“He Won’t Permit My Child’s Nationality Change nor Provide Any Financial Support”

“Meeting the Migrant Women that Left” The Issues that Children with Migration Backgrounds Face

Han Kuk-yeom | 기사입력 2020/11/30 [12:19]

“He Won’t Permit My Child’s Nationality Change nor Provide Any Financial Support”

“Meeting the Migrant Women that Left” The Issues that Children with Migration Backgrounds Face

Han Kuk-yeom | 입력 : 2020/11/30 [12:19]

*This series on women who came to Korea through marrying Korean men and left, “Meeting the Migrant Women that Left,” is sponsored by the Korea Press Foundation’s Press Promotion Fund.


Due to Mongolia’s Matrilineal Culture, Women Often Return with Their Children


In this piece, I’d like to take a look at the issues that children of Korean men and migrant women face. Among the seven women I met in Mongolia who had returned from Korea, only one woman had left her child behind. Most of them returned to Mongolia either pregnant or with their children.


The fact that Mongolian women return with their children shows the influences of Mongolia’s matrilineal culture, in which it is seen as natural that the mother takes responsibility for and raises her children in the case of divorce. These women do receive some help from their parents or siblings, but most of them have been raising their children as well as working full-time.


Their biggest wishes were for their divorce processes to be sorted out (for more on this, see “Please Help Me Receive My Divorce Papers from Korea”) as well as a support system to be established for their children to grow up well in Mongolia.


▲ When we were invited to a local Mongolian family’s house. The picture is irrelevant to the article.  ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea


Mongolia’s child welfare and education systems are relatively advanced. Though the amount is small, there are benefits one can receive from pregnancy until the child turns eighteen. Mongolia’s education system lasts for 12 years: elementary school (6-10 years old), middle school (11-14 years old), and high school (15-17 years old). Public education is free of charge.


A Child with Korean Citizenship is Not Qualified for Benefits in Mongolia


If a Mongolian woman gives birth to a child in Mongolia, her child is granted Mongolian citizenship and is able to receive Mongolia’s education and welfare benefits. However, if a child is born in Korea and has Korean citizenship, s/he is excluded from the government’s support system. Thus, women who come back home naturally experience a plethora of difficulties in raising their children here alone.


The key factor for a child to be transferred into the Mongolian government system is to obtain citizenship. Up until 2012, dual citizenship was allowed. However, in order to obtain Mongolian citizenship, a child must give up Korean citizenship, and in order to give up Korean citizenship, he/she needs his/her father’s agreement. The problem is that most fathers in Korea do not give their consent, and oftentimes they are not even reachable.


A child’s Korean citizenship is decidedly a stumbling block to receive Mongolian government’s support. Moreover, a child’s Korean name also acts as an obstacle for him/her to adjust in Mongolia and brings confusion about his/her identity. So, many women mention that it is important for children to attain Mongolian citizenship and have Mongolian names if they want to live in Mongolia.


It is extremely rare for these Mongolian women to receive any kind of financial support from their children’s fathers in Korea, despite the fact that the women are the ones raising the children. Among the women who agreed to be interviewed, there wasn’t a single one who was receiving financial support from her child’s or children’s father. These women, who were raising children with Korean citizenship, were curious if there would be a way to receive some kind of financial support from their Korean fathers until their children were grown.


When a Child with Korean Citizenship Grows up in Mongolia and Becomes an Adult…


When their Korean-born and Mongolian-raised children become adults, these women face another set of dilemmas: whether they should send them to Korea for the sake of their future or let them stay in Mongolia with their Korean citizenships, and whether there’s a way for them to go to Korea together and not be apart…


Young (not her real name), the daughter of a Mongolian mother and a Korean father, is facing that exact situation.


Young’s mother returned to Mongolia with her daughter when Young was eight due to her husband’s violence and abuse against Young.


In 1999, when she was twenty-six, Young’s mother had gotten married to a Korean man that she had met through a marriage brokerage agency and moved to Korea. In 2001, while she was pregnant, she came back to Mongolia due to her severe morning sicknesses and gave birth in Mongolia. Her husband also joined her when the baby was born. After she and her daughter left the hospital, the couple obtained a [Korean] passport and other relevant documents for their daughter. Her husband went back to Korea first, and three months later, she followed with her daughter.


Young’s mother had to get her husband’s approval just to send Young to daycare when she turned two. She worked at a factory to afford the daycare fees and used the rest for their living expenses.


Young’s mother said she was extremely stressed from the very beginning of the marriage because her husband would often yell at her, saying things like, “You need to obey your husband,” or, “You need to do what I tell you.” But the ultimate reason that pushed her to move back to Mongolia was her husband’s violence against their daughter.


A Mongolian Wife Shocked by Her Korean Husband’s Violent Discipline


Young was frequently beaten by her father during her eight years in Korea. When Young’s mother breastfed her until she turned one, Young’s father got angry and yelled at his wife for breastfeeding her for too long. When Young was around three-or-four years old, he hit her because she was crying. He wanted Young to do well at school, so he hit her again, telling her to study Korean. When she started elementary school and he was teaching her math, he hit her because she wasn’t good enough at it. She was hit on her cheeks, hands, and head, even to the point of having scars.


Young’s father worked as a day laborer in construction sites, so he had rough hands with lots of calluses. So when he hit his child, she would often bruise and get nosebleeds. Young was so severely stressed out by her father’s abuse that she even experienced hair loss.


Growing up, Young’s mother had never been hit by her parents. She had never even witnessed child abuse before, so she was extremely shocked by her husband’s abuse. Whenever she tried to intervene, her husband would say, “If you don’t want to live with me, you can leave, but the child has to stay here.” She tried to put up with everything because he kept saying that Young had to stay. But in 2008, she couldn’t take it anymore and returned to Mongolia with her daughter.


▲ Our research team visited the Mongolia Prevention Center for Violence against Women to discuss solutions to help women who have returned to Mongolia from Korea. ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea


When we asked her why she never reported her husband’s violence to the police, she said that she had thought that was the way Koreans discipline their children. She had once called 1366 [a women’s hotline] and explained that her husband was abusing their daughter, but the Korean person who answered the phone responded as if it were no big deal. So she thought that this kind of discipline was common in Korea.


Young’s mother didn’t even tell her parents and family that her husband was abusing their daughter because she was afraid they would be too shocked and heartbroken. Even when she returned to Mongolia, she couldn’t tell them everything that had happened during her marriage in Korea.


Her Daughter with Korean Citizenship Living in Mongolia Undocumented


Young is currently living with her grandfather, uncle, and mother. Young’s mother is helping out with Young’s grandfather’s business and making a living.


Even though Young has Korean citizenship, she also had Mongolian permanent residence growing up, because her mother is Mongolian, Young was born in Mongolia, and her mother registered Young’s birth in Mongolia,. Due to her permanent residence, she was able to receive benefits from the Mongolian government.


When Young turned sixteen, however, Mongolian law required that she choose between keeping her Korean citizenship  and acquiring Mongolian citizenship. Unfortunately, Young’s father didn’t give his consent for her to give up Korean citizenship. Mongolian citizenship is required in order to get a resident registration card, and so because of her father, she was unable to receive her resident registration card and has had to live in Mongolia undocumented for the last two years.


Young’s father calls her from time to time. He has told Young to return to Korea once she turns twenty. Even recently, he told her to come to Korea and work part-time to make some money. Young has never gone back to Korea since coming to Mongolia. She does want to go back to Korea a little bit, but she does not want to see her father. Her memories from her childhood are still vivid. She still asks her mother:


“How did you marry someone like him? How did you even meet him?”


▲ A view in Mongolia.   ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea


When Young was younger, she wanted to live in Mongolia. But now, she wants to try living in Korea as well. When she first came to Mongolia, because her Mongolian language skills weren’t good enough, she couldn’t quite keep up with her academics. Thanks to her Mongolian permanent residence, she was able to attend school through high school, but her grades weren’t that great. Young’s mother is worried about Young’s future now that she has graduated high school. In terms of her Korean proficiency, Young can watch cartoons and movies in Korean and is better at listening than speaking.


Young’s mother wishes to get legally divorced from her husband and just live with her daughter. She doesn’t care whether it’s in Mongolia or Korea. She wants to live wherever her daughter wants to live. If Young wants to live in Korea, her mother wishes she herself could go back and forth between Korea and Mongolia without worrying about anything. She wishes to be able to legally reside in Korea without Young’s father’s interference.


“Can I Possibly Live in Korea with my Mom?”


Young also wishes the same thing as her mother: “Whether it’s in Mongolia or Korea, I want to live with my mom. Although he’s my father, I want to cut ties with him. Of course, that’s not easy. He probably won’t let it happen either. But if my mom can get divorced, couldn’t it be possible?”


With the Korean legal system, it is not quite easy for Young’s wish to come true. Though there won’t be an issue of custody since she’s an adult now, even if her parents get divorced her father will still have parental rights. Unless her father gets arrested for a crime and receives a court sentence ordering him not to approach his child, he will always be related to Young as her father despite Young’s wish to cut ties with him.


It’s been ten years since Young came to Mongolia. It’s fun for her to talk to her friends in Mongolian and spend time with them. Financially she’s doing decently as well. However, she’s interested in “Korean culture and its nail art scene,” and wants to go to Korea to “try working there” if only it wasn’t for her father. She wants to try living in Korea but says she doesn’t want to leave her mother and live alone.


Let’s take a look at the issues that need to be solved in order for Young’s wishes to come true realistically.


First, Young’s mother must legally get divorced from Young’s father.


Second, [it is true that] Young, who has Korean citizenship and doesn’t want to be separated from her mother, can invite her mother to stay in Korea for three months. While that will allow her mother to come back and forth between Mongolia and Korea, long-term residence [of her mother] would still be impossible. If Young gets married and gives birth to a child in Korea, her mother might be able to stay long-term with the excuse of helping with the child, but that won’t happen anytime soon. 


In order for a migrant woman’s grown up child with Korean citizenship to bring her mother to Korea, as Young wishes to do, a legal system that allows the mother to live with her child needs to be established. This has to be more than just a visa that allows the mother to stay short-term. It has to be long-term. 


In the United Nations’ Immigrant Workers Agreement exists the “Right of Family Union”, but Korea has not ratified this agreement. Thus, a migrant family’s union is not guaranteed. However, for cases like Young’s, where an immigrant woman’s child with Korean citizenship returns to Korea, shouldn’t the government recognize their right of family union?


The transnational child-rearing that these migrant women who have returned to their home countries are doing is not an easy task. Someone like Young, who was born in Mongolia, can obtain permanent residence and live there comfortably as a minor, but most of the women’s children, who have Korean citizenship, face difficulties living in Mongolia outside of its social security system.


Most of all, in order for these women’s children to grow up well in that society, a system where they can receive financial support from their fathers in Korea needs to be established. If a woman gets divorced in Korea and raises her child in Korea, legally she can receive financial support from her child’s father. However, in reality, there are many cases in which the financial support never gets fulfilled. So, of course those [mothers and children] who are abroad rarely get any support. The fathers in these case never even allow their children’s citizenship changes, let alone provide appropriate support. Couldn’t we create systems in this society to assist the migrant women who have left in raising their transnational children? (Interpreter: Narangtoya)


By: Han Kuk-yeom

Translated by: Han Seung-a


*Original Article: http://ildaro.com/8764


◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English-language blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).

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