Girl, 17, Tells of Two Years in Sexual Slavery

The Fate of a Young Girl
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 village. Chun Hwa’s quick intelligence and bright smile made a lasting impression. 

Her mother was living with an ethnic Korean Chinese 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 Province. 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.

Chun 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 mother 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.

Chun 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 repatriation 

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 extremely difficult.

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 kot-jebi, 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.

Chun Hwa was confined to a farmer’s house in the suburbs, where men came and went all day long. This was a place where 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.

“I didn’t 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 Chun Hwa 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.

“This 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.”

“But 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.”

Chun Hwa speculated that her “husband’s” parents wanted to check to see if their son could “perform.”

“I bought you for 20,000 RMB” 

“I’m 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 of this, 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.

Assaulted 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.

“On 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.”

“I knew I would die if I stayed there, so I decided to escape.”

“Days 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 

Chun 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 years earlier.

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.

“Your uncle has gone to work in South Korea.” 

However, 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 a defector 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.

Chun 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 pray.

Report submitted by Kotaro Kashiwakura