Human trafficking of North Korean defector women has been rising recently, with victims being sold to businesses running room salons, video chat websites and massage parlors, as well as to individual Chinese men, Daily NK has learned.
“There was a recent case where a woman who defected over the border into China with her father and son was sold to human traffickers,” a Daily NK source based in China reported on Thursday.
“While human trafficking was rampant during the Arduous March period [of the 1990s], there was a fall in the number of human trafficking cases in the early to mid-2010s,” the source said. “Now it appears that human trafficking is picking up again.”
Pastor Kim Song-un of Caleb Church, which conducts rescues of North Korean defectors in China, told Daily NK that the rapid rise in human trafficking is due to the closure of the routes in China many North Korean defectors take to South Korea or other countries.
No place to go
According to Kim, economic stagnation in North Korea has led to a drastic increase in the number of defectors from April this year. The Chinese authorities, however, have strengthened their surveillance activities and are making more arrests, and many defectors are now stuck in China with no place to go. This has led to a rise in human trafficking in the country.
“North Korean defector women sell for about the same price or more than the cost that they pay the brokers to help them get to South Korea,” Kim said. “That’s why there are brokers who are prioritizing human trafficking now because they can get the same amount of money for those women they may have tried to send to South Korea, but failed.”
According to the Daily NK source in China, defector women are sold to Chinese bars, massage parlors or video chat websites for as little as KRW 1.5 million. Chinese men in rural areas can buy women for just KRW 1 million. Younger women are more expensive; the youngest are sold to bars and other places of business, while the older ones are generally forced into marriages with rural Chinese men.
Intensifying Chinese crackdowns
North Korean defector men, for their part, have typically found work chopping wood or in ginseng fields near the Sino-North Korean border, where they have been subject to arrest if reported to local authorities as illegal migrants. Recently, however, the Chinese government has turned most of the farms and logging companies into state-run enterprises, effectively reducing the number of these jobs available to defectors.
China has strengthened its policies aimed at “resolving” the defector issue. In the past, defectors were able to pass through checkpoints with a fake ID, but this has become more difficult.
“There are around 200 defectors in Chinese custody who face forced repatriation back to North Korea,” Pastor Kim said. “Some, it seems, have already been sent back.”
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