Koreans buy Nepali brides to work as slaves (Feature)

February 15th, 2009 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 15 (IANS) Shanti Magar, a 21-year-old woman from Baglung district in western Nepal, belongs to the indigenous Magar community that sends hundreds of its men abroad every year to work as soldiers in the British and Indian armies.

Keen to go abroad and make a lucrative living, two years ago, Magar paid Nepali Rs.1 million ($13,000) to a broker in Kathmandu who claimed to arrange marriages between young Nepali women and South Korean men.

But when she reached the land of her dreams, Magar found that she was simply a deal for her 35-year-old husband, who promptly sold her to an elderly farmer looking for an unpaid farm hand who would work night and day.

After oil-rich Gulf nations, South Korea is emerging as the latest hell for Nepali women. There have been growing tales of slavery and sexual exploitation by employers there in connivance with recruitment agencies while both the governments turn a blind eye.

In South Korea, farmers, the elderly and the disabled are seeking slaves from Nepal who would work round the clock for no pay under the guise of marriage even as Korean women desire careers and seek to move to the capital from the villages.

Like Magar, Dawa Sherpa, a 22-year-old from Nuwakot district north of Kathmandu, also dreamt of becoming rich by going to South Korea.

Her dream too was brutally shattered when her 32-year-old South Korean husband sold her to a disabled elderly farmer. When Sherpa tried to run away, she was caught and resold to another man.

“Dawa and Shanti are among many young Nepali women who are so desperate to migrate to (South) Korea and work there that they are ready to marry Korean men, little knowing that they would be sold to older, disabled farmers willing to buy young women to do household and farm work and provide sex,” Nepali fortnightly Himal Khabarpatrika reported.

In the 1980s, the developed Asian nations - Japan and South Korea - had perpetrated the same kind of “modern slavery” on developing Philippines and Vietnam. “But as (the two victim countries) tightened rules, the trafficking moved to Nepal,” the report said.

An organised network of “manpower agencies” flourishes in Nepal, delivering unsuspecting Nepali brides to South Korean buyers. Calling themselves marriage bureaus, they promise the gullible and uneducated young women a quick fortune, South Korean citizenship within two years and permission to take their family members abroad.

“But when they get to (South) Korea, the girls are sold, resold and sold again,” the report said.

The buyers’ task has been made easy by the bi-weekly flights between Seoul and Kathmandu by Korean Air and lax laws in Nepal.

While the South Korean government closely scrutinises visa applications by blue collar workers, a citizen who “marries” a Nepali woman and asks for a visa for his “wife” faces little rigour.

There are even cases of Nepali husbands who sold their wives, the report said.

Some of the sold wives run away in desperation and become illegal immigrants in South Korea when their visa expires.

The Nepal government is either ignorant of the plight of its own citizens in South Korea or is turning a blind eye.

“There are now over 300 Nepali ‘brides’ in (South) Korea,” the report said. “But the Nepal embassy in Seoul says since the women became Korean citizens after marriage, it is a problem the Korean government should resolve.”

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