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Asia

US army tries to help abandoned wives and children

The US has had close military ties with South Korea since the Korean War. There are over 28,000 US troops stationed below the 38th parallel. Sometimes they leave behind wives and children after their tours.

The thousands of US troops in South Korea are now encouraged to bring their families with them

The thousands of US troops in South Korea are now encouraged to bring their families with them

The "Ville" is a neighborhood near the US army's Camp Casey, which offers off-base entertainment and nightlife. The district is full of dance clubs and so-called juicy bars, where clients pay to chat with hostesses.

But often more than chatting goes on in these clubs, a woman who asks to be called Matet, explains.

"Sometimes they are lonely and just want, you know, to have fun with some girls. There are a lot of clubs here in Korea," the 35-year-old says.

The BMW club in Dongducheon Ville near Camp Casey is popular with US troops

The BMW club in Dongducheon Ville near Camp Casey is popular with US troops

Like many of the women who work in the Dongducheon Ville, Matet is from the Philippines. She met an American soldier through a friend, got pregnant and now has a nine-month-old son.

Her now ex-boyfriend has not been very supportive. Matet had to call his commanding sergeant to put pressure on him to help out with buying food and diapers.

Abandoned Military Spouse Hotline set up

Matet is not alone. She knows many other Filipinas who have had the same experience. "Their husbands and boyfriends abandoned them. They have no contact anymore. They live in the Philippines now and get no support."

Two years ago, after receiving many complaints from women in similar situations, the US Army in Korea launched a service specifically for them to get help – apparently the first of its kind. The Abandoned Military Spouse Hotline has helped 30 women so far.

"If you would like to leave a message in English, press one, in Tagalog press 2, in Russian press 3, in Spanish press 4, in Korean press 5," is what people hear when they call the hotline.

US Army Community Services, which operates the hotline, says a woman does not have to be legally married to a serviceman to qualify as an abandoned spouse. It also points out that the women have not always been abandoned intentionally or forever. Sometimes delayed paperwork or visas prevent them from travelling with their partners.

US President Barack Obama visited troops in South Korea in 2009

US President Barack Obama visited troops in South Korea in 2009

US army partly to blame for abandoned wives

However, some historians say that in the past the military itself was responsible for women being abandoned by US troops.

"Marriage law and the racial basis of marriage law, which continued right up through the mid-1960s, were very frequently employed to keep groups of women out and so was the so-called oriental exclusion feature of American immigration," explains Susan Zeiger, the author of "Entangled Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century".

Zeiger adds that since these laws have been taken off the books, the military has become more family-friendly.

Troops now encouraged to bring families with them

Camp Casey, for instance, now encourages soldiers to bring their families with them while serving in Korea.

Matet found out when she was six months pregnant that her boyfriend had a wife back home in the US. She also learned that her baby's father would soon be transferred to Germany.

"I want legal child support because once he leaves the country it will be hard to contact him," she says. "It is so hard to contact him here in Korea and it will be much harder."

Matet has only just learned about the army's hotline. She says she will give it a call before she and her baby are abandoned.

Author: Jason Strother (Dongducheon, South Korea)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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