Stateless Foster Children in China

By LFNKR local staff member in China

A group of typical students study at one of our foster care shelters in China. The shelter is situated near the North Korean border. It is true that the North Korean government provides facilities in each province to accommodate Kot-jebi (homeless street children).  However, since the facilities are chronically short of food, many children, driven by hunger, run away to seek food on their own. 

Meanwhile, many of the children born in China to North Korean defector mothers living with ethnic Korean Chinese fathers may be better off food-wise, but life in China still remains tough.  The following profile is taken from an interview with a typical ethnic Korean Chinese father.

U Hyun, a 13-year-old boy living in Wangqing, Jilin Province is liked in his village, because he is cheerful and does well academically.  When he was 3 years old, his mother was arrested and repatriated to North Korea.  His mother, like so many young North Korean women, had escaped into China to survive but was then sold to a Korean Chinese farmer, now aged 52.  The father’s income is about 5000RMB (800 USD) per year, and one of his current worries is a house to live in. A kind neighbor has been allowing the father and son to live in the current house for free while the neighbor is away working in South Korea. But the neighbor will soon return, and the pair will have to move out.  The father is not sure if he can afford another place to live.

In addition to the housing issue, the father mentioned that another great concern now is the fact that the boy has no family register.  Without a family register, the boy will not be allowed to attend a junior high school next year.  Until about 10 years ago, it was possible to buy a family register by paying about 500RMB (80USD) to someone at the local police department’s family registration desk.  Back then, the father was unable to afford it. At the time he was also afraid that his wife, a NK defector, would be arrested if he tried.

There are only about 30 households in the small village where this boy, U Hyun, lives.  According to the father, some of the village men brought in 11 female North Korean defectors as wives 13 years ago. They paid acquaintances approximately 800RMB (128USD) per woman.  Hyun’s father paid 600RMB (96USD) for his wife.

However, in 2003 when U Hyun turned three, all the defector women were arrested and repatriated to North Korea.  Now, the village has five children, all 13 years old, all with no family register, and all born between men in the village and NK women.  Until 2007, there had been 11 such children, but six of the fathers went to South Korea to work and when they returned, they moved out of the village to the county capital.  In other words, the 5 children remaining belong to the poorest families in the village.

U Hyun’s father had a stroke in November last year, and is no longer able to care for his son.  All five of these children, including U Hyun, are currently under the care of LFNKR’s foster parent program.