Sexist, misogynist and patriarchal views dominate many YouTube videos where brokers offer foreign wives to South Korean men.
These are possible violations of the law and of human rights, a report says.
The report, published earlier this month by the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media (CCDM), a Korean civic press watchdog organization, highlights how marriage brokers treat foreign women not as humans but as “products.”
“You should choose a woman who you can love. Truthfully (speaking) the weight (of the woman) should be under 46kg in your (Korean man)’s standard,” a Korean marriage broker told a Korean man looking for a foreign wife on a YouTube video with more than 4,000 views.
In another video with nearly 3,000 views, a Korean man in search of a foreign wife says: “How could I pick (a wife) like this in Korea? But I can find a woman here! My own style (of woman).”
By “here” the man is referring to YouTube channels where marriage brokers upload thousands of videos featuring women, many of them Vietnamese, for Korean clients to choose from, according to CCDM.
The organization studied 518 of 4,515 videos uploaded by 25 Korean channels from January-July 2019, promoting marriages between Korean men and foreign women.
The videos’ settings vary, but most feature marriage brokers interviewing aspiring foreign wives who say they want to marry Korean men; their unwed clients; and wedded clients with their foreign wives. Some other videos show wedding scenes.
Saying they want to save time, the marriage brokerage companies set out an age standard for the women, the report said. The videos contain clients’ and brokers’ explicit and detailed comments on the women’s height, weight, and age.
Some of the statements made by the brokers include: “She’s a bit old but she’s pretty. Born in 1994. Good skin and good at makeup.” The video with this description had 3,532 views.
In a video with over 5,400 views, a Korean broker explains what’s considered normal in Vietnam: “In Vietnam, the optimal age for marriage is 19 to 22 which is very young. But that’s when we look at Korean standards. In Vietnam, this is normal.”
The report said most of the videos is not about picking a life partner but picking up a doll or a product from market shelves.
Screenshot of a South Korean YouTube channel shows videos featuring Vietnamese women as bride candidates.
Kang Hyunji, an elementary school teacher in South Korea, said she was appalled by a particular video featuring an interview between a marriage broker and a Korean man and his Vietnamese wife.
The Korean man lamented Korean women’s lack of cooking skills: “…Most Korean women these days don’t know how to cook and end up going out for food or even have food delivered home. There are lots of women who don’t cook for their husbands.”
The man also pointed out conspicuous differences between Korean women and his Vietnamese wife who puts on his socks and cooks for him.
“Regardless of whether she does it well or not, she has the understanding that it is something she has to do,” the man said in the video.
Kang told VnExpress International: “This is sexual objectification at its worst. I feel frustrated that something like this is still happening in the world.”
Out of the 518 monitored videos, 214 shows signs of female objectification and human rights violations, the report said.
Hoang Giang Son, Gender Justice Program Coordinator at Vietnam’s Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), also said that there is no doubt this is a case of female objectification.
While in several videos, some women seemed to consent to being filmed and expressed their desire to marry a Korean spouse, “the whole format of how these channels portray them is problematic,” he said.
“The videos are published with each listing the women’s (physical) characteristics on an online platform, allowing anyone to make a comment about them, like reviewing a product.”
When the marriage brokers and the potential Korean spouses don’t treat these women as fully human beings with brains, emotions and values but like an item with potential profits and losses, the women are vulnerable to human rights abuses, including violence, Son said.
The South Korean government is subsidizing men’s efforts to find foreign wives.
South Korean newspaper Korea Herald reported in February that the government has offered marriage subsidies this year to local men who tie the knot with foreign brides. The subsidies were offered to over 35 municipalities.
The subsidies partially cover marriage-related expenses, including airfare, accommodation and brokerage fees. Depending on the municipal government, the amount ranges from three million to 10 million won ($2,670-$8,900) per person.
By supporting South Korean bachelors unable to find a local woman to marry them, the subsidies aim to help them expand the search overseas in order to put a stop to population decline in rural areas since the 1980s as a result of urbanization.
Vietnamese women, mostly from poor rural families, have for long been marrying South Korean men, hoping for a better life in the more economically developed nation.
In the last few years, around 6,000 Vietnamese women have been marrying South Koreans every year, according to the South Korean Embassy in Hanoi. Vietnam has overtaken China as the country sending the largest number of foreign brides to South Korea.
However, these marriages are not exactly a fairytale ending for the Vietnamese women. Numerous reports of suicides and fatal beatings have prompted Vietnam to pay more heed to the marriage migration trend.
One of the most recent cases involved a 36-year-old Korean man slapping his Vietnamese wife in the face, kicking her and repeatedly punching her in the head and stomach as she crouched in a corner, with their child crying next to them. The beating lasted three hours.
A 2017 survey by South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission found 42.1 percent of 920 marriage migrants experiencing domestic violence, while 68 percent experienced unwanted sexual advances.
Breaking the law
In the wake of rising mixed marriage rates in South Korea, the government enacted the Regulation of Marriage Brokerage Agencies in 2007, clearly prohibiting marriage brokers from making claims or placing advertisements that are false or exaggerated or that may be interpreted as encouraging discrimination or prejudice against countries, races, sex, age groups, occupations, etc.
The country also introduced a law in 2014 providing two-year jail terms for any broker shown to have provided false information about potential spouses, or introduced more than two women to one man at the same time.
By showing viewers videos of multiple women on YouTube at the same time on their channels, the CCMD report points out these brokers have violated the law.
An August 10 report by MBC TV, a South Korean channel, said that while the South Korean government is considering ways to strengthen the crackdown, it is finding it difficult to be effective because companies engaging in illegal advertising often use overseas Internet addresses or change their name from time to time.