Kim Chun Hwa was an 11-year-old girl when
she first arrived at LFNKR’s Shelter JRD-01. It was February 2001 and threatening
to drop to below minus 20 degrees. Chun Hwa’s mother was
from Musan, North Korea, in North Hamgyong Province. Musan sits
directly across the Tumen River from this small Chinese farming
Hwa's quick intelligence and bright smile made a lasting
impression. Her mother
man in order to ensure security for herself and her daughter.
When the mother suddenly disappeared one day, I heard rumors
that she had been tempted by a good job being offered by a Chinese
ethnic Korean. The little girl, having nowhere to go, aroused
sympathy in those around her.
In May of this year, six years after I first met Chun Hwa, I
heard that she had arrived once again at our shelter. I was shocked
at the change in her. Now seventeen, the light was gone from
her eyes, and during pauses in the conversation, the formerly
bright girl would stare blankly, as if there was nothing going
on in her head. Her movements were equally lethargic; I could
not hide my dismay at seeing her like that. Had she suffered
psychological trauma? Where was all her life and energy? What
had happened to her during those six missing years? When she
told of the suffering she had endured, her face twisted in bitterness,
and sometimes she wept.
Broken home, violence at the hands of her stepmother
Chun Hwa was born to Choi Mee Suk and
Kim Yong Ho in November 1990, in Musan, North Hamgyong
When she was two
years old, her parents divorced, after which Chun Hwa lived
with her father and stepmother for nine years. Her stepmother
physically abused her; the back of Chun Hwa’s right hand
is still scarred from being stabbed with scissors. She says
that she also has similar scars on her chest. After leaving
North Korea, she attended primary schools only sporadically,
and as a result she has received almost no education, and cannot
write the Korean Hangul alphabet.
Hwa was living with her father, stepmother,
and grandmother when her mother suddenly showed up in February
of 2001, and took
the child with her to China. However, she does not know when
her mother first fled North Korea nor when she began living in
China. In fact, her mother was already living with a Chinese
ethnic Korean. Her husband was younger than she, so Chun Hwa
called him “Uncle.” The three of them lived with
Chun Hwa’s stepfather’s mother in an ethnic Korean
farming village in Yanbian.
The fears of the hunted: North Korean defectors
Her mother had returned to North Korea to find
Chun Hwa, but the four of them did not live together
for long in the farming village in Yanbian. Poverty drove her
and stepfather to quarrel about the most trivial things, and
the fights often turned violent, to the point where people around
them worried that someone would report them to the Chinese police.
Hwa’s mother worried that they would be discovered
during one of the periodic crackdowns on North Korean defectors
by the Chinese police, and decided to take her daughter back
to North Korea with her, using the money she received from Japanese
supporters. “We went back with 400 RMB and one Japanese
yen,” she says. The “one Japanese yen” she
talks about was in fact one 10,000-yen bill—about 100 US
dollars. It is no wonder she remembers this.
That was November 2001.
Surveillance by security forces, a failed escape, forced
After they returned to North Korea,
Chun Hwa’s mother
was unable to work due to illness; they were also placed under
constant surveillance by the Security Forces, making their lives
Two years later,
in December of 2002, the two of them decided to leave North
Korea once again. They were able to cross the
Tumen River with the help of a broker, but that very day they
were caught by the Chinese police and forcibly repatriated. “My
mother was sent to prison, and I was sent to an institution for
kotchebi, homeless children,” says Chun Hwa. “There
I had to look after cows from seven in the morning until eight
in the evening.”
After another two years, in the winter of 2004,
Chun Hwa was reunited with her mother, who had been released.
In March 2005
the two decided to flee to China yet again.
Falling victim to a Chinese people-trafficker
The broker who helped them escape from North Korea handed the
mother and daughter over to a people-trafficker. Chun Hwa and
her mother were squeezed between the two brokers and driven from
Yanji to a city they believed was Shenyang. There were no police
checkpoints along the way.
The brokers kept telling the women they were going to Shenyang;
knowing nothing about geography, they believed what they were
told. Until she came to our shelter and told us about her situation,
Chun Hwa believed that the place she was taken to was Shenyang.
Although she knew there were boats and fishing nets in the place
where she was sold, Chun Hwa did not realize that Shenyang is
nowhere near the ocean.
Hwa was confined to a farmer’s house in the
suburbs, where men came and went all day long. This was a
men came to buy a bride. Chun Hwa was physically small, and looked
like a child, so none of the men was interested in buying her.
Meanwhile, her mother had already been sold somewhere. Even
today her whereabouts are unknown.
“He bought me…”
A few days later,
at around 3 p.m. a young man in his thirties came in. After
looking Chun Hwa over carefully with an appraising
eye, he said, “I’ll take her.” Around 4:00
p.m., Chun Hwa was released from the farmhouse and began her
journey with the young man.
know it until later,” she says, “but
he bought me to be his bride.” She is unsure how many hours
they were in the car, but around 8:00 p.m. they arrived at his
house at last. “There were ten or so people in the house,” she
recalls. “It looked as though they had come to welcome
me. They were laughing and really partying it up. They were all
speaking Chinese and I didn’t speak a word of Chinese.”
As the evening wore on, people started drifting
home. Finally there were only two other people in the house besides
and the young man. That night, and for the next two nights, she
slept in a separate room.
On the morning of the third day,
the three men in the house were up early packing their bags
and apparently getting ready
to go somewhere. They went out and didn’t come back.
It was March,
during the planting season, so Chun Hwa and the young man’s
mother went out to the fields every day. Four months later,
on July 15, the three men came back. This is when
Chun Hwa finally found out that they had gone to the ocean to
fish. They were a family of fishermen, including the young man
and his twin brother.
is your husband.”
The night the men returned,
the old woman took Chun Hwa to the young man and said something
in Chinese, which Chun Hwa couldn’t
understand. At that time, the twin brother had gone out. The
old woman pushed the young man’s futon and Chun Hwa’s
futon together. Chun Hwa finally understood what the old woman
had said: “This is your husband.”
the strange thing,” she continued, “was
that even when I got into bed with my ‘husband’ the
old couple did not leave the room. Instead, they lay down beside
us and made as if to sleep.”
Forced sex in front of his parents
“My ‘husband’ wasn’t
bothered in the
least that his parents were there, and he started taking off
my clothes. He himself was already completely naked. It was the
first time I had ever seen a naked man in my life, and I was
mortified. I had no choice but to go along with whatever my ‘husband’ did.
But to be stripped naked like
that with his parents right next to us, staring, and then forced
to have sex, I was furious and
humiliated. I tried to resist him but it was useless. In the
end, he pinned me down with his arms and just used me.”
Hwa speculated that her “husband’s” parents
wanted to check to see if their son could “perform.”
bought you for 20,000 RMB”
the one who paid the broker 20,000 RMB for
you.” When Chun Hwa heard this from her “husband” she
understood what had happened.
During the day,
they did the farm work, and then every night she was restrained
by her “husband,” forcibly
stripped, and violently made to have sex with him. After a week
the parents went to sleep in another room. But her “husband” continued
to abuse her nightly, sometimes the whole night through. Her
lower body was in such pain that she tried to resist him, but
it was always in vain.
by her “husband’s” brother
This cycle of sexual slavery continued until
one day, the twin brother of Chun Hwa’s “husband” took advantage
of everyone’s being out of the house, and tried to rape
her. Even the sight of a man’s face had become terrifying
to her, and she screamed and fought him off with all her might,
until he gave up and ran off. Even so, when night fell, her “husband’s” endless
sexual abuse began once again.
There were days when the family did not go out fishing, but
stayed in the house all day. On those days, family fights were
frequent. When a fight began, the old woman seemed to turn suddenly
into a madwoman, randomly hurling objects and breaking things.
The two brothers also fought, and destroyed several motorcycles.
another day, when my ‘husband’ was out,
his brother tried again to rape me. No one was there to help
me, so I tried to fight him off, but in the end I could not resist
him. And once he succeeded, he started sexually abusing me on
a regular basis.”
knew I would die if I stayed there, so I decided
like this became the norm, and I knew if I stayed
I would die. So I began to save up the pocket money the old woman
gave me every day—sometimes 1RMB, sometimes 10 RMB—because
I knew that I would need to buy a ticket in order to escape.
On May 20, 2007 I
had finally saved up 400 RMB. When everyone was out, I escaped
to the village. I had no
one I could turn
to, though, and had no idea where my mother was or how to find
her. Then I remembered my “uncle,” my mother’s
second husband with whom I had also lived for nine months, and
so I headed for Yanbian.”
A precious slip of paper
Hwa knows nothing of Chinese geography.
Clutching a slip of paper on which were scribbled “Shenyang” and “Yanji,” the
capital of Yanbian, she asked passers-by for directions, showing
them the paper. Taking buses and trains, she reached Yanji at
4:00 a.m. three days later, having been lucky enough to avoid
encountering any trouble along the way. In front of the station,
she chose a kind-looking taxi driver and gave him directions,
relying on her memory of the place, and at last reached the house
where she and her mother had lived with her “uncle” six
The only person in
her uncle’s house was his senile mother.
It was a relief to be able to speak in Korean, but the old lady
did not remember Chun Hwa. When Chun Hwa began talking about
her own mother, the old lady finally seemed to remember.
uncle has gone to work in South Korea.”
her “uncle,” on whom she had been able
to depend in the past, had gone to South Korea a year earlier
to work. The family had always been poor. The old woman had been
living a quiet life there alone since then, and did not have
the strength to help Chun Hwa.
While Chun Hwa was staying with her, the old
woman sought the help of the village church which had helped
Chun Hwa and her
mother six years earlier. But surveillance by the security
forces was becoming more stringent, and the penalties for hiding
harsh. Being found out would mean the closure of the church and
stiff fines; in the end, the church could not offer protection
to Chun Hwa.
Hwa’s fate is uncertain. She has no one to turn to
in China, and no family left in North Korea. The young girl who
fled to China from North Korea faces many hardships in the quest
to take her own fate in her hands.
Our shelter JRD-01 is already over capacity and was unable to
accommodate even one more person. She cannot remain in China,
and she cannot return to North Korea. The only hope for her is
to travel to South Korea via a third country. We are now forming
a rescue team, and preparations for the underground railroad
are being made.
There is no guarantee that Chun Hwa will be able to leave China
and reach safety. But as long as there is even one percent of
a chance that she will, the only thing we can do is try, and