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Su-Jin Kang

2010 (Narrative date)

The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that there are 2,640,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Men, women and children are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Government oppression in the DPRK prompts many North Koreans to flee the country in ways that make them vulnerable to human trafficking in destination countries. Many of the estimated 10 000 North Korean women and girls who have migrated illegally to China to flee abuse and human rights violation are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Some lure, drug, detain or kidnap North Korean women on their arrival, others offer jobs but subsequently force the women into prostitution, domestic service, or forced marriage. If found, Chinese authorities often repatriate victims back to the DPRK where they are subjected to harsh punishment including forced labour in labour camps or death.

Su-Jin Kang escaped North Korea to South Korea in 2002. She tells of how North Korean refugee women are often trafficked in China or face forced repatriation back to North Korea where they will be put into a labour camp. 

I am originally from Pyongyang, and I escaped North Korea and entered South Korea in the year 2002. Currently in South Korea, 78 percent of the almost 20,000 North Korean defectors are women. The motivation for starting the organization Coalition for North Korean Women's Rights in 2006 was to help the resettlement and integration into South Korean society of North Korean defectors, and to defend our human rights and our rights as citizens.

This year, our organization has interviewed 100 North Korean defector women who are living in South Korea. And among the 100, 90 percent of them had experienced being sold into a human trafficking ring while in China. Broadly speaking, the North Korean women who had escaped into China went into China for the reasons of staying alive and for finding food. They weren't really looking to stay in China too long. They rather wanted to make some money and find some food and bring money and the food back home in North Korea.

However, during this process of finding work, they would not have imagined in their wildest dreams that they would be sold and traded in a human trafficking ring. However, once they are in China, they are often sold into these human trafficking rings. From then on, the lives of these North Korean women would go on a downward spiral. And for the sole reason of them being illegal aliens, they are treated as subhuman by the Chinese, and they are forced to become sex slaves and endure beating and other shameful treatment.

There are some women who knowingly do enter into these human trafficking rings. And why would some of these North Korean women knowingly enter into the human trafficking rings? The reasons are as follows. The traffickers would threaten and blackmail these women, and tell these women that unless they do as told, that these women will be reported to the Chinese police, and that these women will be forcibly repatriated back to North Korea.

The North Korean refugee women know that once they are repatriated, they will be jailed, beaten, sent to labor camps, and otherwise receive very harsh punishment. Fearing this type of treatment, the women have no choice but to be sold into these human trafficking rings. Choosing between the two evils, North Korean refugees choose to be sold into slavery because they fear return to their home country, where they would bebeaten and otherwise cruelly treated.

This is the tragedy that is facing these women, and this is the tragedy caused by dictator Kim Jung-il. Now, Mr. Steve Kim's organization, 318 Partners, and our organization have partnered together to rescue North Korean refugee women who are in China. And most recently, from a study and survey done with North Korean refugee women in China, a lot of these women, who were sold into rural farm areas to Chinese men, who otherwise would not have had been able to find a wife and get married, learned to speak Chinese, found out more about the realities of life in China, and escaped the farm life and went to the cities to work in bars or in the Internet sex-chatting industry.

There is also the situation of the children of these North Korean refugee women in China. The status of the children of these women is one of the most serious issues for the refugee women and their children. If efforts are made to register the children with the state authorities in China, then the fact of one of the parents being an illegal alien would be known, and this would increase the possibility of a forced repatriation of the North Korean.

In China, for a child to go to school, there must be proof and some sort of identification that proves the child's identity. Due to these kinds of problems, the children of North Korean women born with Chinese men often would not get a chance to go to school, and are alienated from receiving any education.

China became a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol in 1967, and thus China has the responsibility to protect the refugees who have escaped their homeland and are in China. China has the duty and obligation to protect those who do not have nationality or otherwise are unable to return to their home country.

However, the Chinese authorities look at the North Korean refugees as illegal economic migrants, and therefore do not recognize them as refugees, and continue to put these people for repatriation back to North Korea. In light of this situation, the United States and other members of the international society must continue to pressure and urge China to hold human rights views that is fitting for a nation that is becoming a large developed nation.

The Chinese government must stop the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees, and allow for North Korean refugee women at least a temporary right of residence, especially for those women who have lived with Chinese citizens for five to ten years, and also to protect the human rights of these women. And also the children of North Korean refugee women who were born with Chinese husband must be allowed to attend formal schooling, and also the reward given to Chinese citizens who report refugees to the Chinese police must be stopped as well.

As long as North Korea does not collapse, and as long as there is no reform in North Korea, there will be a continued movement of North Korean refugees streaming out of North Korea and into China. The support of North Korean defectors-led groups and the training of the defector leaders is something that will truly prepare for the eventual reunification of the peninsula, and as such, the ones who can take the lead and help to democratize North Korea, and those would be the defectors from North Korea.

Therefore, there must continue to be a support an interest for North Korean human rights, and we certainly hope, and I hope, I implore in this room that there will be continued interest on North Korean women issues, and that the United States, along with the international community continue to provide support and help to all of us who are in dire need.

Thank you for this opportunity.


Narrative provided by Escaping North Korea: The Plight of Defectors: Hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House of Representative