminatory and inhumane treatment in Korea can be devastating.
Gong-gam, after raising public awareness of local authorities’ subsidies to marriage brokers, successfully urged the Korean government to introduce legislation in this area, resulting in the enactment of a law in 2008 to regulate the activities of international marriage brokers.
We continue to be active in seeking solutions and ways to alleviate the struggle of foreign spouses as they try to adapt to life in Korea. Our recent efforts include establishing the Migrant Women’s Network and representing over 960 individuals calling for a review of local government policy to promote international marriages.
In February 2007, several innocent lives were taken when a fire broke out at the Yeosu detention shelter for foreigners while they were locked inside the facility for the night. Despite some compensation having been paid out by the government, this tragedy has gone largely unnoticed by the general public. These shelters provide no real protection to foreigners, most of whom do not have legal status in Korea, and they often fail to meet minimum standards for safety and welfare. Given this environment of neglect, Gong-gam took the initiative of investigating the causes of the fire as well as identifying the systemic problems that lead to such callous treatment. Following our investigation, we produced a list of recommendations, and later, monitored government implementation of those recommendations.
Gong-gam, along with other NGOs, remains committed to raising public awareness of human rights violations and mistreatment of foreigners, both with and without legal status.