By LFNKR Member Manabu Kuruma
international community has grown uncomfortably aware,
over the past decade, of the many problems confronting North
Korean defectors. The most urgent of these include capture
by Chinese police and forced repatriation, as well as the need
to find a way to a safe third country such as South Korea for
one is sure whether the number of North Korean defectors
in China is rising, falling, nor even how many there are. And
no change is in sight, since the Chinese government keeps no
records of these people. What happens to North Korean defectors
seeking freedom? Results vary widely. Many are caught and forcibly
repatriated, while a small percentage do manage to escape China
and resettle in South Korea, Japan, the U.S., or Southeast
number of defectors choose to settle in China. Most of these are
women. It is
very common for these women to “marry” Chinese
or ethnic Korean men living in China in order to survive. The
majority of these marriages, however, are little more than
forced prostitution. Human traffickers in the Chinese border
town of Yanbian are continually seeking new “merchandise” in
the form of North Korean women that can be captured and sold
as prostitutes (or “wives”).
most of these women are sold into rural areas in
northeastern China, but trafficking is now growing more widespread
in the southern areas such as Shandong and Yunnan. This trade
is completely controlled by organized crime and represents
high profits. Only a year or two ago, the going price for North
Korean virgins was 6,000-16,000 RMB (US $760 - $2,000).
women, on the other hand, do meet and marry Chinese
men on their
own, or through the introduction of a relative. These
marriages are not legal, however, and are not recognized by
the Chinese government. Accordingly, the children born in such
marriages have no legal status and cannot be registered as
legal residents. This means they will be refused the right
to attend school, although in a few cases children in rural
areas are allowed to receive schooling.
what is life like for North Korean women married to Chinese
men? Are they happy? Are their Chinese husbands able to provide
for their family? Informal surveys indicate that many of these
husbands are mentally and/or physically handicapped. Often,
family members are tired of taking care of a feeble brother
or son, and buy a North Korean wife on whom they can dump the
caretaking job. An illegal alien wife who has nowhere else
to go represents an ideal way to free themselves from family
duties. Even where this is not the case, the husbands are almost
all from rural areas and barely able to eke out a living.
number of children born in these unions is growing, and
virtually all face serious difficulties. First, they must live
in hiding from the Chinese authorities, while their mothers
are in constant danger of being arrested by the police and
sent back to North Korea. This repatriation of mothers is fairly
frequent. Other children are simply abandoned by poverty-stricken
parents who move on in search of work. Still others are deserted
by their Chinese fathers who are unable or unwilling to work.
Most of the children who find themselves in these situations
are between the ages of three and eight.
January of this year, this writer enlisted the help of
our partners in the area and met with five children of North
Korean mothers. Three of the five reported that their mothers
had been arrested by the Chinese police and forcibly repatriated.
They did not know where their mothers were. In all cases, the
fathers were ethnic Korean Chinese employed only irregularly
in farming. None of the fathers was working full time, and
all suffer from mental and/or physical handicaps.
the “Rural Area Rejuvenation Plan” now
being implemented in China, the majority of school fees are
waived in rural areas. But the reality is that parents who
cannot afford even the 10 RMB (US$1.30) per month in incidental
fees keep their children out of school.
to our partners in the area, in one small village
of about 20 households that sits right on the China-North Korea
border, there are 11 children born of North Korean mothers
who have subsequently disappeared. It is hard to imagine what
this means for the many children in similar circumstances who
are scattered throughout the country. One thing is certain,
however. These children face a lifetime of difficulty. Their
future includes no access to education, no immigration status,
and no hope of freedom to work. This is a bleak future indeed.