Sunday, November 27, 2005

Trafficking of North Korean women refugees

In late May, a female North Korean refugee hiding in China sent this plea for help to an operative in the underground railroad:

Please help us. Please save us from this darkness full of danger. We are currently living in China risking danger every day. It is not just me alone, but my mother, elder sister, and my elder sister's 3-year-old daughter. The only crime we have is coming here to find something to eat because we were hungry. What is worse than being hungry is the constant worry and fear that at any moment we might get caught.

An estimated 300,000 North Koreans have escaped to northeast China. Women and children are increasingly the majority of refugees crossing the river into China. If they can locate a friend or relative's house, they have a chance at finding a safe haven. But if the ethnic Korean Chinese traffickers find them first, they are abducted and sold, either to men as informal wives or concubines or to karaoke clubs for prostitution. Their price and destination are determined by their age and appearance. China's one-child policy has resulted in a deficit of women from selective abortions, infanticide, and the selling off of girl babies. Kidnapping and trafficking have become common ways that Chinese men acquire women.

The women are raped by sellers and buyers. Some of the traffickers are looking for a woman for themselves, and they sell the other ones. According to an activist who makes regular trips to China to assist refugees, women are mostly sold in cities in Jilin Province in northeast China. He has gone to karaoke clubs in search of women and found that the clubs were protected by Chinese police. A young woman refugee said that Chinese officials are complicit in the trafficking of North Korean women.

Once a woman is sold, she is completely powerless. If she offers any protest, she is threatened with exposure to the Chinese authorities. There are reported cases of vengeful men reporting women to the police. They are then deported to North Korea. Most often, women are resold to another man after the original buyer tires of them.

Pastor Chun Ki-won director of the Durhana Mission based in Seoul, South Korea, is active in assisting refugees. A modern-day liberator, he has been arrested and imprisoned in China for his part in running the underground railroad. According to him, 80 to 90 percent of the women refugees in South Korea have been victims of sex trafficking.

Pastor Chun Ki-won's name and his mission are well-known among refugees hiding in China. He receives one to two letters a day from women describing how they have been sold and asking for assistance. He said, "Women are treated like animals. They have no rights. Whoever finds them first can sleep with them. Then he sells them later."

The author of one letter to Pastor Chun Ki-won wrote: "I want to live like a human being for one day. I am a human being. How can I be sold like this?"

[Excerpted from an article by Donna M. Hughes, National Review]

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