South Korea's suicide plague

March 11, 2007
THREE WEEKS AGO, 39-year-old Hyang Sun Lee of Fullerton allegedly tried to set her three children and husband ablaze after she doused them with lighter fluid while they slept. Though she didn't succeed, police said, within the last year, three other Korean immigrant parents in Southern California did.

News reports invariably point to economic hardship and the difficulties of immigrant adjustment as the source of the parents' despair. And clearly they were factors. But real answers to these incidents are more likely to be found 6,000 miles from Los Angeles, in Seoul.

Although family murder-suicides are rare in South Korea, the nation has one of the world's highest suicide rates, coupled with what is perhaps the lowest fertility rate. After experiencing one of the most extraordinary economic and social transformations in history — from a traditional rural society in the early 1960s to a hyper-urban industrialized one in the 1990s — South Koreans have to wonder if all that success isn't, well, killing them.

Over the last decade, suicides in South Korea have more than doubled, from 11.8 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 26.1 per 100,000 in 2005. Today, suicide is the No. 1 cause of death for South Korean men in their 20s and is increasingly common among the growing ranks of the elderly. Overall, it is the fourth-leading cause of death in the country, ahead of traffic accidents.

No sector of society seems immune to the epidemic. In the first two months of this year, two highly successful female entertainers, actress Jeong Da-bin and pop singer Yuni, hanged themselves. Last October, just before I visited Seoul, three young people carried out a suicide pact in a public park in the capital, drawing attention to the existence of South Korean websites that glorify — and offer advice on — suicide. In 2005, 400 students held a vigil in Seoul to mourn the growing number of their friends who had taken their own lives because they couldn't stand the highly competitive educational environment.

State Department Releases 2006 Reports on Human Rights Practices

The U.S. State Department in a report on human rights released Tuesday said that although prostitution is illegal in South Korea
it is widespread thanks to massage parlors and Internet-based sex services. A separate report also released by the State Department on Tuesday said
that North Korea's dictatorship remains severely abusive towards its people.
The South Korea report said that while antiprostitution and antitrafficking laws passed in 2004 have helped to protect victims of prostitution
and punish those engaged in the practice, some organizations are concerned that sex tourism to China and Southeast
Asia is becoming more prevalent.
The report said that the antiprostitution laws have driven the practice underground,
citing a study that says massage parlors have replaced traditional brothels for 60 percent of men who bought sexual favors.
According to the State Department, the Internet was also used more frequently to arrange sexual encounters.
It said that on average, only 15 percent of those booked for prostitution were actually prosecuted.

US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Korea, Republic of


South Korea: Lowest Birthrate in the World

SEOUL, August 28, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) ? South Korea now claims the lowest birthrate in the world
according to South Korea’s National Statistical Office, which confirms population data just released by
an independent study.

According to the Korean Herald, the National Statistical Office (NSO) has announced that the South
Korea’s total fertility rate dropped to 1.08 last year, and reports the number of newborns has also
dropped nearly 8 percent to 438,000. The fertility rate is the lowest in the world, and broke
South Korea’s 2004 record of 1.16.


PRB 2006 World Population Data Sheet
International Migration Is Reshaping United States, Global Economy
Download the 2006 data sheet

Birth tourism

It's called Birth Tourism -- pregnant women traveling to the United States to give birth here, so their babies can automatically become US Citizens. It's not illegal, and there are businesses here in Los Angeles that cater to it. Residents in one neighborhood say they are upset because they say birth tourism has come to their street and brought with it all the noise and traffic of a business. Ana Garcia has this exclusive investigation

ANA GARCIA: Gramercy Place is a quiet street dotted with craftsman homes in a community nestled between Korea Town and wealthy Hancock Park.

RESIDENT: That's why we bought here. It's peaceful.

GARCIA: It's a residential zone according to the city, but neighbors say there's a business operating out of this house.

RALPH CATALDO, NEIGHBOR: (Referring to a home across the street) It caters to Korean women who come to this country to have babies.

GARCIA: Ralph Cataldo lives across the street and says he sees it all from his front window.

GARCIA: So what did you think when you saw all these pregnant women?

CATALDO: I didn't know what to think.

GARCIA: So he googled the address.

CATALDO: Up comes a picture of the house across the street, clearly taken from my front yard.

GARCIA: Photos of the house are advertised on two Web sites: BirthInUSA.com and Gramercyvilla.com. (Editor's Note: Both Web sites came up blank when tested Friday morning.) According to the sites, Gramercy Place is where you stay while you're pregnant. After the baby is born you transfer to (indicating another house) this house a few blocks away on Lucerne. Posted photos show the accommodations for mom and newborns.

We asked Channel 4 News reporter Jinah Kim to translate.

JINAH KIM, CHANNEL 4 REPORTER: Based on what I read, it's about $6,000 minimum ... It says if you need to extend your visa or if you're having trouble getting a visa, we can help you.

GARCIA: Our cameras watched both properties for six weeks, and we saw different pregnant women going in and out of here. We saw a baby at the second house. It's difficult to tell how many may be staying here, but according to real estate listings from last summer, the Lucerne house is described as a "postnatal unit" "designed for board and care facility" with "6 bedrooms" and "monthly income of $35-37,000."

CATALDO: The entire neighborhood is upset and annoyed by it.

GARCIA: So much so (that) more than a dozen neighbors signed a petition and sent it to the city. The city dispatched inspectors from Building and Safety to both houses.

LUKE ZAMPERINI, CITY INSPECTOR, BUILDING AND SAFETY: We met with one of the owners, and he said it is just a boarding house.

GARCIA: Which, according to Inspector Luke Zamperini, is not permitted in an R-1 residential zone.

ZAMPERINI: We issued orders to comply

GARCIA: But some see this as more than just a zoning violation. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is investigating the visa angle.

U.S. REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-ORANGE COUNTY): What you have uncovered here is a gaming of the system that may be technically legal but screams out for reform.

GARCIA: Rohrabacher wants to change the 14th amendment of the Constitution.

WADE PRADER, IMMIGRATION OFFICER: (The 14th amendment) guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States.

GARCIA: (The 14th amendement applies) no matter what their parents' status, according to Wade Prater of U.S. immigration. Prater says he wants to find out if tourist visas are being misused here.

PRADER: As far as the parent misrepresenting their intention to come to the U.S. ... it is something we definitely want to look in to.

EDWARD CHANG, PROFESSOR OF ASIAN STUDIES: From the mother's perspective, they are trying to do anything they can for their children.

GARCIA: Edward Chang, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Riverside, says wealthy Koreans can pay to have their children born in the US. Citizenship for the newborn would mean they could avoid mandatory military service in Korea, and --

CHANG: Many Korean parents in Korea want to send their children to top U.S. Universities.

GARCIA: In addition to the baby getting all benefits of being a U.S. citizen, once he's 21, he can petition U.S. immigration to bring his family over.

ROHRABACHER: Just because it happens later down the road doesn't mean that family doesn't count on it and isn't willing to pay a good sum of money.

GARCIA: We wrote to the owner of the properties, Jay Surh, but he refused an interview. However, a woman who neighbors say they see all the time at Gramercy Place walked over when she spotted our camera.

WOMAN: Did you take my picture?

CAMERAMAN: Yes, I did.

GARCIA: A relative of the owners called us and says nothing illegal or unlawful happens in the two houses. They also say all the pregnant women we saw were friends or relative from New Jersey.

And they claim the income on the real estate listing and the information on the Web sites are not accurate.

However, a domain search of the Gramercy Villa Web site lists Eunice Serh as the administrator, and she appears on the Gramercy Place mortgage, as the owner's wife on county records.

KIM: The second Web site is virtually identical to the first Web site.

GARCIA: The neighbors say they want the business to stop.

CATALDO: I'd like to see them move. I'd like to see them close it.

ZAMPERINI: If they don't comply, our only recourse is to prosecute them.

GARCIA: Building and Safety says the owners have 30 days to comply; in other words, stop renting out rooms by May 21.

Korean moms want 'born in USA' babies

By Barbara Demick
Los Angeles Times
May 2002

SEOUL, South Korea — In a few weeks, Kim Jeong Yeon will put on her baggiest overalls to disguise her bulging belly and board a flight for Los Angeles.

She will spend three months in the United States, staying on a tourist visa, after which she will return to South Korea with a newly minted U.S. citizen in tow.

"It's easy. If you register the birth, it's automatic that your baby can get an American passport," says Kim, a 31-year-old importer of Italian shoes who is pregnant with her first child.

One might say it is the ultimate gift that South Korean parents can give their newborns. Those who can cough up the $20,000 or so it costs are coming to the United States by the thousands to give birth so their newborns can have American citizenship.

Their reasons range from a desire to enroll their offspring in American schools to enabling them to avoid South Korean military service.

Los Angeles is the most popular destination because of its large Korean-speaking population, along with New York, Boston, Hawaii and even Guam. The practice is also believed to be popular among women from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

So many are doing it that a mini-industry has developed here of agencies that refer expectant mothers to travel agents, immigration lawyers, prenatal clinics, hospitals and even baby-sitters, arranging what are, in effect, package tours for pregnant women.

"From birth to citizenship," advertises one Korean-language Web site (www.birthinusa.com) that helps women give birth in Los Angeles.

The United States is one of the few countries that grants citizenship to anyone born on its soil. Britain and Australia repealed similar laws in the 1980s.

Efforts by immigration foes in Congress to stop the practice have failed because the citizenship rights of such children, even those of illegal immigrants, appear to be guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, added after the Civil War to bestow the right on the descendants of slaves.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service says the birth tours are not illegal as long as the women have enough money to pay their medical bills.

The South Korean women giving birth in the United States tend to be well educated and upper-class, with big ambitions for their children. Since many have been to America before and have good jobs in South Korea, they are deemed unlikely to overstay their welcome and thus can easily obtain tourist visas.

Indeed, most are eager to fly home as soon as they can get the birth certificates and passports for their newborns.

Among several expectant mothers who talked about their plans for giving birth in the United States, Kim Jeong Yeon was unusual in that she was willing to be named. Kim is not bashful about having money and what it can do for her.

"If they could afford it, all my friends would go to the United States to have their babies," Kim said. "My biggest complaint about Korea is the educational system. In high school, you have to study past midnight or else you fall behind the others and can't get on with your life. And since the baby is a boy, I thought it would be a big gift for him not to be burdened with military service."

Kim estimates the trip will cost at least $20,000, much of it in medical bills that would be covered by her health insurance if she stayed at home. It would be even higher if she didn't have a grandmother in Los Angeles with whom she can stay.

Doctors say most South Korean women who come to the United States to give birth pay in cash. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of services catering to their needs. Most operate discreetly, relying on word of mouth for their clientele. But there are others that market aggressively, such as Hana Medical Center.

South Korean-run Hana has three centers for expectant mothers in the Los Angeles area and last year opened an elegantly furnished postnatal facility called Larchmont Villa, in L.A.'s Koreatown, where women can stay until it is time to fly home. Their services include such conveniences as a private car for pickup at the airport and a guide to help get the baby a Social Security number and passport.

Immigration critics believe that far stricter measures are needed to prevent women from coming to the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth.

"Even though it is not illegal immigration per se, it is exploiting a loophole," said Jack Martin, a project director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that advocates restrictions on immigration.

The federation is especially critical of what it calls anchor babies, whom mothers arrange to have in the United States with the hope that the child will later help the entire family immigrate. Under the law, a U.S. citizen cannot sponsor anyone for immigration purposes until the would-be immigrant reaches the age of 21, but according to Martin, the long wait is not a deterrent.

"It is hard to conceptualize a strategy that is so long-term with regard to U.S. citizenship, but that's what they are doing — establishing a foothold," he said.

For South Koreans, the harshest condemnation of the practice comes not from immigration critics in the United States but from other Koreans.

In Seoul, travel agent Min Yong Kee, who says he has sold many pregnant women plane tickets to the United States, says he nevertheless adamantly disapproves.

"It may be technically legal, but the majority opinion is that it is ethically dubious. Koreans are nationalistic. Why should they go to the United States to give birth? It doesn't seem right," Min said.

Under South Korean law, children can have both Korean and U.S. citizenship, but they must choose between them when they turn 18. But that could change.

American births have become so popular among the privileged that Koreans are starting to complain that soon only the children of the poor will serve in the army. Having U.S. citizens in the family has also become something of a political liability for public figures.

Thousands of pregnant South Koreans travel to the U.S. to give birth to American citizens. A mini-industry has been created to serve them.
LOS ANGELES ― In an apparent crackdown, U.S. authorities have arrested 10 Korean mothers
who traveled to the United States to give birth so that their babies would be eligible for American citizenship.
The women were held on visa violations, charged with having come to the country for reasons other than stated on their entry permits.

New Zealand acts to stop passport babies
Our story showed how pregnant Korean mothers were flying to the west coast in organized "birth tours" to deliver their children at local hospitals.
The babies become instant citizens and travel home within weeks on Canadian papers.

For $22,000 Wohn and his travel agent partner in Seoul were promising pregnant mothers medical check-ups, delivery at a Vancouver area hospital,
two months of postnatal care, a return flight, a local guide providing services ranging from airport pickup to getting the baby's birth certificate,
social insurance number and eventually Canadian citizenship.


Finding Love Overseas the Perfunctory Way

At 35, Kim Jang-ho (not his real name) is unemployed. His mother runs a small restaurant in Incheon. He has come to Vietnam to find a spouse.

Marriages between Koreans and foreigners increase but divorces do too

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Seoul (AsiaNews) – In 2005, there were 43,121 mixed marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans, a 21.6% increase over the previous year. This means that 14 out of every 100 couples who married in 2005 tied the knot with someone from a different nationality. This data was released by the National Statistical Office (NSO).

The increase mirrors the aspirations of provincial governments that have approved laws to promote mixed marriages. For instance, Namhae County and Hamyang County, both in South Kyongsang Province, passed an act to support adult men marrying foreign brides.

Mixed marriages with people from other states have always been common in rural areas, with one out of three Korean men engaged in agriculture and fishery bringing in their brides from overseas. The trend increased by 8.5% from 2004 to 2005.

Chinese brides proved to be most popular with Korean men, representing 66.2% of the total. For Korean men in rural areas, however, Vietnamese brides were the most wanted, accounting for over half of overseas marriages among them.

Among Korean women who married foreigners, 42.2% chose Chinese, 30.8% selected Japanese husbands, and 11.8% tied the knot with American men.

However, statistics reveal that divorce is also on the rise in mixed marriages (a 25.5% increase between 2004 and 2005) while the divorce rate among Korean couples is dropping (a decrease of 7.8%).

There were 128,468 cases of divorce in 2005. On average, 867 couples got married every day and 352 couples divorced.


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