WASHINGTON—North Korea is known as one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Seeking a better life, each year, countless individuals attempt to flee the North Korean regime under the leadership of Kim Jong Il. North Korean defector-women, who escape to China, typically, face a horrific life.
According to newspaper accounts and surveys, 90 percent of those who are able to elude Chinese border guards and police are sold and trafficked. And the refugees who are seized by Chinese authorities are forcibly returned to North Korea in violation of international law, where they face certain imprisonment, beatings, torture, and sometimes execution.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) held a hearing Sept. 23 to hear primarily North Korean defectors who eventually made it to the West and freedom.
The primary motivation of the defectors arises from hunger. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said at this hearing that this summer’s food shortages in North Korea were reportedly as bad as in the 1990s, when 1 million people starved to death.
“I thought that once I went to China my children would not starve to death, and that is why I crossed the Tumen River, but once we arrived on the other side, what awaited us were fear of capture by Chinese security officials and forced repatriation back to North Korea,” said Ms. Mi Sun Bahng, in her written testimony.
“The first people I met as soon as I set foot in China were Chinese brokers. … I was separated from my children and sold for 4,000 yuan, [approximately, US$594]. What was most infuriating was that these Chinese [traffickers] called [us] North Korean defector-women ‘pigs,’ and treated us like animals.”
She was sold again. Later some traffickers abducted her and sold her yet again. In a period of a few months, Ms. Bahng was “sold three times like livestock.” She managed to escape but in the course of searching for her children, Chinese authorities apprehended her and forcibly repatriated her to North Korea.
In a prison in North Korea, Bahng described conditions of inmates, who dying of hunger, would try to catch insects to eat. “To this day I have unending nightmares of the people I saw there, those who would be working out in the fields and if they saw a snake or a frog would catch them and swallow them whole; there were people who would be defecating and if a piece of radish came out they would immediately wipe it on their sleeves and eat it; if there were pieces of beans or kernels of corn found in cow manure, the person who found them would consider that day to be their lucky day.”
Su Jin Kang said that South Korea holds 20,000 North Korean defectors and that 78 percent are women. She is from Pyongyang, and escaped North Korea. She started an organization that helps North Korean women resettle and integrate into South Korean society.
The refugees were seeking work, she said, and “would never have imagined in their wildest dreams that they would be sold and traded in a human trafficking ring.” The traffickers blackmail and threaten the women that they will report them to Chinese security authorities, and they will be forcibly repatriated.
Her organization, Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights, interviewed 100 North Korean defector-women living in South Korea, of which 90 percent had been sold in a human trafficking ring.