An 18-year-old involved in sex work in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, was sentenced to time in a correctional facility in early October, Daily NK has learned. 

The woman was living with her mother and had reportedly turned to after-school sex work to support her struggling household, a source based in the province told Daily NK on Oct. 30. The woman was a student, although it is not clear whether she was in high school or in college.

She ended up being prosecuted because she couldn’t come up with the money for a bribe to avoid punishment, the source added. 

Women found guilty of sex work generally face one to five years in a correctional facility, according to Article 249 of the country’s criminal code. Most women accused of prostitution can avoid punishment if they pay a bribe. 

“If you pay about USD 300 to 500 in bribes then you’ll get a slap on the wrist or even be released right then and there,” another source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

North Korean authorities have long made efforts to eradicate sex work in the country. These efforts have included public executions of prostitution ring leaders. For example, Daily NK reported in 2014 that two male prostitution ring leaders were put to death by firing squad in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. 

Daily NK sources reported that economic reasons have led to a dramatic increase in the rise of prostitution in recent years. “Even girls as young as 12 are jumping into prostitution,” one of the sources said.  

The number of women engaging in sex work in large cities such as Pyongyang or Sinuiju is also increasing. 

“There are always 10 to 20 women selling sex in front of inns or in front of railway stations,” the source said. “From July, the authorities have doubled their efforts to crackdown on prostitution, but the women will simply pay the fine and return to their original spots.” 

Daily NK reported in September that North Korean authorities have intensified their crackdowns on sex work. 

While North Korean authorities sentenced the 18-year-old girl as a way to warn others of the consequences, Daily NK sources said that North Koreans they spoke to expressed sympathy for the woman. 

“Several North Koreans who attended the public trial asked what was so wrong with selling one’s body when it is so difficult to earn money,” said one of the sources. “With the ongoing economic crisis, and given that North Korean women do not have a strong aversion to sex work, it will not be easy for the government to eradicate prostitution.” 

*Translated by Violet Kim

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