Abandoned Children in China

Many Problems Confront Children of North Korean Mothers and Chinese Fathers

The 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 resettlement.

No 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 Asia.

A 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”).

Initially 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).

Some 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.

So, 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Under the “Rural Area Rejuvenation Plan” now being implemented in China, the majority of school fees are being 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.

According 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.

Report submitted by By LFNKR Member Manabu Kuruma