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Archive for June, 2013

The Plight of North Korean Women in China

70% of the North Korean refugees that make the perilous journey across the Tumen River to China are women. Once in China refugees are targeted by pimps and brokers specializing in human trafficking. The trade in human trafficking of North Korean sex workers starts with brokers who patrol the Tumen River – and the North Koreans who end up living sham marriages with Chinese-Koreans are well aware of the fate that awaits them    When interviewed for a report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, many women did not only confirm that they knew of what would probably happen to them once they reached China, but were able to quote current prices that marriage and labor brokers were going to sell them for.

In this series of remarkable interviews with North Korean women, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea has gathered together first hand accounts of the rampant human trafficking network that is operating along the Chinese border. Ms Lee tells of her not untypical story of how she ended up in China: “One day in August 2003, I was deceived by a North Korean woman who later turned out to be a trafficker. She told me she would find a decent job in China for me. We crossed the border together and she took me to a house near the Tumen River. After staying in the city of Tumen in Yanbian for one week, I was sold to a Han Chinese man in Qitaihe for the price of 1,000 yuan”

The demand for North Korean brides is fueled by the growing gender gap in China. In rural China, the male-female ration can be as high as 14-1, China’s one child policy and the traditional preference for a male heir creating intense competition and a gap in the market for those seeking a better life across the border. Those who do make the journey, however, rarely find safety in China – thanks to legal twilight that the refugees find themselves trapped in.

Under two secret agreements brokered between China and North Korea, any North Korean refugees are sent back to their home country. Normally, under international law, such refugees would be considered refugee sur place, but the Chinese government has refused the UN to officially designate them as such – openly defying the treaties that it signed up to when China joined the UN. In North Korea, the “reformed” penal code means that forced abortions are often performed on women pregnant with the children of Chinese fathers – why should precious resources should be wasted on the children of fathers who aren’t even Korean?

The Chinese government treats the North Koreans and economic refugees, but once they have been sent back home to face trial, the refugees are treated as political prisoners, and are tried as such. Because of their lack of legal protection in China, the North Korean women are often physically and sexually abused with absolutely no legal protection – except what can be bought with bribes to the local authorities. Chinese law says that to even provide food and shelter to a North Korean is punishable by heavy fines, so even those sympathetic to their plight cannot provide protection for long.

“After I lived with the Chinese man for about one month, I realized that he was trying to re-sell me to someone else,” a refugee only identified as “Ms. Lee” told Human Rights Watch North Korea, “He complained that I couldn’t speak any Chinese. I ran away from the house, not knowing where to go. Within a few hours, I was caught and brought back by the Chinese man. He took out his leather belt and whipped me on my back for about an hour. I got bruises and blood on my back and had severe pain. Later I cried in front of this man’s mother and opened a drawing book, pointing to an image of a bus. I tried to ask her to give me some money so that I could take a bus to leave the place”

Lack of any kind of sex education means that STDs and unwanted pregnancies are rife, due to their economic situations in the rural areas of Jilin, little can be done to treat infections, and back-alley abortions are common. “After moving in with the second man, I realized that I was pregnant from the previous one,” Ms Seok told an interviewer for the CHRNK report, “When my current husband and his family members found it out, they asked me to get an abortion. Even though I was already eight months pregnant, I was made to go through an operation at the hospital. I even saw the dead face of my baby when it was taken out of my womb”

The personal accounts that have been compiled show significant failings of two countries that conspire the diminish the basic human rights of North Korean women, and their families. It is telling indication of how far into nightmarish free-fall that North Korea as a country is. That working as a prostitute in the poorest areas of China, often suffering in a sham marriage, the North Koreans would consider this an improvement in their quality of life – prostitution and abuse being a necessary evil, preferable to their future in the hermit kingdom.

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