N Korea women in China trapped in sex trade

18-May-2019 Intellasia | UPI | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Chinese police are often complicit with the exploitation of refugees.

Human traffickers are increasingly targeting young North Korean women in China’s lucrative sex trade, according to human rights researchers with Korea Future Initiative in London.

Yoon Hee-soon, a researcher with KFI, told UPI her team has noticed a shift in the way North Korean women refugees are being exploited by Chinese brokers and crime rings. They interviewed survivors of sexual slavery and other eyewitnesses.

“Historically, forced marriage was the most common form of sex trafficking,” Yoon said. “But after speaking with victims still in China and particularly with our rescue teams, we soon realised broker-led sales of North Koreans to brothels had overtaken sales into forced marriages.”

The illicit sex trade operates without interference from local Chinese authorities, according to KFI. Women victims are abducted and sold, or sometimes trafficked directly from North Korea.

Prostitution is gaining ground because of greater profits, according to Yoon.

“A broker may sell a woman into prostitution for a lesser price than marriage, but he knows he can sell multiple women and soon earn far more money than trying to sell a woman for marriage, which could take months,” the researcher said. According to her estimates, 60 percent of North Korean women defectors in China are trafficked and nearly 50 percent are forced into prostitution.

Many of the women are sold more than once, according to KFI.

Exploiting a vulnerable population

North Korean women escaping to China for economic reasons are defenseless against abuse from brokers and underworld crime rings. China remains friendly with the Kim Jong Un regime, and local authorities do not protect North Koreans, or recognise them as refugees.

Women sold into marriage with Chinese men often find themselves stuck after having children, but sexual assault is becoming increasingly common from the moment North Korean women cross into China.

Trapped between two authoritarian countries, one that prevents its citizens from leaving and another that does not want refugees gathering at the border, North Korean women cannot seek help from the Chinese state.

“The government of China has done very little when it comes to North Koreans trafficked into sex slavery,” Yoon said. “In the border regions, police work with and know brokers. Some take bribes, sell arrested women and girls, and frequent brothels.”

Another issue is the sheer scale of the illicit sex trade. According to Yoon, Chinese police have brought down 6,885 criminal groups since January 2017, but that doesn’t even “scratch the surface of the problem.”

Michael Glendinning, chief executive of KFI and a North Korea human rights activist in London, said international pressure on the Chinese government should continue, although the pressure for improved refugee rights has a limited impact on the average victim on the ground.

Rescue missions

Glendinning, who works to raise awareness of North Korea human rights abuses in Britain, said rescue teams, often involving Christian activists, are the most effective in extracting refugees before criminals can access them. But more needs to be done, he said.

“They need to be there before brokers and traffickers deceive these women,” he said. “We need to get in before and extract them to South Korea or to any other safe country.”

Don Baker, professor of Korean history and civilisation at the University of British Columbia, told UPI the missionaries are typically South Korean. The presence of an ethnic Korean population in northeast China helps them to “hide” as they work to help refugees get to South Korea.

South Korean Christian activists who risk their lives in a dangerous part of China are motivated to get refugees to freedom, but also to convert them to Christianity, Baker said.

“Some defectors feel used by the churches but they are a minority,” Baker said, referring to defectors who accept the faith while being rescued.

About 90 percent of North Korean refugees who make it to the South become Protestant Christians, the analyst added.

“If you’re looking for an absolute value system to replace another absolute value system, Christianity is the only alternative.”



Category: Korea

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