The Price of Freedom: North Korean Women Escape into Sex Slavery or Forced Marriage in China
More than 30 years of China’s One Child Policy has spawned a thriving human trafficking industry which trades in North Korean women escaping from one form of imprisonment to another. The Chinese preference for male children has led to the rather skewed male to female ratio of 120 male children to every 100 female compared to the average sex ratio of 105 males born to every 100 females. Latest figures presented by sociology professor Dudley Poston indicate that there are currently 40 million Chinese males who will be unable to find an appropriate partner. Faced with a shortage of marriageable women, Chinese men are willing to pay a standard sum of US$300 for a woman and more if she is attractive enough.
Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer have explored the links between the rising gender imbalance between men and women and have concluded that a large population of young males with little prospect of employment and marriage such as China’s cause an increase in crimes such as drugs and weapons smuggling and more disturbingly, human trafficking like the bustling trade of desperate North Korean women.
Like many of her compatriots, defector Kim Eun-Sun has twice attempted to flee the oppressive North Korean regime with her mother and sister in tow by crossing the Tumen River into China and paying the price of 2,000 Yuan to a woman who promised to help her in her bid for freedom. On the first attempt, Kim discovered that she had been sold as a wife to a Chinese farmer by that same woman. She fled her husband but was caught by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea.
“Women are secretly sold in China,” Ms. Kim said, now a college attendee and women’s rights campaigner. She puts particular emphasis on the fact that official figures estimates that some 70% of all defectors from North Korea are women; Kim Sang-hun from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights calculates that an approximate 20,000 to 30,000 North Korean women are currently ensnared in China as slaves.
Mr Kim states that most of the women are “forced into sexual slavery”. Commonly female defectors must decide between three possible alternatives: to be forced into marriage, be forced to work as a prostitute or escape into the wilderness and be forced to constantly evade the authorities who often collaborate with North Korean officials.
It is said by North Koreans that in some regions where there is a scarcity of women such as in the Northern provinces, brothers will often share a woman or women will either be sold to brothels or get passed around men. Kim Jong Oak spent two years with a man who constantly beat her and imprisoned her. Many women like her are locked up or not allowed to leave their home. She says, “I was more a slave than a concubine.”
China’s response to international demands to not return defectors has been to completely ignore the reality of the human rights abuses occurring on their own turf. In line with its position as one of North Korea’s few allies, China typically transports defectors back to North Korea in the night by using curtained buses. Frank Jannuzi of Amnesty International affirmed that they have built a “brand new detention facility where they would store 200-300 North Koreans.” The special camps exist for the purpose of interrogation and indoctrination before the prisoners are returned.
Beatings and humiliation awaits those who have failed to escape. “Typically 60 women are held in one room.” Ms Kim remembers, “When you first are there, you are stripped naked. They search every part of your body to look for money. If you want to go to the bathroom, you have to ask for permission. You feel like the North Korean regime has stripped you of your humanity.”
It is predicted that the number of 23,000 North Koreans (80% of which are women) that have successfully escaped will continue to increase because of the poor North Korean economy. The female dominated majority is attributed by Kim Tae-woo of the Korean Institute for National Unification to the fact that “women can sell themselves easily” whereas “men are more conspicuous”.
The harsh reality of starvation, torture and death that induces the women to escape is often overlooked by the international community. Women who are coerced into marriage with Chinese men are not afforded any legal rights or protection and are hostages trapped in sometimes abusive relationships without recourse.
Activist Kim Sang Hun paints a bleak picture. “The women keep coming out,” he says, “They are looking at any chance to survive. They don’t expect happiness out of marriage, only survival.”
Original story: Donald Kirk, Christian Science Monitor May 11 2012
- Hudson, Valerie & Den Boer, Andrea 2005 Missing Women and Bare Branches: Gender Balance and Conflict
- Committee for Human Rights in North Korea Lives for sale Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea to China
- Demick, Barbara. N. Korea’s Brides of Despair LA Times August 18 2003
- Tsai, Tyjen, Population Reference Bureau 2012 China Has Too Many Bachelors