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FOCUS December 2007 Volume 50

Korea-Japan Symposiums on "International Marriage" and "Female Migrant Workers"

Koonae Park*

*Koonae Park is a staff of HURIGHTS OSAKA

HURIGHTS OSAKA held two public symposiums on the human rights of foreign migrant women in Japan and Korea in August and October 2007. These symposiums were co-sponsored by the Asian Center for Women Studies of Ewha University (Seoul), Women's Study Center of Osaka Prefectural University, and Seoul Foundation of Women & Family. The first symposium was held at Ewha University in Seoul on 3 August 2007, focusing on the situation of foreign women who respectively married Japanese and Korean men, and reside in Japan and Korea. The second symposium was held on 27 October 2007 in Osaka at the Dawn Center (Osaka Prefectural Women's Center) with the cooperation of the Osaka Gender Equality Foundation. In both symposiums, non-governmental organization (NGO) workers and researchers in Japan and Korea shared and discussed the issues.

Japan and Korea situations

The two symposiums revealed the similarity of situations of migrant workers in Japan and Korea. The number of migrant workers in Japan started to increase in late 1980s. While Korea was sending a lot of its workers to work abroad as migrant workers till late 1980s, by 1990s it was receiving foreign migrant workers. For every eight married couples in Korea, one is an international marriage. In Japan, the ratio is 16:1. The foreign spouses (mainly women) in Korea are mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Filipinos. While in Japan majority of the foreign spouses (also mainly women) are Chinese, Korean, Filipinos, and Thais (in the order of their number). Korea has more than one hundred thousand foreigners at present while Japan has more than two million.

This situation is becoming a major issue of globalization. The feminization of migration is increasing in Asia. Japan and Korea are similarly experiencing aging societies and decreasing birthrate, while receiving foreign female migrants.

"International Marriage from the Women's Human Rights Perspective" - Seoul symposium

The symposium in Seoul, held on 3 August 2007, focused on "international marriage" because of the rapid increase in the number of international marriages in Korea and the establishment of programs by Korean national and local governments for female spouses from developing countries. The symposium was also part of the HURIGHTS OSAKA's study tour to Korea to learn about issues regarding, and NGO efforts in support of, female migrants.

One hundred fifty people from various sectors including the twenty Japanese participants in the study tour attended the symposium. Professor Kim Young-ok of Ehwa University in her presentation entitled "Female Migrants through International Marriage and Multi-national Family" introduced the recent debates about multiculturalism, and nationality and citizenship in academic community. She also mentioned the limited discussions in Korea about the development of policies for families of international marriages that support the full participation in the society of the foreign spouses, and also gender-equality. Ms. Yoko Yoshida, a Japanese lawyer, presented the Japanese situation on international marriages and some aspects of the human rights violations under Japanese laws and policies.

Ms. Han Kuk-yom of Korea Women Migrants Human Rights Center gave a presentation entitled "Human Rights Situation and Issues regarding Female Spouses in International Marriages in Korea." She pointed out cases of trafficking in the guise of international marriages and the discriminatory attitude of Korean husbands and the society as a whole toward the foreign spouses. Ms. Enoi Yukari, a staff of the Toyonaka International Exchange Association in Toyonaka city (Japan), introduced her organization's activities supporting foreign women married to Japanese men, and their children.

Ms. Oh Hyeran of the Seoul Foundation of Women & Family presented the recently launched activities of the foundation to support families of foreign spouses in southern part of Seoul. Ms. Baek Mi-Soon of the National human Rights Commission of Korea discussed the Commission's policy and activities on protecting the human rights of foreign migrants, including its future activities such as research projects in sending countries.

"Securing the Human Rights of Female Foreign Migrant Workers" - Osaka symposium

One hundred participants from various sectors attended the Osaka symposium, which focused on the issue of female foreign migrant workers. As in the Seoul symposium, the program included several presentations.

Professor Ito Ruri gave a presentation entitled "Globalization and Female Migrant Workers: Japanese Situation and Problems." She presented an analysis of the feminization of international migration in Asia in general and Japan in particular. She pointed out the lack of gender perspective in Japanese foreign labor policy, the issues regarding migrant workers (such as care-givers from Southeast Asia) and concrete measures to protect their rights. Ms. Jang Myung-sun of the Seoul Foundation of Women & Family presented the legal status of migrant workers, the foreign labor policy, the human rights violations caused by the employment system for foreign migrants, and the social structure in Korea. She stressed that female foreign migrant workers suffer from harsher conditions than their male counterparts.

Ms. Wang Tong, a graduate student of Osaka Sangyo University and a former trainee from China, spoke about her experience being a trainee at a manufacturing company in Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. She pointed out the wide gap between the provisions of training contracts and the harsh reality of the working place.

Ms. Hayasaki Naomi of the Rights of Immigrants Network in Kansai (RINK) presented the implementation of the Industrial Training and Technical Internship Program of the Japanese government and the increasing number of female trainees under this program. Ms. Yang Hyewoo of the Korean Migrant Workers Human Rights Center discussed the newly introduced "Employment Permit System" (which replaced the "Industrial Training Program") and the situation of female foreign migrant workers. She also mentioned the entertainer visa system and the government's special policy of accepting people of Korean-descent from China, Russia and Central Asia.

Some notes

While many problems discussed in the two symposiums were similar in the two countries, there were differences in terms of government policies and measures. The Korean parliament passed a law on the rights of foreign migrants, including female foreign migrants, in response to strong recommendations and lobby by the National Human Rights Commission in the country. The law, aimed at integrating the foreign migrants into the Korean society and protecting their rights, started to be implemented from the early part of 2007. Bills related to female foreign migrants, such as measures to support 'multicultural family' and the regulation of the activities of international matchmaking agencies, have been discussed in the Korean parliament.

On the other hand, the Japanese government appears less serious compared to its Korean counterpart in enacting legislations and measures on foreign migrants. It was also noted that there was relatively weaker advocacy of NGOs on these issues. However, several local governments in Japan have enacted ordinances to protect the rights of citizens and foreign residents alike, in addition to taking several measures to support female foreign migrants. The programs of Toyonaka City (such as consultation and interpretation services, free Japanese language class, special class for foreign children to learn their mother tongue) implemented in collaboration with NGOs were examples of local government initiatives for foreign migrants.

The symposiums were the first experiences of collaboration between HURIGHTS OSAKA and universities and other institutions on foreign migrants issue in East Asia. Opportunities for further collaboration on the issue may have to be created. The unexpected high number of participants in both symposiums proved high interest on the issue.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA


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