“Like all North Korean women, I had no rights under their (Kim dynasty’s) rule – no right to freedom, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. My family was ripped apart and our relationships severed. I was forced to endure starvation and was driven from my homeland by desperation and fear. Trafficked into China, I was deceived by a broker and sold into marriage for ¥5000 Chinese Yuan ($720 United States Dollars). I spent six years as a slave. I gave birth to a son. I was arrested by Chinese police. And I was repatriated to North Korea. For the ‘crime’ of being trafficked and sold, the Government of North Korea incarcerated me in a camp where I was forced to endure acts that will haunt me for the rest of my life. This all happened because I am a North Korean woman.”
These haunting words of Park Jihyun appear at the beginning of a report by Yoon Hee-soon from Korea Future Initiative – a London based NGO. It serves as a poignant reminder of the adversities citizens of the oppressed nation face. Yet, Jihyun is still lucky. She is one of a very few to have effectively fled the secretive state.
The investigation by Hee-soon detailed the perils and vulnerability of North Korean women – both in their country and in their attempts to flee its androcentric regime. The findings, put forward to the British parliament, revealed that thousands of women and girls are abducted and trafficked into the sex trade in China or sold to men in China for marriages.
Casey Lartigue Jr., co-Founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education in Seoul, alluded that the statistics about the number of North Korean refugee women who have been sold into sex slavery is, in fact, likely to be higher. He explained: “From what I have heard, refugees get warned about sharing too much about their pasts in China, because it can ruin their chances for marriage here in South Korea. They escaped from an abnormal country and were considered illegal migrants in China, so they were in impossible situations. And people here who haven’t gone through that are quick to judge them as being damaged goods.
“For example, refugee author, Yeonmi Park, a student in our program in 2014, initially hesitated to discuss what had happened to her when she was in China and sold off along with her mother when she was 13 years old. Even though we worked together closely, she hid the truth from me too. Years later, understandably, it was not something she wanted to discuss, but that became more difficult as she received more media requests and scrutiny.”
The report further described how victims are prostituted for as little as $4; sold as wives for just $146; or trafficked into cybersex dens for exploitation by a global online audience. The trade has become a multi-million-pound industry, netting around $105 million each year.
It also illustrated how those enslaved in brothels, which litter satellite-towns and townships close to large urban areas in northeast China, are habitually subjected to penetrative vaginal and anal rape, forced masturbation, and groping. And in the cybersex world, girls as young as 9 are forced to perform graphic sex acts and are sexually assaulted in front of webcams, which are live-streamed to a paying global audience. While those snared in forced marriages are bought, raped, exploited, and enslaved by Chinese husbands.
With China’s policy to repatriate North Koreans, the fate of these women and girls hangs in a precarious balance, as they will face definitive imprisonment and torture upon their return. So they become little more than sitting ducks – cheap and easy targets – caught in the exponentially growing sex trade in China. Until more scrutiny is cast on North Korea or on China’s regulations, the traffickers will continue to prey on them.
Yet, there are still voices of undeterred fortitude like that of Park Jihyun, who asserted:
“In such an uncaring world, what can be done for my countrywomen? Peace can never be brought to countries or people governed by men who despise women – that much is clear to all who open their eyes. Making a difference in the fight against human trafficking is, therefore, daunting, but not impossible. It is obvious that we must target China’s sex trade and trafficking rings for removal and actively rescue and protect victims. And we must also confront the main problem – the Government of North Korea – at its source.
“I will not give up, and it is my hope that the voices of my countrywomen that this report will speak for all the voiceless North Korean women and girls, and that the world will finally listen.”