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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Koreans learn to live with divorce

By Caroline Gluck
BBC correspondent in Seoul

South Korea has seen a massive shift in traditional family values, with soaring divorce rates that are now second only to the United States.

It is a huge change in a society which still places great importance on the continuation of the family line.

Married couple
Marriage no longer means happy ever after

For every two marriages registered last year, there was one divorce. As South Korean society becomes more Westernised, fewer couples are willing to put up with unhappy marriages

Kwak Bae-hee, director of the Korea legal aid centre for family relations, explained what lay behind the trend.

"In just 30 years, Korea has gone through enormous social changes which took centuries in western societies. The roles of men and women have been transformed. But it's been a chaotic process, and the clash of cultures, between the old and the new, is why the divorce rate is so high," she said.

A weekly television show, Love and War, has become compulsive viewing for many South Koreans. It dramatises real-life cases of unhappy couples filing for divorce.

Many marriages end in divorce because people marry without really knowing each other
Lee Hwa-soo

Kim Kwang-im - a divorcee - is a regular viewer.

"When I watch this programme it reminds me of many of my own experiences. I think women are changing in Korea, but men are staying the same. They still want to control their wives, to keep them under their thumb," she said.

As the divorce rate soars, people are more cautious about marriage. Living together is slowly gaining wider acceptance in Korean society.

Lee Hwa-soo and Jin Kyung-cheul
Living together before getting married is still taboo

Lee Hwa-soo and Jin Kyung-cheul lived together for three years before marrying. At the time, it was such a taboo issue that they did not tell many of their friends they were unmarried.

Today, Mr Lee runs an internet site where singles can find partners to move in with - without getting married first.

His site has more than 80,000 members. He says it is good way to test a relationship

"Many marriages end in divorce because people marry without really knowing each other. But by living together, knowing the ins and outs of that person, it can be a more serious relationship. And for some couples - like us - it can even lead to marriage," he said.

But the dream of having a fairy tale wedding still remains strong in South Korea.

More couples are getting divorced, but the number of people remarrying has also doubled over the past decade.

People are still looking for love - as well as marriage.


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