China Denies National ID for Shadow Children

‘Shadow Chidren’ Have No Nationality, Legal Status  

In China, the number of children having no national identity papers continues to rise, particularly in the provinces of Jilin, Heilongjang, and Liaoning where the trend is strongest. These so-called “shadow children,” born to female North Korean defectors and Korean-Chinese or Han-Chinese men, are denied the right to register as real Chinese, which means they have neither identification nor official standing. 

Meanwhile, desperate escapes by North Korean women into China continue. Most of these women end up being sold through intermediaries, usually North Korean or Korean-Chinese human traffickers. Such is their fear of being arrested and repatriated that they instead choose to be sold – usually to Chinese farmers. Among those lucky enough to have relatives in China, most probably avoid becoming victims of the human traffickers. However, having relatives in China does not solve their status as illegal immigrants.

“Arduous March” Caused Mass Exodus of North Koreans into China

The first great exodus of North Koreans into China took place during the so-called “Arduous March” period, which began in the early 1990’s. At that time 70 to 80% of the North Korean defectors were women. They were sold through human traffickers to buyers all over China, from the northern province of Heilongjang to the southern province of Yunnan.

Already in 1997 the human trafficking issue existed. North Korean women were deceived and sold to Chinese farmers by Chinese and Korean human trafficking organizations. Most trafficked women are cheated by the brokers, who bait them with promises that they can make much more money if they go to China. But then they discover they have been sold to Chinese men.

Human Trafficking Organizations Building Systems

Recently, human trafficking organizations have begun to systematize, with division of specialties. Mediators receive “purchase orders” from Chinese men specifying age and other requirements in a woman they seek. These mediators then issue order sheets. North Korean brokers “recruit” women who meet the requirements specified on the order sheets. The brokers usually coax women in North Korea to escape into China with tales that restaurant jobs await them. A typical broker receives 3,000 RMB (about US$468) up to 10,000 RMB (about US$1,560) from a Chinese mediator.

A North Korean woman being sold does not realize until she arrives at a Chinese man’s house that she has been deceived by the broker. If such women are sold to Han men, they cannot even communicate because of the language differences. In most cases, they cannot run away from the husband who bought them for fear of being arrested by the Chinese police.

Most women sold in this way soon become pregnant, and very often, the children they bear end up being abandoned. The mothers, often reported to the police, are arrested and repatriated, or sold again after they give birth. Loveless marriages are vulnerable, and the children, the most helpless victims, are in the vast majority of cases abandoned as orphans.

Shadow Children Are Being Mass Produced

The Chinese government still refuses to accept children of female North Korean defectors as citizens because they do not view marriages with North Korean defectors as legitimate. Neither does the Chinese government allow census registration of those children. Children, therefore, who are neither Chinese nor North Korean but stateless, are being mass produced in China.

Since they have no legal registration status, they cannot attend school, nor can they be admitted into a hospital because they are uninsured. The very existence of these mothers and children is treated as illegal and is officially hidden, so no one has accurate statistical data on the number of stateless children. No one, however, can deny that the children are a growing presence.

Specialist Brokers Secretly Forge Census Registrations

According to NGO members engaged in supporting such stateless children in the Yanbian area in Jilin Province, at least 2,000 to 5,000 stateless children now live in the Yanbian area alone.

In urban areas, including Yanji City, no child is admitted to school unless they can present a census registration. In some rural areas of Yanbian, they may be allowed to attend elementary school, but they are denied access to further education.

In such circumstances, brokers who “create” census registration papers are active behind the scenes. Actually, there are parents who feel responsible for their children and buy a census registration if they can afford it. The average price for registration papers was 500 to 1,500RMB until 4 or 5 years ago, but the price has recently leaped by ten times, now running 5,000 to 15,000RMB. And, even if a person is willing to pay this much money, it is not easy to find a supplier.

In China, the Public Security Dept. manages census registries. This means that, if registrations are available, there must be collaborators within the Public Security Dept. In recent years, however, Chinese authorities have clamped down on the management of census registries, so that forged registrations have become more difficult to obtain.

In addition, most Chinese men living with North Korean women are farmers with the lowest incomes in China. Their total annual income averages about 10,000 RMB (about US$1,560). After deducting the necessary farming expenses for seeds and fertilizer, this leaves barely enough for food for their families. In most cases, there is no way to afford a census registration for a child.

Chinese Police Continue Arresting, Repatriating North Korean Refugees

During my recent visit to a village in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, I had a chance to meet and talk with an 8-year-old boy named Yong-chol, who lives with his 70-year-old grandmother. The boy would be in the second year of elementary school if a school would admit him.

His mother, Kim Jong-ae (38 years old) escaped into China from Musan, Hamgyong Bukto, North Korea in 2000 and was sold in China to a Han man for 2,000 RMB (about US$312). Next year, 2001, she gave birth to the eldest son, Yong-chol. Having a boy is usually celebrated, but not for this family. Before the boy reached his first birthday, his mother was arrested by the Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea.

One day after his mother, Kim Jong-ae, was sent back to North Korea, the broker who brought his mother to the family visited the father’s home.

Bought His Wife Back for 4,000 RMB

The broker told the husband that Yong-chol’s mother had gotten out of the labor camp and that he would bring her back to the family if they paid him 4,000 RMB (about US$625). Yong-chol’s father did not have that much cash, so he borrowed it from a loan shark and handed it over to the broker. As promised, the broker brought the mother back the next day. Thus, the family was reunited after 8 months.

Korean Minister Offers to Escort Mother to South Korea

One day, Kim Jong-ae, the mother, received a call from a North Korean defector lady whom she had met at the labor camp in North Korea. The lady told her that a Korean minister was going to take her to South Korea and suggested that Yong-chol’s mother join them. The lady added that the expenses for the trip to South Korea would be 8,000 RMB (US$1,250).

On that day, the mother told her Chinese husband that if she could pay 8,000 RMB, she would be able to go to South Korea first, and then she would send for the husband and son. She also told her husband that they would be able to earn much more money in South Korea. The husband knew other village folks who had paid as much as 70,000 to 80,000 RMB (US$12,500) to go to South Korea, and they had come back rich. His wife said that the expense would only be 8,000 RMB, which he considered a very good deal. The father borrowed 10,000 RMB (about US$1,560) from a loan shark and handed her the money. She immediately returned the lady’s phone call.

Tragic Second Repatriation

In the spring of 2002, Yong-chol’s mother and 8 other North Korean defectors went to Heilongjang in China, guided by the South Korean minister. He told them he was taking them to Mongolia, where they would receive protection from the South Korean Embassy.

On their way to Mongolia, however, this group was arrested by the Chinese police, and the mother was repatriated again. In 2003, the mother managed to escape from North Korea and made her way back to her family in China. The mother told her family that if she should be caught again by the police and repatriated, her life would be in serious danger and that she was determined to reach South Korea successfully next time. The mother repeatedly contacted brokers to try and reach South Korea.

Missing Mother Leaves 70,000 RMB Debt (US$11,000)

In the winter of 2007, the mother finally made it to South Korea. However, the amount of borrowed money totaled 70,000 RMB (about US$11,000) . Yong-chol’s grandmother said that, during the first year, the mother called the family fairly often from South Korea. But since that first year, they have heard nothing from her.

The grandmother asked me, “Please look for this boy’s mother in South Korea. His father is hiding and cannot come home because of the huge debt. If he should return home, all the loan sharks would descend on us and demand repayment. So, the father, my son, has not returned home for a year now. I don’t know if he is still alive or already dead. Only the boy’s mother can help him. Please locate his mother as soon as possible.”

I found that there are quite a few North Korean defectors like Yong-chol’s mother. They beg their Chinese husbands to help them get the money to go to South Korea and promise to repay the money once they get there, and they will bring their husbands to South Korea. Once they make it to South Korea, however, their husbands hear nothing from the defector wives.

Not all of these women, however, are as cold-hearted as Yong-chol’s mother. One North Korean defector woman whom LFNKR helped reach South Korea did send for her Chinese husband and child, and they are now living happily in South Korea.

There are reasons that North Korean women dread repatriation. Many reports have been received of abortions forced upon repatriated North Korean women. If it is discovered that they are pregnant from Chinese husbands, the North Korean authorities force an abortion on them to get rid of “foreign seed.”

On the other hand, if they have their babies in China, those children are legally neither Chinese nor North Korean.

Such disregard for human lives is the painful history of the Korean people that has grown out of the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il and North Korea’s closed regime.

There is a very real danger that, as these shadow children grow up, it is only a matter of time before they provoke a social issue resulting from the discrimination and abuse of human rights in China. But, when and how is anybody’s guess.

Report submitted by LFNKR local staff member