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Young naturalized Koreans struggle to fit in

March 9, 2016 - 18:43 By 이다영
More than 30 percent of foreign-born South Koreans aged 15-24 are not in school and out of work, while for 58.3 percent of them, their parents had divorced before they moved to South Korea, a report released by the Gender Ministry showed Wednesday.

“Foreign-born children” refers to young South Koreans who were born and grew up overseas and moved to Korea as minors, including children who were born to non-Korean citizens overseas and moved to Korea after one of their divorced parents -- usually the mother -- remarried a Korean national. "Multicultural children," on the other hand, mainly refers to Korean-born children born to a Korean national and his or her foreign-born spouse. 

“We believe different policies and programs are needed for foreign-born children, as their needs are different from those of children of multicultural families who were born in South Korea,” said Yoon Ji-yeon from the ministry’s multicultural policies division.

According to the Ministry of Justice, it takes at least two years for children born to non-Korean citizens overseas to obtain South Korean citizenship after arriving in the country. In order to do so, the child needs to be legally adopted by his or her Korean stepparent. As of last year, more than 85 percent of all marriage migrants in Korea were women.

“Public education is currently guaranteed for foreign-born children even when they are waiting for their South Korean citizenship,” Yoon said. “But there are certain social services one cannot receive without the citizenship, including all job training programs offered by the Ministry of Labor.”

According to a report by the International Organization for Migration report, there were some 12,000 foreign-born children born to non-Koreans overseas who moved to Korea upon one of their divorced parents’ remarriage to a South Korean national, as of 2013. Among them, the largest number are from China, followed by those from Vietnam, Japan and Mongolia.

“Forming a relationship with a stepfather who doesn’t speak one’s mother tongue, while trying to adjust to a completely foreign environment can be an overwhelming situation for foreign-born children who moved to Korea,” said the IOM report. “This language barrier creates a number of challenges for the children’s family life, and in some extreme cases, the children decide to return to their home countries.”

The proportion of young foreign-born Koreans who are NEETs -- an acronym for young people who are not in education, employment or training -- stood at 32.9 percent, significantly higher than the proportion of young South Korean NEETs in the same age group, which was 10.9 percent as of 2012. The proportion was also higher than children of multicultural families born in South Korea who were both out of school and work, which was 20.3 percent in the same year.

The number of multicultural children in South Korea increased dramatically from 2006-2015, from 25,000 to 208,000. The proportion of school dropouts among multicultural children was higher than that of South Korean children.

Their reasons for dropping out of school were diverse. While none of multicultural children decided to quit school because of language barriers, more than 15 percent of all foreign-born children who quit their education said it was because of language difficulties 

Also, while almost no multicultural children dropped out of school because of cultural differences they had with their peers, 12.1 percent of foreign-born children said cultural conflicts were what made them leave.

Also more children born overseas said they left schools due to family problems.

“We acknowledge that foreign-born children can be more vulnerable to stress resulting from family life, as many of them experienced their parents’ divorce before moving to another country,” the ministry said in a statement. “We are thinking of many programs that uniquely target foreign-born children according to their needs and wants.”

By Claire Lee  (