Women in Silence: Human Trafficking in East Asia


Human trafficking, the trading or selling of human beings often for purposes of sexual slavery or forced labor, is one of the lowest documented crimes against women throughout the world.

Earlier last week, with North Korea’s decision to void the 1953 armistice, international attention has shifted back to North Korea’s flagrant human rights abuses. 318 Partners, a U.S.-based nonprofit committed to helping trafficked women in China, estimates that 80 percent of North Korean refugees are women and girls that have become “commodities for purchase.” The most common marketplace for these women: China.

Due to China’s one child policy, adopted in 1979, the population has grown drastically unbalanced. Women are treated as second-class citizens in most of China. Chinese tradition favors males that will carry on the family name. In the past, parents would often drown daughters or leave them to die on the street. The result: a surplus of unmarried Chinese men seeking a wife.

This situation has provided the perfect opportunity for traffickers. Due to the abysmal conditions in North Korea, the promise of money and food is very tempting for many young women. “Recruiters” promise these women that there are job openings in China and they will only be gone for a few months and make more money in that time than in a full year working in North Korea. For an impoverished young woman with no job prospects, it can be an irresistible offer. Often it is not until the women are across the Chinese border that they realize the job is sex slavery.

However, most women never return home. These women are sold in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone. There is no rule of law for North Korean refugees living in China. If a woman alerts the police of abuse, she can expect worse treatment. Often women accept their life with a Chinese husband because although abusive, it is preferable to arrest, deportation, and imprisonment in a North Korean labor camp for illegally leaving the country.

As the gender imbalance gets larger in China, trafficking will only continue to expand. And in North Korea, as women become more aware of the realities facing them abroad, “recruiters” have turned to kidnapping and brute force to meet their quotas.

For more information on human rights violations in North Korea and China, please consult sources such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.

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