Forcing Korean pregnancy practices puts immigrants at risk: Report

PHOTO: Forcing Korean pregnancy practices puts immigrants at risk: Report

SEOUL - Forcing Korean pregnancy and postpartum practices on immigrant wives by their Korean in-laws and spouses can be a serious risk factor for both the women's and the babies' health, according to research organised by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Many immigrant wives are forced to follow Korean practices such as eating heavily scented local dishes including kimchi while struggling with morning sickness, hich may lead to malnutrition during and after pregnancy, the city government said in a report released Wednesday.

The practices may also put the women's marriages at risk, it added.

According to the research, which surveyed 120 immigrant wives residing in Seoul and 120 of their Korean family members from March to September last year, 35.9 per cent of the Korean husbands and 54.6 per cent of the Korean mother-in-laws said they were not aware or had little knowledge of postpartum culture in the women's home countries.

There are currently some 50,000 immigrant wives - mostly from Southeastern Asian countries - living in Seoul, and more than 80 per cent of them become pregnant within the first two years upon their arrival in Korea.

On average, immigrant wives in South Korea married their Korean spouses at age 26.9, and moved to Korea immediately after marriage, according to Statistics Korea.

Many of the wives who participated in the survey said they found it extremely difficult to eat Korean dishes that they were not used to, including "miyeokguk" ― a Korean seaweed soup traditionally served on birthdays and to women who have just given birth - during and after their pregnancy.

Many also said it was particularly hard to eat heavily scented local dishes, such as kimchi and fermented soybean stew, while they were coping with morning sickness.

"Many immigrant wives in Korea experience pregnancy and childbirth at a young age in a completely foreign environment, and this can be very challenging for them both physically and mentally," said an official from the city government.

"Many of them experience conflict with their Korean family members (during and after their pregnancy) as they are either forced to follow Korean customs or their in-laws and husbands don't have enough knowledge in the pregnancy and postpartum practices of the women's home countries."

Countries in Asia have different postpartum traditions. For example, women in Vietnam avoid eating chicken and seafood after giving birth, while Thai mothers only consume rice and vegetables during their postpartum rest period.

According to Statistics Korea, some 3,005 international couples divorced in 2012. They accounted for 14 per cent of all divorce cases in the country in that year. Notably, the number of interracial couples who divorced within the first five years of their marriage was twice as high as that of Korean couples in 2012.

"One of the reasons that so many migrant wives get divorced in early stages of their marriage has to do with the way they got married," said the city government in a statement.

"In most cases, many of the foreign women get married to their Korean husbands about a week after their first meeting. Most Korean men who wish to marry a foreign woman first get her photograph through an agency, and marry her during their first visit to her country."

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is running a special education programme for immigrant wives and their family members on childbirth and postpartum traditions of different countries starting this month. For inquiries, call 2133-5069.