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[Opinion] Concubine and Second Wife

Posted November. 23, 2003 23:14,   


Even in our monogamous society, quite a few number of men have concubines. Men in their 30s and 40s are no exception. The process of legitimizing (?) a concubine is generally in this manner. A man, cheating on his wife, lives with a concubine and when a child is born, he puts the child on his mistress’ family register. About the time the child enters elementary school, the concubine asks him to register the child to his own family register. Under our family registration system, a husband can report the birth of an illegitimate child without receiving consent from his wife. The husband secretly transfers the birth record of the child from that of his concubine’s to his own family register. The foot of the candle is dark: a wife is the last one who finds out about the husband’s double life and the registration of the illegitimate child. Her in-laws generally slight her. When the concubine demands the man to marry her, the man forces his legal wife to get a divorce and mistreats her. It is not a story of the Chusun Dynasty. It is the reality of the 21st century Korea.

An elderly woman in her 60s visited me, saying that her husband has lived with a concubine for the last 20 years. He put the concubine’s child on his family register without getting consent from his wife, as if the child were her own baby. When the fact was revealed, he left her to live with his mistress. While the woman was forced to take care of his parents who were suffering from dementia, he only sent a small amount of money and never came to see her. Recently, the husband has insisted that they should get a divorce and even threatened to sell the house. He bought a house for his mistress but did not transfer any property to his wife.

A young 30-something woman with two little children found that her husband was living with a concubine and registered his illegitimate child on his family register in clandestine. When she went to her mother-in-law and revealed the fact, she said, “Man will not resist any women who come to him.” In our society, patriarchy has been deep-rooted. Such patriarchal way of thinking is internalized within women that women themselves inflict sufferings on fellow females. In legal suits for such issues, a lawyer on the man’s side addresses a concubine as “second wife.” I raise an objection to this. In this monogamous country, there is no second wife but only “concubine,” or “mistress.”

The common reasons for the women who endure having their husbands keep a concubine are a lack of economic independence and a small alimony payment the court orders in case of a divorce. Wives inflicted by their husband’s infidelity have to resist the desire for a divorce due to depressing legal decisions, or to file for a divorce, swallowing all these disappointing results. The court is generous to men who keep a concubine, even though such behavior is clearly unconstitutional. The amount of alimony the court allows is much less than 50 million won, which fuels the mortification of the wives. In order to keep the constitutional family system intact, rooting out the patriarchal way of thinking should be treated as a social issue. Keeping a concubine is a crime, destroying family and tramping upon human rights.

Bae Kum-ja, Editorialist/ Lawyer

baena@chol.com Song Moon hong, Editorialist songmh@donga.com