South Korea will launch a crackdown on matchmaking agencies which use racial stereotypes or distorted information to help Koreans find foreign brides, officials said Wednesday.
In a country long known for its homogeneous make-up, the number of international marriages is soaring. But more and more end in divorce and there have been cases of suicide and spouse abuse.
The crackdown will begin on June 15 when a new law on international marriages goes into force, the welfare ministry said.
It sets a maximum prison term of two years or fines of up to 10 million won (9,580 dollars) for matchmaking firms which breach the new rules.
Agencies will have to register and should have properly trained staff and respect local laws.
Ministry officials say some matchmakers have spread false information about spouses or about married life in South Korea, causing subsequent problems.
"The new law will help foreign spouses get better information about their life here before and after marriage," Lee Keum-Sun, a welfare ministry official, told AFP.
The crackdown is part of a broader programme to help foreign brides settle in South Korea where 11 percent of marriages were interracial last year, Lee said.
Among farmers and fishermen the rate reached 40 percent last year.
Bachelors, especially those living a rural lifestyle shunned by Korean women, have turned to China, Mongolia and Southeast Asian countries to find brides.
Official data showed China is the favourite, with the number of South Korean men marrying Chinese girls or ethnic Koreans from China standing at 14,526 last year. Vietnam was the second with 6,611.
Activists say that because of false advertising some foreign brides end up living with spouses who have few assets or who are ill, alcoholic or of difficult character.
A 2005 study by the welfare ministry showed that 14 percent of 945 migrant wives surveyed said they had been beaten by their Korean husbands.
"Vietnamese women...devote themselves to their spouses after marriage," proclaims one Internet matchmaking site.
The ministry has already dispatched two officials to the Philippines and Vietnam to advise women wishing to marry Koreans. Local agencies designated by the ministry will operate in Cambodia and Mongolia.
Eighty government-administered centres will be established to help foreign spouses settle quickly in South Korea.
The government will educate them about the Korean language, culture and family life and teach them agricultural techniques, computing and other occupational skills.
It plans to train 126 people to teach culture at nurseries or elementary schools. Another 240 will become assistant English instructors in rural classrooms.
Korean husbands in turn will get education about the cultures of their brides.