- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Financial Times reports on a new cottage industry in Korea — matchmaking services pairing South Korean men with women who defect from North Korea:
Defying the gloom among small businesses in South Korea, Mr Hong predicts a rosy future for his enterprise, run from a small office in the suburbs of Seoul. Driven by a haemorrhaging economy, defections from the authoritarian North are soaring, and the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers are women. Of the 2,809 defections registered last year – up from 1,043 in 2001 – 2,197 were women.
In 2006 Mr Hong was the second South Korean to open a specialist agency finding husbands for them, but his niche market is exploding. The 39-year-old has identified 10 competitors, most of them established last year.
Mr Hong’s own match certainly lends credibility to his business. His wife, Kang Ok-shil, defected from North Korea in 2002 and has a crucial foothold in defectors’ social networks. They have named their agency Nam-nam-buk-kyo, an ancient adage meaning “the south’s got the boys, the north’s got the girls”.
Mrs Kang, a 41-year-old former electrical worker, says many North Korean women see South Korean men as less domineering. “North Korean men are more authoritarian. North Korean men have the perception that men are the sky and women are the ground,” she says, quoting a famous Korean aphorism.
South Korea’s unification ministry offers less romantic reasons for the disparity. The men in the North are trapped in military service, often for 10 years or more. Women become the breadwinners and are increasingly involved in cross-border trading, presenting opportunities to defect. Many women are also trafficked into prostitution and hostess bars.
While South Korea has a skyrocketing divorce rate, the company claims that almost none of the marriages they have arranged have broken up. They attribute this to the fact that “North Korean women are more persevering."