Sunday, December 18, 2005

Children Without a Future

Humanitarian workers reported to Human Rights Watch a significant and growing problem of North Korean street children in China. The migration of children is caused by similar factors to that of adults, with the additional element of a breakdown in the school system and absenteeism in the provinces of North Korea most affected by food shortages.

These young people are known in Korean as kkot-jebi (child vagrants) and sometimes are described as "orphans," but it is more precise to say they are unaccompanied minors, some of whom have lost one or more parents, or whose parents are incapable of caring for them. Most appear to be boys, aged ten or older.

Typically the most mobile of migrants, the children cross frequently to conduct trade or bring their small earnings across the border to families in North Korea. Some take refuge in shelters established by missionary or humanitarian groups; others sleep on the streets.

For the few lucky enough to make it into third countries, their eventual social integration is made more difficult by their previous life of wandering between the relative freedom of life in China and their families in North Korea, and the `survival skills' they had to learn on the run. Some that arrive in South Korea are found to have serious psychological trauma from being raped, confined, or beaten while in China.

[From a Human Rights Watch report]

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