Yesterday, Free the Slaves Policy and Research Associate Jody Sarich and I attended a congressional hearing on North Korean human rights violations, in which several NK defectors described being trafficked into forced marriages in China, and repatriated back to NK, where they were further tortured and abused.
The testimonies were heart wrenching. Mi-Sun Bahng described her enslavement in China:
“The first people I met as soon as I stepped foot in China were Chinese brokers. Once they saw me they used the safety and well being of my children to threaten me. Finally I was separated from my children and sold for 4,000 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (approximately $600). What was more infuriating was that these Chinese brokers called North Korean defector women ‘pigs’, and treated us like animals.”
Jin Hae Jo, now living in the United States told of the abuse endured by defectors repatriated back to NK:
“Every time a person died they would become manure for fruit trees, and a common phrase developed whereby whenever someone died, people would say, ‘Someone just became manure’; they all would lament why there was no war to end the misery in North Korea.”
Su-Jin Kang survived forced marriage in China—then torture at the hands of camp guards, when she was sent back to North Korea. Kang was finally able to defect for good, and in 2006, she started the South Korea-based NGO, Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights, to help other North Korean survivors of trafficking.
At the hearing, she shared the results from a study conducted this year by her organization: “100 North Korean defector women are living in South Korea,” she said. “90% experienced being sold into a human trafficking ring in China.”
Kang’s organization has joined forces with 318 Partners, an NGO headed by Steve Kim—who also testified at the hearing—specializing in the rescue and rehabilitation of NK defectors into China. Kim said China’s one-child policy fuels human trafficking. “These women are mainly sold to single farmers in China,” he testified. “By 2020, nearly 30 million men in China of marriageable age will be without female counterparts. The market of prostituting North Korean women is growing alarmingly fast in China because of this severe gender imbalance.”
North Korean women who enter China illegally are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. They can’t escape, because they know local police will deport them back to NK, where they will suffer torture, or worse.
Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) urged the Commission to do more to help this vulnerable population. “The defectors represent a real opportunity for advancing democracy in North Korea,” he said. “These are courageous individuals who have overcome tremendous obstacles, and they need our assistance and our solidarity.”
Rep Frank R. Wolf (R—VA), deccried U.S.’s lack of action, saying, “The administration has lost its voice. It’s silent on these issues.” Chris Smith (R—NJ) recommended that China be given a Tier 3 rating in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Currently, they are on the Tier 2 Watch List. But demotion to Tier 3 would make China subject to U.S. sanctions.
The enslavement of women into forced marriages is the subject of a forthcoming book by Free the Slaves Policy and Research Associate Jody Sarich and President Kevin Bales. Sarich has presented her research on slavery at Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference Center, and is currently working on an article titled “Warlords, Child Brides and Viagra: The Intersection of U.S. Policy and Gendered Violence in the War Against the Taliban.”
In October, Sarich and Bales will participate in a York University, Toronto workshop, “Forced Marriage in Conflict Situations.”