A Vietnamese woman was allegedly stabbed to death by her South Korean husband at their house in Gyeongsang Province on Tuesday (May 24), just weeks after she'd given birth to their child.
The murder, happening less than a year after the death of a 20-year-old Vietnamese woman at the hands of her South Korean husband just eight days after their wedding, has turned the spotlight again on marriages between Vietnamese women and foreign men, especially from South Korea.
Most of the marriages are illegally brokered, and mostly entered into by young Vietnamese women in rural areas with older men, seeking an escape from poverty, braving language and other cultural barriers.
In the lastest case, the victim, 24-year-old Hoang Thi Nam from the central coastal province of Binh Thuan, was killed by her husband, Lim Chae Won, 37, at 1:10 a.m. on May 24. She had given birth to a son 19 days earlier, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday, citing Gyeongsang police.
The husband admitted his crime to neighbors and asked them to alert the police, who arrested him soon after and conducted an autopsy, the statement said.
The Yonhap news agency reported that Lim had told the police he stabbed his wife during an argument.
According to the police, the couple's 19-day-old baby was found crying next to his bleeding mother when police officers arrived at the scene, while his father was caught with the murder weapon in his hand.
Autopsy results released by the Jeongto District police showed Nam had been stabbed a total of 53 times and died on the spot, Vietnam News Agency reported on May 24.
The couple got married in April last year and Nam immigrated to South Korea four months later.
Back in her hometown in Binh Thuan's Phan Thiet Town, Nam's brother-in-law Tran Van Tri said that she had called them three days earlier, saying she would take photos of her son and send them home.
Hoang Thi Nam when she was a 12th grader at the Nguyen Hue High School in the central coastal province of Binh Thuan
On the day of the crime, Nam's family gathered at her mother's house, but the family was not able to reach her. "Later in the day, local authorities told us that she'd been killed. Her mother fainted when she heard the news," Tri said.
He added Nam used to complain about her South Korean mother-in-law, saying the latter was very harsh. The couple later moved to another house not too far away.
"It was bad relations with her mother-in-law that led to quarrels between the couple and Nam once said she would get a divorce if the situation remains unsolved," he said.
Nam's older sister, Hoang Thi Ha, said that Nam was a gentle woman.
"After graduating from high school, she moved to Ho Chi Minh City to prepare for university examinations. A friend introduced her to Won. She brought him to the house and got married to him later," she said.
On May 25, Nam's mother Nguyen Thi Hoa and her aunt Nguyen Thi Hoang Mai came to Ho Chi Minh City to take a flight to South Korea to receive her body.
"We plan to cremate her body and scatter her ashes in the sea. Nam's brother, who lives in the US, has said he wants to adopt her little son," Hoa said.
The Association of South Korean in HCMC on the same day gave Hoa US$3,000 and two flight tickets to South Korea. The flight took off later in the day.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had instructed the Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea to coordinate with local agencies, and requested a thorough investigation into the case.
"The community of Vietnamese in South Korea is quite large. The Vietnamese government always pays attention to its citizens living and working in South Korea, including Vietnamese woman married to South Korean husbands," the ministry said in a statement.
Byun Chang Bum, Consul of the South Korean Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, said that the murder was an "unexpected and sorrowful" case.
"The South Korean Consulate General would like to share its condolences with Nam's family," he wrote in an email to Thanh Nien Weekly on May 25.
He said the South Korean government has established and enforced policies in favor of international marriages and multi-cultural families.
There might have been a language barrier in the latest case, Bum said.
"We will enforce policies like [premarital] orientation courses to prevent such cases," he added.
Chang, the man who killed his Vietnamese bride eight days after their marriage last year, was found to have had a history of mental illness. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
After that murder, the Korean government had adopted new precautions for international brides who mostly come from Southeast Asia. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family made a health exam (including mental health) mandatory for prospective brides and grooms.
"I am sorry to hear about this news. It's a tragedy," Hye-kyung Lee, president of Korea International Migration Association, told Thanh Nien Weekly.
"We know that international marriages have more problems due to language barriers, cultural differences, etc... Recently, we have other tragic news, such as a Chinese wife killing a Korean husband, and another Chinese wife pouring boiling oil on her Korean husband," she said.
June Lee, chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration in South Korea, said she hopes tragic incidents do not become a pattern.
She said the South Korean government has applied stricter controls over brokers and mandated education for Korean husbands prior to their marriage.
"These efforts are in the right direction. However, the good effects these initiatives are designed to bring about will certainly take time," she said.
Meanwhile, as shocking as the murders are, at least one expert says there is no need to sensationalize these cases.
Danièle Bélanger, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada who has conducted extensive research on women's issues in Vietnam, said she considered the tragic case one of domestic violence and that "there is no need to believe that international marriages are highly risky for Vietnamese women or any other group of women.
"If we look at countries that have good data on domestic violence, we see that countries like Canada and France have about two to three women killed by their partner per week. So this is a common problem around the world and it is not specifically about international couples," she told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.
"It would be interesting to screen future husbands just like people who wish to adopt internationally are screened and investigated for their abilities to be good parents. The women should know who it is that they marry to avoid deception and eventually, abuse," she said.