Poor Health Plaguing Children of NK Defector Women
Children Suffering from Stunted Growth
Recently we had a doctor examine the health of 8 abandoned children of NK mothers in China who had been forcibly repatriated to North Korea. In every case the doctor found stunted growth or malnutrition – or both. Although no official statistics have emerged, reports from local members working in our shelters suggest that there may be as many as 7,000 or 8,000 children of North Korean mothers “married” to Chinese men living in Yanbian, Jilin district in China.
Virtually all the children live in rural farm villages. In most cases, their births have never been officially registered, and thus, they have no nationality. They are denied access to even the most basic education. The vast majority of their mothers, and some of the children, illegally crossed the North Korean border into China fleeing the famine and starvation during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is a report on our research into this situation.
About 60% of the women who have defected to China are “married” to Chinese men and live in China. In many cases, the husbands are ethnic Korean Chinese. These husbands are frequently mentally disabled due to old age or alcohol addiction, or else they have some form of handicap and have been unable to find a normal Chinese woman willing to marry them.
The women who have defected usually become ensnared by human trafficking and are sold into “marriage,” or else they consent to enter into marriages following introductions arranged by acquaintances.
Routine mistreatment and violence are not rare. These include sexual abuse, domestic violence, drunkenness or gambling by their husbands. Often these women try to run away and seek new lives elsewhere.
They face a serious problem, however, in that they have nowhere to go and no one to help them. And because they are illegal immigrants, they cannot seek legal help for such inhumane treatment.
Some areas do allow them into official family registries
In only a few areas of Yanbian, such as Wangqing, Longjing Tumen and others, the children of female defectors and Chinese fathers can be entered into official family registers. Most authorities, however, dislike having the mothers’ situation becoming public, or the fathers going to authorities to acquire the registration for their children. In any case, such families are often extremely poor and cannot afford the fees for such registrations.
Almost all of these Chinese fathers are very old, addicted to alcohol or somehow disabled or mentally diseased, so they frequently do not even know what a registration system is. As the result, many children who could be registered are left unregistered, even after reaching school age.
Chinese domestic laws guarantee the right to free education
Chinese law guarantees 9 years of free education regardless of nationality. But many schools in urban areas request documents to prove the student’s legal status. As a result, almost all unregistered children in urban areas are shut out of the free education system to which they supposedly have a right.
The few parents able to live normal social lives must resort to bribes to get their children into schools. Tuition in such cases runs more than double what other Chinese parents pay for the same education.
The arresting of North Korean defectors is growing stricter
The police authorities in Yanbian district are becoming more zealous in arresting North Korean defectors with each passing year. Many of those defectors are forcibly repatriated. According to the man running our shelters in this area, he now knows of only two defectors, though recently there had been more than ten staying in his village.
China is producing new divided families
The risk of repatriation hangs over every North Korean defector in China. Even the women who manage to stay in China long term and live a more or less normal life with their families constantly face the possibility that they may be discovered and repatriated.
Even if they are living a nice, quiet life with a Chinese man, their families could be broken up and destroyed at any time.
When they defect, their families in North Korea are broken and destroyed. Then, when they reach China and build a new family, that could also be broken up all over again. Everywhere they go cruel fate stalks them. Traps are around every corner. This is their reality.
Though the problem of registration is troubling, the health condition of these stateless children has never been addressed. We found far more serious problems here.
During our research last July, a local doctor helped us look into the health condition of eight children.
There were five 11 year old children, two 7 year olds and one 5 year old.
The mothers of these children had all been forcibly repatriated to North Korea. Since 1997, thirteen defector women were trafficked to this village, where they gave birth to eleven babies.
Our study found that either the height and weight of all eight children was stunted, or that they were chronically malnourished – or both. Compared with other Chinese children of the same age living in the same village, seven of the eight children were clearly undersize.
Three of the five 11 year old children suffered from bronchitis. The other two were found to have weak livers, although they had never contracted hepatitis.
Just eating regularly will not assure recovery
Among the five 11 year olds, the nutrition gained only from their meals was insufficient for full recovery to good health. They were given nutritional supplements as well as medication for bronchi and liver.
The 7 year old children were much shorter than average and very underweight due to chronic malnourishment. They had not yet contracted any diseases but it was necessary to give them nutritional supplements because meals alone weren’t enough to help them to full recovery.
The more serious problem was the two 5 year old children. Nobody could have recognized that they were 5 years old because their heights were only 80cm (2ft 7.5in) and 82cm (2ft 8in) and their weights were only 11kg (24.25lb) and 12kg (26.5lb).
Health is so severe it doesn’t even qualify as “bad”
The Chinese doctor told us that he had never seen such stunted growth among young children. In Chinese hospitals, they rank children by their health condition when they perform a health check. The rank is divided into good, intermediate and bad.
These two children didn’t even qualify for the bad rank. Nurses added “very” above the bad rank for their condition.
The impaired growth is a result of the mothers’ malnutrition
The doctor told us that the two children were so terribly malnourished that their ribs had already been deformed.
We researched the cause of the two children’s malnutrition and found that the key factor was anemia during their mothers’ pregnancies. The health and the nutritional status of the mother, which inevitably determine the health of the child, are crucial to breaking the vicious cycle of impaired growth.
A Special program to improve nutrition is necessary
Every one of the eight children was found to be malnourished. The key factor for the children’s terrible health condition was the malnutrition of the mothers during pregnancy. The result was problems even before birth and during infancy.
True, the problem of registration is huge. Getting these families registered is essential if the children are to survive and gain an education in China for their future. But if they are not healthy, education is meaningless.
Clearly, the first problem that we must resolve is improving the health condition of these children living in China. Drastic measures must be taken to set up a special program for improving nutritional conditions.
Special Report by Kato Hiroshi
Executive Director of LFNKR