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.
Jin Hae Jo was forcibly repatriated back to North Korea from China. She tells of how many North Korean women fall victim to traffickers in China as they leave to help their starving families.
Hello. My name is Jin Hae Jo. I have been in the U.S. for three years, coming here through the grace of the almighty God and with the help of Pastor Philip Buck. And also, I would like to say my sincerest thanks for this opportunity to speak before you.
Since coming to the U.S. and having lived such a free and happy life, I have to say I have gained quite a bit of weight. I have even heard recently from another person that I would have a hard time getting married, and that I must go on a diet. This actually is a sign of me having eaten so much delicious and good food. And this is something that had eluded me for so long while I was in North Korea.
When I was forcibly repatriated from China to North Korea, I was 22 pounds lighter than I am now, but even in North Korea, I was teased for my weight. People used to say to me that if they caught and ate me, they could eat more three months.
We have a situation where people in the free world have excess food, and for us women we have to worry about our images and getting married. But in North Korea, even now, there is not even enough corn mean gruel to go around, and thus people are facing hunger, starvation, and dying of such starvation problems. Recently, I had received a letter from a pastor who had taught my sister and I in bible study, and he had looked after us for quite some time before. In the letter, he had recounted his times spent eating a meal with a few North Korean defectors, who had just come out of North Korea a couple of days prior to the meal, and were telling the pastor some of the most current ,up-to-date news about North Korea.
They told the pastor that a large number of people lost their homes in the recent flood, and that a large amount of crops had been lost during the flood as well. These people who were so devastated they had left North Korea for China to seek a lifeline, but were all caught and arrested by the border security, and were sent to prison in North Korea, forced to rebuild government buildings damaged and swept away by the floods, and they were forced into various other types of labors. These detectors had told the pastor that every time a person had died, they would become manure for fruit trees, and a common phrase that developed amongst the prisoners would be that when someone does, they would say that someone just became manure. That is how it is in North Korea.
Also, the world would not be the same without women, of course. And here in the U.S., people open doors for women so that women will enter first. They show respect and care to women. And women receive love here. But the women of North Korea, even now because of Kim Jong-il and Hu Jintao, there are some North Korean women who are sold for less than the price of dogs here in the U.S.
My dear mother, whom I love and admire so much, protected me so I was not sold nor traded in a human trafficking ring. But during my ten years of living in China I had seen many, many women sold and traded in these trafficking rings. Every time I saw these women, my heart ached and was in pain because my own sister, who had left North Korea at the age of 18 to find food for our family, was also sold to a trafficking ring, and will probably never come back to our family. And I don't even know if I will ever meet her again in my lifetime.
Almost 80 percent of North Korean women who go to China go to try to save their hungry and starving families back in North Korea. But in many of these cases, the women end up not being able to help their family at all, and become a source of money in fact for others, rather. Before my sister had left our house, my father, in order to save us who were starting and dying, went to China and brought home a sack of rice from a relative in China. For this crime, he was arrested by the North Korean security agent and had died at their hands from torture and starvation.
My own grandmother died of starvation right before my eyes, her last wish having been that she wanted to eat one piece of a steamed potato. My two-month old baby brother had also died from starvation. My mother had left the house in search of my sister, who had left home. My baby brother was waiting for our mother's bosom to comeback and feed and nourish him, but he could not wait, and died.
In less than a year, four members of our family had died. I stood before my grandmother's grave and vowed that I would come back and that I would care for my younger brother as I took my mother's hand, along with my sister's hand, and went to China looking for food. Since we had no shoes on, our feet soon developed blisters and started bleeding, and we were weak from hunger. Our own mother had suffered torture in prison and was in no condition to look out after the three of us.
We had decided to leave our younger brother at home, at someone else's house in fact, and we promised our younger brother that we would come back in five days to get him. When we were leaving him at the house, my brother held onto my pant leg and cried out, sister, why are you taking the little sister, but not me. I told him that mother and I will be back with rice, and that the little sister would bring candies and cookies along. And thus we were able to soothe him for the time being.
We did try to return as quickly as possible, but due to the wet season, the river became swollen, and we had also heard the news that the government was executing people who did not participate in the election of Kim Jong-il. We could only send someone after two months to go and bring our younger brother back, but by then we had heard he had left the house and then he was on the streets somewhere. And at the time, he was age five. And eventually we heard that he had died from sort of a starvation.
I am not sharing my testimony here at this place to solicit your pity, nor for you to feel sorry for me. My reason for being here today is to ask for people in the world and all of you here to come together and concentrate your efforts to help with the situation so that there will be no more children who suffered like I did and who still suffer from living through the type of situation that I had described to you earlier.
I still have nightmares of being repatriated back to the North Korea. I want to share this painful experience and make a sacrifice of myself, and also I plan to live strong and diligently and work hard to make sure that North Korea, the regime would fall. And I want to be one of those people who will help bring about changes to North Korea, and I seek help from a proud country such as the U.S. and South Korea in my endeavors.
The most important reason that I am here today is to share with you that the hunger has been ongoing in North Korea for ten years, and over ten years, and countless North Korean women have been sold and traded in trafficking rings, including my own sister. And I want freedom to come to them so that one day they would reap the benefit of a free life.
The day will come when there is a possibility that these women in North Korea --these women rather in China could turn to the Chinese police and seek protection from these traffickers. There are over 1 million refugees from North Korea. I note that there had only been 100 refugees, such refugees who have been accepted into the U.S. I appreciate the opportunity that is given to me today, and lastly, may God bless all of you here today, and all the people working for the human rights of North Korea, and also those people who have supported us in the past and will continue to do so into the future.
Narrative provided by Escaping North Korea: The Plight of Defectors: Hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House of Representative