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Intervention or Justification

Law intervenes, sometimes making positive changes to the unjust situation.

Other times, however, law operates to justify the injustice.

Intervention of Law

There have been various governmental efforts to deal with the issue. Numerous studies have been conducted, feminist activists have worked hard on law reforms and policy changes, and a basic supporting system is arguably in place now. Important efforts include the regulation of international marriage brokers under the Marriage Brokers Business Management Act ("MBBMA") and the support for multicultural families under the Multicultural Families Support Act ("MFSA").

Regulation of International Marriage Brokers

Before migration, MBBMA imposes obligations on international marriage brokers to prevent human rights violations of foreign brides. Among other things, MBBMA:

  • requires marriage brokers to follow local laws and regulations
  • prohibits certain advertisements (e.g. advertisements that are likely to cause human trafficking or infringement of human rights or to instigate discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of nationality, race, and sex)
  • prohibits introducing more than one woman at the same time
  • obliges marriage brokers to obtain and provide certain information of the parties involved, including records of past marriages, health status, occupation, criminal records
  • requires marriage brokers to follow local laws and regulations
  • requires translation services during the process of introduction

Support of Multicultural Families

After migration, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family provides support for marriage immigrants and their families pursuant to MFSA. For example, more than two hundred "multicultural centers" are run all over the country. Major services provided through the centers include language and culture education for marriage immigrants and their children, support for domestic violence victims, job search counselling, and translation services. This website provides a cursory look what the governmental support efforts under MFSA look like.

Limitations and Failures

Some of the efforts have been successful, but some of the fundamental problems have not been solved yet. The biggest problem of the MBBMA is its enforcement. The simple fact that South Korean brokers are still introducing Vietnamese women despite its illegality proves that there is a problem in the enforcement of the MBBMA. One study went over all the MBBMA violation cases for two years and found that they were all administrative violations (e.g. client list didn’t exist, written contract was not shown to clients) rather than human right violations. This casts doubt on whether the MBBMA was even enforced at all. A stark example of a failure in terms of the integration effort would be the fact that "multicultural family," a term that the government has been using in the related policies, has been used as an insult to refer to the migrant families.

Justification by Law

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a perfectly successful policy intervention, and that any policy effort has pros and cons. For example, many activists have argued that the requirements for the two-year marriage visa (F-6) should be tightened. The South Korean government recently accepted part of the suggestion by requiring a language proficiency exam result for the visa. While this policy change may force marriage immigrants to study elementary Korean before entering the country, it is unlikely that the new requirement will decrease the number of "instant" marriages by forcing the couples to spend more time together before the brides migrate to South Korea. It is more likely that the brides will spend more money on marriage brokers or other Korean businesses to acquire the required language proficiency. After all, the level of language proficiency required can be easily achieved after they start living in South Korea.

In order to bring about long-term, systemic justice, it is important to understand the underlying dynamics of such success/failure and gain/loss in law reform. Not only are there certain ideologies flowing under and through the legal system, I believe that the very legal system that sometimes brings positive changes may operate to justify the injustice at the same time. Here, let me introduce the dynamics of immigration and marriage immigration.

Although relevant empirical studies are lacking, it is likely that there is a positive relationship between stricter employment visa requirements and the number of marriage immigrants. Episodic proofs supporting the theory include the Ministry of Justice’s finding that the creation of temporary employment visa for people of Korean heritage with Chinese or post-Soviet States’ citizenship reduced their marriages to South Koreans. If this is the case, it may be difficult to fix the injustice of mail-order marriage by only changing F-6 visa requirements. Instead, maybe we should consider fixing employment immigration, or immigration reform in general.

According to a theory of civic stratification, states use immigration policy as a tool to include or exclude individuals. Civic stratification, according to Lydia Morris, is "a system of inequality based on the relationship between different categories of individuals and the state, and the rights thereby granted or denied." In this regard, South Korea, despite its short history of accepting immigrants, has a surprisingly sophisticated system of civic stratification which consists of more than thirty types. Further, the system in action seems to be internalizing four classification standards: ethnicity, nationality, gender, and class.

In our case, the marriage visa (F-6) and non-professional employment visa (E-9) are in play. The F-6 is a qualification largely granted to ethnically non-Korean lower-class Asian women, for contributing to the reproduction of ethnically Korean national subjects (kukmin). I say Korean because one of the main goals of multicultural policies has been to nurture the children from multicultural families into desirable South Koreans. The E-9, on the other hand, is largely granted to ethnically non-Korean lower-class Asian men. The classification system itself justifies severe restrictions on E-9 visa holders, who are treated as a temporary and easily-replaceable labor force.

Not only are ethnically non-Korean Asian women heavily incentivized to choose the F-6 visa over the E-9 visa, it is almost always the case that they are otherwise denied their membership to South Korean society. Jasmine Lee used to appear in South Korean TV shows featuring the lives of foreign wives and even starred in a film as a Filipino mother. However, when she became a member of the National Assembly after her Korean husband died, the public suddenly started condemning her. The ingroup members were uncomfortable with seeing the outgroup member acting out of her given identity (wife and mother who occasionally works in a lower-paying job to support her family).

I hope this explanation gives a rough picture of what I am trying to do in my Project. Building on various studies, and the lessons learned from the course "Systemic Justice," my project strives to reveal the hidden ideologies in the legal landscape surrounding mail-order marriages.