North Korean woman abducted by human traffickers while trying to defect

A North Korean woman who attempted to defect has reportedly been abducted by a human trafficker.

“A young woman who was trying to defect across the river in Ryanggang Province into China was kidnapped by a human trafficker,” said a source in China with ties to North Korea on November 5. “He threatened her family by phone saying that if they didn’t provide him with 10,000 yuan (around 1.6 million South Korean won) he would sell her in China. The family is in complete shock at what has happened.”

A source in Ryanggang Province said that a human trafficking gang allegedly learned that she was planning her escape and abducted her. The gang may have been received information about her parents’ wealth given that they are asking for a specific sum.  

Human traffickers frequently target North Koreans attempting to defect from North Korea. They may fool defectors into thinking that they can escape and then sell them to Chinese families in the countryside or threaten to turn them over to the Chinese police if their families don’t pay up.

Defectors caught in these situations have little room to actively maneuver against the traffickers. They would face severe punishment if arrested by the Chinese police and returned to North Korea, so they generally accede to such demands.

The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, which was released in June, notes that North Korean refugees in China and those hoping for asylum are at extreme risk of falling victim to human trafficking.

The report states that some North Korean women are susceptible to being imprisoned, abducted, being used as sex slaves, or falling into forced marriages and these women will face beatings, forced labor, abortions and sexual assault once repatriated to North Korea. The State Department report called for the North Korean government to stop executing and punishing victims of human trafficking.

Cases involving North Korean women who go missing after being abducted by human traffickers continue to occur in China. Families of the abductees continue to call for their return.

“I heard a mother in North Hamgyong Province asked several brokers to find her missing daughter in China late last month,” said a separate source in China close to North Korean affairs. “She had spoken to her daughter by phone some time ago, but then heard nothing from her. She became concerned, so she asked the brokers to find her daughter.”

The woman’s daughter attempted to escape North Korea three years ago but was sold to a Chinese man by a human trafficker. She had previously been living in Jilin Province. The woman was ultimately able to track down her daughter’s contact information and determine her location and wellbeing.