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South Korea: International Marriages to Be Strictly Controlled

(Aug. 18, 2010) On July 20, 2010, Korea's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MGEF) made a joint announcement with seven other governmental agencies, titled “Cross-Governmental Policy to Promote Wholesome International Marriage.” According to the Policy, the Enforcement Decree of the Act on Regulation of Marriage Brokerage Agencies will be revised to stipulate more specific restrictions on marriage brokerage agencies. Also, regulations on the criteria for the issuance of spouse visas will be amended to mandate an educational seminar for Korean spouses and more rigorous scrutiny of their criminal and medical records. The Policy also calls for other administrative steps to be taken to diversify public services to meet the various needs of foreign wives who are already living in Korea. Although a government policy in itself has no legal effect, the participating governmental agencies are to make legislative proposals and amend enforcement decrees under their administrative authority in accordance with the new Policy. (Yŏsŏng gajokbu bodo charyo [Press Release, MGEF], (July 21, 2010),
; Enforcement Decree of the Act on Regulation of Marriage Brokerage Agency, Presidential Decree No. 22076 of Mar. 15, 2010.)

These measures were taken in response to a Vietnamese wife's death. On July 8, 2010, a 20-year-old Vietnamese woman was murdered by her mentally ill, 46-year-old Korean husband, only eight days after she had moved to South Korea to marry him. The woman had not been informed by the marriage brokers that the then-prospective husband was suffering from mental disease. The general public in South Korea was shocked and outraged and demanded that the government take more proactive measures to strictly regulate international marriage practices. (Editorial, Again! A Horrible Death of Vietnamese Wife, HANKOOK ILBO (July 12, 2010), As of 2007, 40% of Korean men engaged in the agricultural, forestry, and fishing industries were married to foreign wives, mostly from China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. (Sook-Hee Han, An Empirical Study on the Breakoff of International Marriages, 24(1) GAJOKPOBYŎN'GU [FAMILY LAW REVIEW] 111, 112 (2010).)

The South Korean government has already endeavored to address and regulate foreign wife issues by taking legislative and administrative measures. The Act on Regulation of Marriage Brokerage Agencies stipulates, inter alia, registration of the brokerage agencies, compliance with the local regulations of the foreign countries where they conduct businesses, and provision of a written agreement to the clients (Act No. 8688 of Dec.1, 2007). Calling for more attention to the ever-worsening problem, the National Assembly recently amended the Act, imposing further restrictions on marriage brokerage that will come into effect in November 2010 (Act. No. 10301 of May 17, 2010). Also, in an effort to help foreign wives better integrate into Korean society, the Multicultural Families Support Act was enacted in 2008 (Act No. 8937 of Mar. 21, 2008).

Written by Helen Lee, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Sayuri Umeda, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.