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					                                           North Korea

Trafficking Routes

       North Korea is a country of origin for trafficking in women and children. North
Koreans who cross the border into China, particularly the northeast province of Jilin,
often become victims of trafficking. The majority of North Korean women in China come
from the border province of North Hamgyong, which has relatively easy access to
Yanbian Autonomous Korean Prefecture in China.

Factors That Contribute to the Trafficking Infrastructure

        The collapse of the North Korean economy in the 1990s, coupled with
agricultural disasters and social, economic, and political policies, led to severe famine
beginning in 1994.1 Since then, an estimated 2 million to 3 million people have died of
starvation in North Korea. Tens, even hundreds, of thousands of others have fled across
the border to China, where they are vulnerable to criminal trafficking networks. 2 The
border area is reportedly a hub for trafficking gangs who abduct or coerce women into
prostitution, marriage, or labor exploitation.3
        China arrests and expels North Koreans without giving them the opportunity to
seek asylum. The Chinese government maintains that no North Koreans are refugees and
that its main obligation under a 1986 agreement with North Korea is to repatriate
migrants. China offers incentives for informing on North Koreans, penalizes Chinese
who assist the migrants, and even allows North Korean agents and border guards to cross
into China and participate in the identification and roundup of North Koreans. As a
consequence, all migrants are vulnerable to abuse, because they are unable to call on the
Chinese government for protection. They live in constant fear in China that they will be
deported back to North Korea. Those who cross the border repeatedly, stay for a long
time, or have contact with South Koreans, missionaries, aid workers or other non-Chinese
nationals are subject to severe punishments, even death, if they are discovered and
returned to North Korea. 4
        Another factor that contributes to the trafficking of North Koreans is that, with the
advent of mobility and industrialization, agricultural life has become less attractive to
women in China‟s border provinces. This fact has spurred Chinese women to move
elsewhere, resulting in a shortage of available brides. The shortage is compounded by
China‟s one-child policy and traditions that favor sons over daughters. In addition, North




1
  Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
2
  International Organization for Migration, “Traffickers Make Money through Humanitarian Crises,”
Trafficking in Migrants, no. 19 (July 1999).
3
  “Famine Refugees in Limbo,” South China Morning Post, 29 October 2002.
4
  Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
Korean refugees who flee to China often have no knowledge of the Chinese economy and
society and do not speak Chinese, which makes them more vulnerable to traffickers. 5
        North Korean children leave for China for most of the same reasons that adults
do. An additional factor is the breakdown of North Korea‟s school system, leaving
children with very little opportunity. 6
        It is not uncommon for corrupt border guards and government officials in North
Korea to assist the traffickers. 7

Forms of Trafficking

        The number of North Korean women crossing the border has reportedly increased
since 1998. Although no data exist on how many North Korean refugee women are
trafficked, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimate that over 50 percent of
all women who cross the border become victims of trafficking. 8 Most of the women are
looking for opportunities to make money to send back to their families. Such
opportunities consist of selling sexual services, either through prostitution or through
arranged marriages, and either at the initiative of the women themselves or by agencies
that abduct, shelter, or control the women in some way. 9 Some women reportedly go to
China with the full expectation of selling themselves to survive. Others are abducted or
duped into sexual exploitation. Many women and girls are also sold to traffickers by their
parents.10 Most North Korean women perceive their security so threatened in China and
their situation so desperate at home that they are easily coerced into marriage or
prostitution. 11
        Bride trafficking is also a serious problem along the North Korean–Chinese
border. North Korean women who flee to China are reportedly kidnapped at the border
and sold to Chinese men, particularly ethnic Korean men of the Chosun tribe who have
difficulty finding spouses locally. 12 Former victims who were able to escape to South
Korea report that, in some villages in northeast China, about 1 out of 10 women are North
Korean escapees. 13 Once a woman from North Korea marries a Chinese man, it is

5
  Young-ja Kim, “Human Rights Status of North Korean Women in China and Policy Proposals,” paper
presented at the Second International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, Seoul,
December 2000.
6
  Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
7
  Young-ja Kim, “Human Rights Status of North Korean Women in China and Policy Proposals,” paper
presented at the Second International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, Seoul,
December 2000.
8
  Young-ja Kim, “Human Rights Status of North Korean Women in China and Policy Proposals,” paper
presented at the Second International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, Seoul,
December 2000.
9
  Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
10
   Amnesty International, “Democratic People‟s Republic of Korea: Persecuting the Starving: The Plight of
North Koreans Fleeing to China,” 15 December 2000, p. 6.
11
   Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
12
   “Refugee Group Urges China to Curb Trafficking of North Korean Women,” Agence France Presse, 30
July 2003.
13
   Barbara Demick, “North Korea‟s Brides of Despair,” Los Angeles Times, 18 August 2003.
believed that her chances of being deported to North Korea decrease significantly. 14
Nevertheless, because the Chinese authorities do not recognize or register such
marriages, the women live in constant fear that they will be discovered and deported. 15
This fear is exacerbated by the quotas on deportation imposed by the central government
of China on local authorities. 16
        Street children from North Korea are a growing problem in China. Known as
kkot-jebi (child vagrants), they are usually unaccompanied minors who either have lost
one or two parents or have parents who are unable to care for them. Most appear to be
boys over the age of 10. Considered the most mobile of migrants, the children cross the
border frequently to conduct trade and bring their small earnings back to North Korea.
They are often the first to be rounded up during the periodic crackdowns in China. Those
lucky enough to make it to third countries, such as South Korea, are found to have
suffered serious trauma from being raped, confined, or beaten in China. 17
        Although no exact data are available, there are indications that children below the
age of 18 are being recruited into government armed forces in North Korea. The
minimum age for voluntary recruitment is reportedly 16, and the age for mandatory
recruitment is 17. Children receive military and ideological training in secondary schools
and special camps from a very early age. However, it is not known how many children
are recruited annually and the number of children currently serving in the military. 18

Government Responses

        Until 1987, the Criminal Code prohibited forcing a woman to engage in
prostitution, procuring women for prostitution, maintaining brothels, and recruiting
women for prostitution. Punishment for these offenses was imprisonment for up to 5
years, or up to 10 years if the offense was committed against a minor. 19 However, those
provisions were repealed.
        The code prohibits sexual relations with a person who has not attained sexual
maturity; however, no age limit is specified under this provision. The punishment is
imprisonment for up to 3 years. 20 The offense is aggravated if seduction or perversion is
involved in the act, with a penalty not to exceed 7 years in prison. 21 Debauchery with a
minor is also prohibited and is subject to a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. 22 Rape is
punishable by law, and the offense is aggravated if the victim has committed suicide as a
consequence of rape or has not attained sexual maturity, with a maximum penalty of up
to 10 years‟ imprisonment. 23 Coercion of a woman for sexual relations by an employment
14
   Amnesty International, “Democratic People‟s Republic of Korea: Persecuting the Starving: The Plight of
North Koreans Fleeing to China,” 15 December 2000, p. 7.
15
   Barbara Demick, “North Korea‟s Brides of Despair,” Los Angeles Times, 18 August 2003.
16
   “Trafficking of North Korean Women in China,” Refugees International Bulletin, 28 July 2003.
17
   Human Rights Watch Report, “The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People‟s Republic of China,”
November 2002, http://www.hrw.org.
18
   Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 (London: Coalition to
Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 2001).
19
   Article 140 (repealed 5 February 1987).
20
   Article 136(2).
21
   Article 136(1).
22
   Article 137.
23
   Article 138.
supervisor or by a person on whom the woman is materially dependent is punishable by
imprisonment for up to 5 years. 24
        The government of North Korea does not recognize that the problem of
trafficking of persons exists in the country. In response to concerns voiced by the United
Nations Human Rights Committee about “substantiated allegations” of trafficking in
women in North Korea, the North Korean delegation assured the committee that there
had not been a case of trafficking in the country for 50 years. 25 More recently, the
government of North Korea reacted to the U.S. decision to impose sanctions against
North Korea for its failure to comply with the minimum standards for elimination of
trafficking in persons. The government released a statement on national television
claiming that “human trafficking is not allowed on any account institutionally and legally
[in our country] and such a thing does not exist.” 26 Reports state that, because of the
government‟s unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of the problem, “those
involved in trafficking [of North Korean women escapees to China] receive relatively
light sentences such as paying a fine.” 27
        The government does not provide assistance to North Korean victims of
trafficking who are deported from other countries. In fact, such persons are treated as
enemies of the state for having left the country illegally, and they are prosecuted under
the Criminal Code as political criminals. Crossing the national border of North Korea
without permission is punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years. 28 In addition, if a
person is treated as a defector, the punishment may increase to up to 7 years or even to
the death penalty in cases that are considered particularly grave. 29 Sometimes entire
families may be imprisoned. There have also been numerous unverified reports of
extreme penalties imposed by local authorities on women who are forcibly returned to
North Korea, including forced abortion and infanticide in cases where the women have
become pregnant by Chinese men. 30 Women and girls who were engaged in prostitution
are severely beaten and humiliated by the police. 31 Once the victims are released from
prison, “they face ostracism from their community and increased surveillance from the
authorities.” 32




24
   Article 139.
25
   Erica Bulman, “U.N. Human Rights Body Warns North Korea Not Exempt from Observing Human
Rights,” Associated Press Worldstream, 27 July 2001.
26
   “North Korea Attacks „Preposterous‟ U.S. Plan for Human Trafficking Sanctions,” Global News Wire—
Asia–Africa Intelligence Wire, 18 September 2003.
27
   Young-ja Kim, “Human Rights Status of North Korean Women in China and Policy Proposals,” paper
presented at the Second International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, Seoul,
December 2000.
28
   Article 117.
29
   Article 47.
30
   Amnesty International, “Starved of Rights: Human Rights and Food Crisis in the Democratic People‟s
Republic of Korea (North Korea),” January 2004, p. 28.
31
   Citizens‟ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, “Women‟s Human Rights in North Korea,” paper
presented at the Third International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, Tokyo,
February 2002.
32
   Amnesty International, “Starved of Rights: Human Rights and Food Crisis in the Democratic People‟s
Republic of Korea (North Korea),” January 2004, p. 31.

				
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