Laxmi Tamang waits as she gets treatment at her husband’s home city of Incheon.
26-year-old Laxmi Tamang’s Korean visa was about to expire when a fellow Nepali told her she could stay here for longer if she got married to a local. Laxmi agreed and forked out Rs 340,000 to pay a ‘marriage bureau’—spouse finding agent—back in Nepal to find her a suitable man.
Laxmi herself had no part to play in selecting her bridegroom, but she was looking forward to a comfortable life and well-paying job that she had been promised. When she got to Incheon she found out her husband was an abusive 61-year-old alcoholic who beat her mercilessly.
For the last six months, Laxmi has been getting treatment for her injuries at a local hospital and has nowhere to go for legal counsel. She is not alone. Up to 1,050 young Nepali women who have come to Korea on a blind-date marriage deal brokered by agents in Kathmandu have become victims of domestic abuse by husbands more than twice their age.
When a Korean man wants to marry a Nepali girl he pays up to Rs 1.2 million to a Nepali agent in Korea. Then local agents back in Nepal will trawl through their home districts to find someone who is willing to pay up to Rs 1 million to get to Korea. After this, the local agent buys off district office employees to acquire all legal papers for marriage.
“We can’t do anything since all the papers will be in order and everything will look legitimate,” says Upendra Prasad Adhikari, spokesperson of the Women, Children and Social Welfare Ministry.
Most of the women in South Korea on a marriage visa are from Myagdi, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, and Sankhuwasabha. Fifty per cent of them are in their early twenties and are married to men above forty. According to migrants’ rights organisations in Korea, most of these men are farmers, widowers, disabled, mentally ill, drug addicts, and alcoholics.
“The women coming here want to earn money at any cost, but when they get here it is a complete culture shock and they will see that they have been tricked into it,” says Rajaram Bartaula of the Nepali Embassy in South Korea. He adds that most Nepali women who come to South Korea on a marriage visa are living in deplorable conditions.
In 2006, the South Korean government introduced a ‘multicultural development policy’ to address the rising number of unemployed, divorced, and unmarried Korean men who found themselves deemed unsuitable for marriage by Korean women keen on building a career rather than becoming housewives.
Official records at Kavre’s District Development Office showing the marriage registration of a Nepali woman and a Korean man.
South Korea wanted 1,000,000 foreign daughters-in-law by 2020 to allow Korean men to find a life partner and for these women to live in a country with higher living standards. The mismatch that resulted from these anonymous marriages reached a low point six months ago when a Vietnamese woman killed herself and her two babies by jumping from an 18-storeyed building.
Studies done by the South Korean government reveal that 69.1 per cent of the 230,000 women who came to Korea by marriage suffer from domestic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands and families.
The South Korean government has emergency hotline services in the mother tongues of incoming women, but there isn’t one in Nepali. As a result, Nepali women stranded in Busan, Incheon, Seoul and Daegu have no way of getting help because they can’t read or speak Korean. And they are afraid to reveal the names of their agents who got them here.
Devendra Sambahamfe in Korea and Neha Sharma in Kathmandu
Modern day slavery, #443