Tag Archives: Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior

Torch Plan aids foreign spouses and children assimilate

Every Wednesday this past spring, Xu Xiao-wei, a third grader at Pingtung County’s Gongguan Elementary School in Pingtung County (eastern Taiwan), arrived on campus at dawn so she could participate in a Vietnamese culture class. Classes like those in Vietnamese at Gongguan Elementary School are a part of the National New Immigrant Torch Plan. During the 2012 school year, classes were launched at more than 300 elementary schools across the island to cultivate a sense of multiculturalism.

After greeting her teach, To Ngoc Anh, in Vietnamese, Xu joins 16 other students. They might sing a Vietnamese children’s song, practice their pronunciation or learn other aspects of Vietnamese culture. For instance, do you know that the Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to the Chinese zodiac, except that the Vietnamese have a cat instead of a rabbit?

At a graduation ceremony held at the end of the semester, her teacher gave Xu an award and complimented her on her excellent Vietnamese pronunciation. In the audience was Xu’s proud Vietnamese mother, who has spoken Vietnamese to her daughter from a young age. Her mother said that the opportunity to study Vietnamese at school has allowed her daughter a greater command of Vietnamese writing and phonetics. She told Taiwan Panorama, she hopes this will spur her daughter to study by herself and use the Vietnamese dictionary.

Taiwan’s growing multicultural society

According to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), Taiwan currently has 130,000 immigrant spouses from Southeast Asia and 320,000 from mainland China. In almost all cases, they are women married to Taiwanese men, noted Taiwan Panorama. These immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in 1998, peaking in 2004. At present, there are 161,821 children of immigrants in elementary schools and 41,525 in junior high schools.

Over the past nine years, the total number of elementary and junior high students fell from 2.84 million to 2.22 million, while the proportion of children of immigrants attending those schools rose from 1.6 percent to 9.2 percent. It is estimated that by the year 2030, 13.5 percent of all 25-year-olds in Taiwan will be the children of immigrants.

Su Hui-wen, chief of the Immigration Counseling Section at the National Immigration Agency, told Taiwan Panorama that in light of the increasing global trend toward transnational marriages, cultivating a sense of multiculturalism among the next generation is essential for creating an open, peaceful and competitive society.

With that in mind, the MOI and Ministry of Education launched the National New Immigrant Torch Plan in May 2012. The plan calls for local governments to select focus schools – elementary schools with at least 100 children or where 10 percent of the students enrolled are children of immigrants. Under the plan, teachers make visits to immigrant households, language classes are provided in the immigrants’ languages, summer camps are offered for both parents and children, and training given to volunteers.

Regaining confidence

In Pingtung County, where the children of immigrants number nearly 100,000, long before the Torch Plan was implemented, a group of women with the Juridical Association for the Development of Women’s Rights (JADWER) began to visit the county’s elementary schools located in the mountainous or remote areas, campaigning for multiculturalism in schools.

At Pingtung’s Gongguan Elementary School, all students are targeted for the Southeast Asian multicultural classes, explained To, a JADWER partner who teaches Vietnamese at the school. The classes are not confined to book learning, but incorporate interactive and fun lessons by using Southeast Asian traditional clothing and accessories, toys, photos and maps. Sometimes the teachers demonstrate how to cook Southeast Asian dishes in class. In addition to whetting the students’ appetites, these experiences are truly memorable experiences.

Ho Thanh Nhan, a Vietnamese woman who married a Taiwanese man, said she visits schools to promote multiculturalism because she wants to help children of immigrants adjust and be confident. As an example, she told a story of a boy whose parents had divorced. Three years ago the mother returned with him to Vietnam. This past year, the father brought him back to Taiwan to live with his family. However, by then, the boy had forgotten his Mandarin and was regularly excluded. He became an easy target for bullies who referred to him as a “Vietnamese idiot.” His teacher was at a loss about what to do.

Upon learning of the situation, Ho visited the child’s class and told his classmates that the student had forgotten his Mandarin while living with his mother in Vietnam, but living abroad can broaden our knowledge and teach us independence. She then invited the boy to the front of the class and had a conversation with him in Vietnamese. Witnessing the boy’s fluency in a foreign language and his confident manner, the door to his classmates’ acceptance was opened. After a couple of months, the boy’s Mandarin was much improved. He could joke with his classmates and mingle with others.

Learning their mothers’ native tongue

Taiwan Panorama pointed out one reason why many children of immigrant mothers perform poorly at school is that their home environments might not be as supportive of their education. Their mothers do not understand Chinese and are busy working all day long, and the fathers likewise do not offer much support. Often, it is the illiterate grandmothers who spend all day with the children. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise it becomes hard to supervise and support their schoolwork.

Ho said that immigrant mothers also understand that education is their children’s only path to advancing in society, but their husbands are not willing to take on any more responsibility by monitoring their children’s education. Consequently, it’s essential that children participate in supplementary instruction after regular school. Furthermore, government and school support ought to be extended to help immigrant spouses in their daily lives via language study, skills development courses, career guidance, and even marriage and family counseling. It also helps the development of children of immigrants to learn their mothers’ native tongue.

Su noted that if the mother’s language is valued, the mother’s status within the family will rise. She believes this will be the most direct effect of these classes. In the long-term, language is a part of the mother’s culture. If children of immigrants can pick up the torch of their Southeast Asian culture and language, it will also have a positive impact on their personal development and self esteem. In the future they will become the much-needed bilingual talent for expanding trade with ASEAN countries and increasing tourism.

Tsai Shun-jou, JADWER director, said that Taiwan society has long held prejudices against Southeast Asian cultures and languages. Quite a few immigrant mothers and their children, when they find that strangers and in-laws do not value their heritage, simply give it up. Yet if children are to inherit their mother’s language, it will depend on the mothers and children communicating through the inherited language in their daily lives. Mothers must be courageous and secure in their status, and school must foster an atmosphere that encourages multilingualism, reported Taiwan Panorama.

High foreign spouse divorce rate causes concern

On average, a Taiwanese couple divorced every ten minutes in 2012. Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan said recently that the rising divorce rate is a common problem in all developed countries. However, in breaking down the statistics, the United Daily News reported that the reason for Taiwan’s high divorce differs from other countries, due to the fact that large numbers of foreign spouses have issues in adapting to their new environment.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, there were 55,980 couples who divorced in 2012, an average of over 150 couples per day or a couple every ten minutes. Among the divorced couples, one in four is from a multinational marriage.

Minister Lee pointed out that the high divorce rate is a serious issue; however, there are no simple solutions to cure the problem. He said that the Ministry of the Interior will enhance social welfare, as well as provide marriage counseling courses for new immigrants to integrate into Taiwanese society as soon as possible.

According to the United Daily News, the Garden of Hope Foundation CEO Chi Hui-jung said that for foreign spouses from Southeast Asia and mainland China, it is not unusual for Taiwanese men to pay money to marry these women without developing any foundation of love. Both sides have big differences in cultural background and in their expectations, resulting in a failed marriage.

Chi said that the Taiwanese men, who marry women from Southeast Asia, are mostly from the middle to lower classes, who expect their wives to be obedient, take care of the housework and bear children. While these foreign spouses arrive in Taiwan expect a better life, only to find that their husbands are not as economically well-heeled as they expected. This expectation gap, coupled with differences in eating habits, religion, and language, are added stresses to the marriage.

According to Professor Yang Shu-chu of Chiayi University, despite cultural differences, marriages between Taiwanese husbands and foreign spouses are still manageable if they are built on a foundation of love. However, if they met via a marriage agency without building a deep understanding of each other, or if they become mired in an atmosphere of increasing distrust, their marriage will be even more difficult to maintain.

Yang said that many Taiwanese men isolate their foreign spouses at home for fear that they might meet new friends or run away after adjusting to their new community. Instead of being home bound, it is better to let them go out to attend adult schools or vocational institutes, allowing them to make new friends, and learn something new, which all contributes to a positive effect on family communication and child rearing. In addition, encouraging their children to learn the language of their mother’s native country will instill a sense of belonging in their wives, thereby promoting marital harmony, reported the United Daily News.


Growing number of temples, churches reflects spiritual needs

On June 16, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) announced that the number of registered churches and temples increased by 116 in 2010. According to the ministry’s records, the number has jumped by 2,678 in a decade, reported Taipei-based China Times. This brings the island-wide count to 15,211 registered places of worship.

Tseng Shu-cheng, dean at the Visual Arts College, National Tainan University of the Arts, said that there are at least 15,000 temples that are not registered. Agreeing with Tseng, Lee Fong-mao, a professor at the Graduate Institute of Religious Studies, National Chengchi University, attributed the increase to two factors:  1) a growing trend for the legal registration of temples, and 2) the rise of new religious sects.

Lee said, apart from the five major religious categories (Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Islam), new religious sects such as Xuan Men Zheng Zong are striving for legal registration. In addition, there are many informal temples that are not qualified to register. “So the number of total unregistered temples should be twice that of the registered,” Lee noted.

The increasing number of temples and the churches reflects the religious needs of the people, according to Tseng, “the desire to pray to gods and to seek guidance from fortune tellers reflects a feeling of insecurity.”

The largest concentration of temples belongs to the Taoists, mainly located in southern Tainan, Kaohsiung and eastern Pingtung Counties. Each area has over 1,000 places of worship, accounting for 35 percent of all the Taoist temples in Taiwan.

The China Times reported that there are 27 religions currently registered with the MOI, including the five major ones previously mentioned. In dividing up the temples, the largest numbers are Taoist temples accounting for 78.3 percent, followed by Buddhist temples with 19.6 percent. For Christian churches, the total increase was 240 over the past decade. There are currently over 2,200 churches, with Protestant churches accounting for 76.5 percent, followed by Catholic churches at 22.2 percent.

The MOI figures also show that Taoism and Buddhism are popular in southern Taiwan, while Christianity is popular in northern and eastern Taiwan. In all, the variety of religions and the high number of temples clearly indicate the high level of tolerance for diversity and mutual respect for religious freedom among Taiwanese people.