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Wed, May 03, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Foreign wives often denied rights

EQUAL TREATMENT For some women from southeast Asia and China, marrying a Taiwanese man has landed them in a quagmire of red tape and domestic isolation

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

A foreign bride, identified only as Mercy, speaks out at a public hearing held by the Legislative Yuan yesterday concerning the mistreatment of some foreign women who have married local men.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES.

Lawmakers and members of a private self-help group said yesterday that some foreign women married to local men are being denied their basic rights and urged the incoming government to address the situation.

Josephine Chu (朱惠良), an independent legislator, said that many women find life in Taiwan to fall short of even their basic expectations.

"Besides the need to become accustomed to the way of life in Taiwan, these young women are usually expected to take care of all the domestic chores. Still, their basic rights are not properly protected," Chu said.

She said that official figures show that there are over 100,000 foreign women married to local men. Most of them come from Southeast Asia and China.

Currently, foreigners can apply for ROC citizenship after they have been married to local citizens for three years, but they must first relinquish their original nationality.

If they do not wish to give up their citizenship, they can apply for permanent residency after they have been married five years.

However, unless they obtain ROC citizenship, these foreign spouses are required to apply for permits with the government before they are allowed to work in Taiwan, although the procedures are simpler than those for average foreigners.

Chu said this requirement has become an obstacle for many foreign wives, because most employers would rather work around the law where possible instead of going through the legal paper work.

In cases where a couple divorces before the foreign spouse obtains citizenship or permanent residency, foreign wives without children are not allowed to stay in Taiwan because they do not have a household registration certificate, Chu noted.

Chu said that these women cannot inherit their husbands' property in case of death and have problems obtaining legal custody of their children in case of divorce.

"These situations give their husbands and in-laws the chance to take advantage of these women's helplessness to exploit them," Chu said.

Sister Stephana Wei Wei (韋薇), director of the Rerum Novarum Center (新事社會 務中心), a Catholic help center for laborers, Aborigines and foreign workers, said her center has had to deal with all manner of cases.

Wei also said that the center has encountered some extreme cases, where the husbands or in-laws do not allow the foreign wives to learn Mandarin or Taiwanese to keep them from seeking outside help.

"A large number of women are being kept in the dark about what their rights are. We don't know what sort of conditions they are living under and what their problems are," Wei said.

Mercy, a Filipino woman who has been married to a Taiwanese husband for 15 years, said she has heard a lot of stories about the miseries of women who have married local men, although her own marriage is a happy one.

"One woman whose husband died was not allowed to stay in the country because she did not have a household registration certificate," Mercy said.

"Another friend telephoned me in tears because her in-laws were trying to beat her," she said.

Hsia Hsiao-chuan (夏曉鵑), an assistant professor at Shih Hsin University's graduate school for social transformation studies has conducted research into the situation. Hsia said that many Taiwanese men who marry Southeast Asian women are farmers, laborers and even the physically or mentally challenged.

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