North Korean women crossing into China as defectors are frequently preyed on by trafficking gangs, with some targeted for abduction before they even leave their homes, according to sources in the region.
Sometimes, the process of entrapment begins with brokers scouting for women willing to leave the North, sources say.
“Members of trafficking gangs operate in North Korean cities like Hoeryong, Chungjin, and Hamhung,” said Kim Jae Sung, a North Korean defector living in China.
“If the gangsters see pretty girls walking down the street, they tempt them by asking if they would consider living a ‘good life’ in China.”
Many “fall for the trick” and follow the traffickers, said Kim, who escaped from North Korea’s North Hamgyeong province in 2009 and now works in the Chinese border city of Yanji.
Once they cross the border into China, he said, the trafficked women are “appraised” by Chinese middlemen based on their age, looks, and marital status.
“North Korean women in their 40s are sold for 3,000 yuan [U.S.$ 457], those in their 30s for 5,000 yuan [U.S.$ 761], and those in their 20s for about 7,000 yuan [U.S.$1,066],” said Kim.
He added that the traffickers themselves are often ethnic Koreans, and sometimes—like their victims—defectors from the North.
Many have connections to the North Korean military, he said.
‘Moved and traded’
North Korean women trafficked into China are moved and traded like merchandise, with many sold as “brides,” kept in confinement, and sexually assaulted, sources said.
Many become pregnant with unwanted children.
“Almost nine out of ten North Korean women [who leave their country] fall prey to human traffickers, and end up in rural areas all over China,” said Kim Kwang In, director of the Seoul-based North Korea Strategy Center.
“They are sold to old Chinese bachelors. There, they suffer egregious human rights violations beyond our imagination.”
Kim Jae Sung said that he once visited areas near Beijing where North Korean women are sold.
“One of them, a 23-year-old woman, was confined to a house where she was constantly sexually assaulted by her husband, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law,” he said.
Another woman, sold to an older Chinese man in a village near Panjin in northeastern China’s Liaoning province, was able finally to run away and escaped to Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border, where she now lives with a friend.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, she said that she had never intended to leave the North. But on a train ride five years ago from Buryong to Chungjin in North Korea, she was offered a drink by an elderly woman.
She drank it and immediately fell unconscious, she said, and when she woke again she was in China.
“I went to sleep a North Korean, and woke up a North Korean defector,” the woman said.
Reported by Jae Wan Noh for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written in Engish by Richard Finney.