Multicultural Families in South Korea: A Legal & Societal Approach

Hyunah Yang

Volume 37 - Issue 1, Fall 2011


Starting from the late 1990s, South Korea (hereafter Korea) witnessed a rapid increase in migrant population mostly from Asian countries auch as China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. This new form of immigration via marriage, presents many unprecedented questions and challenges to Korea, and perhaps even to other Asian countries as well. This article reviews statistical trends in international marriages in Korea and discusses the unique nature of multiculturalism in South Korea, in particular, different cultures within families. Any clash, conflict, or accommodation of different cultures is a task to be resolved within one’s family or marriage rather than between different ethnic groups or societies. Further, in this context, multiculturalism that is inserted into a Korean family is also gendered in nature.

The study goes on to examine the process of marriage formation from the viewpoints of law and society. There are high possibilities of human rights violations in marriage-migrant women, including inhumane advertisement by marriage brokerages, misinformation, an unfairly short and rapid marriage process, and the bridegroom’s full financial control over the entire union. The Marriage Brokerage Act has not been an efficient measure to prevent and regulate this abnormality. The Special Procedural Law on Domestic Violence is another important statute with regard to the foreign spouse’s human rights protection; but such protection is still far from the female spouse’s reach, since domestic violence is largely regarded as a private matter in Korea.

This essay discusses how the issues related with multicultural families are not within the realm of private matters and related laws, but rather stem from the Korean Constitution. In order to recognize multiculturalism in international families, the Constitutional notions of "the People" and "the Nation" ought to move beyond the male- and ethno-centric model. This article thematizes the Korean condition, where the family is the very field in which multicultural experiments are taking place, and also discusses how Korean laws and policy accommodate this condition. In my view, this multicultural situation can be summed up in the slogan, "the familial is global," vis-à-vis the slogan of the second wave of feminism in the United States, "the personal is political." In this respect, the concept of multiculturalism itself may need to be redefined within the Korean context.

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