North Korean Women Sold Into China Speak Out


Korean wedding figures. Photo: Melodi T

These interviews were first aired as part of a 10-part feature series by RFA’s Korean service. They owe their existence to the courageous work of Han Min, the pseudonym of a North Korean defector who spent three weeks near the border area in 2006. There he met North Korean trafficking victims, listened to their grievances, and collected their compelling testimony.

Ho Kyung-Soon married a Chinese man 12 years her senior, 9 years ago

“Somebody in North Korea had told me that I could make money working in China, and all I wanted to do was to work there for a month and then return to live with my parents. Next thing I knew was that I was taken to a trafficking establishment in China.”

“They buy us for very little money and then make us work as slaves on their farms. My husband makes me work all by myself, the entire summer.”

“At first, somebody in North Korea told me that I could make money in China, and all I intended to do was to work there for a month and then return to live with my mother and father, but then I just got dragged into an entirely different arrangement.”

“He hits me every day, for any trivial reason. It’s not that I want to live here, but I have nowhere else to go. I’ve tried escaping twice; I was caught and beaten senseless.”

“There are five other North Korean women in our neighborhood, and in other neighborhoods there are seven or more. Their lives seem to be even harder than ours; they are regularly beaten and abused by their husbands.”

Kim Chaek-Shi, of Northern Hamgyong province

“In 1997, we’d run out of rice, and people were starving all over. I almost lost my father to starvation, and my brother left our home. Our family was shattered and my mother was weak and ill in bed.”

Chun Young-Hee, sold by traffickers twice

“The bride’s price tag depends on her age and looks. The youngest and best looking ones sell up to 20,000 yuan (U.S.$2,500). A bride that’s worth only 3,000 yuan (U.S.$400) is tough to sell.”

“I ran away once, but came back after 3 days. I couldn’t speak the language, I had no money and there was nothing for me out there, except for the constant danger of being caught. Thus, I returned home and begged my husband for forgiveness, I pleaded with him to let me come back to this life of degradation and misery, for this is all I’ve got.”

Jeong Soo-Ok, trapped and sold into prostitution, March 2004

“A woman from our village, who said she’d been to China, told me that we could make some money there, so I followed her and crossed the Tumen River, and before I even knew it, I was taken to a man’s house. The woman from our village told me and others who had been brought there not to make a sound. They gave us a new change of clothes and loaded us into a car. We didn’t know who the owner of that house was, we didn’t know who the person accompanying us was, we had no idea what was happening… Even now, I don’t know if it was then that we were on our way to being sold. Thinking of the way they spoke Korean, I think those people were Korean Chinese.”

“I was sold to an entertainment establishment… I was forced to see perverse customers, who put their lit cigarettes on my abdomen, hand, or breasts… The owner locked me up in a basement.”

He hits me every day, for any trivial reason. It’s not that I want to live here, but I have nowhere else to go. I’ve tried escaping twice; I was caught and beaten senseless.

Paek Sun-Joo, sold to China aged 18, as a street child

“[The traffickers] would gather people wearing rags, appearing to be compassionate and pity them, giving them something to eat and telling them that in China they would be able to feed and clothe themselves adequately. It is easy to be tricked when you are starving, and somebody gives you some food, telling you that there will be plenty more for you if you go with them.”

“I tried to run away, but I was caught and brought back. I was beaten and kicked so brutally that my bones broke, and my face was bruised all over.”

Kang Sun-Mi, 35, trafficking victim, sold one year ago

“My [Chinese] husband is 47 years old, has no particular work skills and is quite ill. I am not the only North Korean woman living in this area. As I was talking to some of the others, we came to realize that we had been sold into this kind of marriage. Last time my husband hit me, he even said: ‘You, do you have any idea how much I paid for you?’ Chinese men who live in poverty and have no professional skills cannot get married. That is why they buy North Korean brides for a very low price.”

“For fear I might run away, they lock me up inside the house and that is how I spend countless days, without seeing the world outside.”

Lee Jeong-Ae, former trafficked 'bride', now karaoke hostess in Harbin

“For fear we might run away, they lock us up inside the house all day long, so we sometimes cannot see the outside world for many days in a row.”

“If life were better in North Korea, we’d go back. However, if we went back we’d be killed. For us, there is no way out.”

“Everybody had told me I could make good and easy money working in a karaoke bar, but the reality was quite different, I quickly came to realize that working there would have been more difficult than living with my husband. The women working there had to do exactly what they were asked to do, or else risk being beaten unconscious and I decided not to put up with that and left after a couple of days.”

Kim Young-Ae, left North Korea during the famine of 1999

“There was nothing to eat, we didn’t even have any gruel left, so we had to appease our hunger with weeds we plucked from the fields, we boiled ragweed and ate it with a little corn flour.”

“We are treated worse than animals. They take care of their animals better, as they’ll make money selling them some day, but North Korean women are locked up inside the house, sometimes forced to live with three widowers in the same household, constantly facing the aggression and contempt of those surrounding us. They would even take turns to sexually assault us.”

“We live under constant disdain, we don’t have a country, grief overwhelms us at all times, and the best we can do is cry and pound our fists on the ground when no one is watching… Some look down on us because we came from a poor country, some pity us, but no one regards us as human beings.”

“I would like to see the situation in North Korea improve. I hope our people will never have to go through this again, being sold like worthless merchandise in China.”

Cho Sun-Ok, trafficking victim

“I am always worried that the authorities may come and apprehend me. It wouldn’t be a problem if I were the only one to be caught, but I’m worried because I’m not sure if my child could come back alive if we were arrested and sent back to North Korea.”

“I have no idea what love, or married life is…In North Korea, all I worried about was getting by and finding something to eat, and thus I didn’t know of men or dating, and then I came to this foreign land only to find this unbearable life.”

Original reporting in Korean by Han Min. RFA Korean service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Translated into English by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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