Wed, Jan 19, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Promoting diversity will enrich nation: academics

MARRIAGE Foreign spouses need to be empowered to seek independence, which will enable them to better adjust to local society, a panel of experts said yesterday

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

As the influx of immigrants from Southeast Asia and China continue to pose new challenges to social welfare institutions, academics yesterday met to discuss possible means for the government to promote diversity and to help foreign spouses adjust to local society.

Sociologists and social work experts discussed immigration policy and its impact on the nation's civic structure at a seminar held by the Cabinet's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission in Taipei yesterday.

"If Taiwanese people learn how to take advantage of diversity, our society will be greatly enriched. The government should be held accountable for launching programs to educate people about diversity," said Yi Ching-chuan (伊慶春), a sociology professor at Academia Sinica.

According to James Hsueh (薛承泰), director of the Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare, there are four major factors that draw foreign spouses from Southeast Asia and China: economical, geographical, language and cultural tolerance.

Taiwan enjoys more economic advantages than many Southeast Asian countries, and as a result many South Asian women marry Taiwanese men to improve their family's financial situation, he said.

"On average, a Taiwanese man simply needs to spend somewhere between NT$300,000 and NT$350,000 to pick a wife out of a pool of well-qualified Southeast Asian women," Hsueh said.

Because it is easy to travel between Taiwan and other countries in the region, the nation's geographic location also serves as an incentive. Chinese women tend to marry Taiwanese men because they share a similar language and culture, the panelist said.

Hsueh said cultural tolerance is often overlooked in Taiwan.

Tsai Hong-chin (蔡宏進), a professor in social work at the Tai-chung Health Care and Management University, said foreign spouses need to be empowered to seek independence, which would enable them to better adjust to local society.

"Help them pick up local languages and learn about local customs; expose them to the working styles here and teach them techniques to earn a living; also, enable them to break free from being taken advantage of," Tsai said.

It is critical that foreign spouses be made aware of the resources that are available to them in case of abuse or an emergency, Tsai said.

Many Taiwanese men who marry women from China or Southeast Asia belong to social minorities, such as the financially and physically disadvantaged, elderly men and those with low levels of education, the experts said.

Hsueh said that the phenomenon of "shopping" for brides overseas is leading to the commercialization of foreign spouses.

As a result of the considerable costs involved in hiring a foreign maid, as well as prohibitive labor policies, some foreign spouses are regarded as substitutes for domestic helpers, he said.

"Some men simply marry foreign spouses to enjoy a lifetime of domestic services," Hsueh said.

Having the mentality of a paying customer, some men objectify their foreign-born wives and treat them with disrespect; unfortunate events such as domestic abuse and violence may consequently occur in a multicultural marriage, he said.

The age gap between Chinese wives and their Taiwanese husbands is usually large, and marriage counseling may be useful to these couples.

"Many Chinese spouses are married to veterans who are a lot older than they are. It is important that the husband will learn to pacify their young brides [in difficult times] despite the age difference," Tsai said.

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