“What Were Laura Ling and Euna Lee Looking For in North Korea?”

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Ji-Yeon Yuh poses this question in this post at the Women’s Media Center. Here is an excerpt:

… Proportionally, the trafficking of North Korean women into China is a small part of an enormous worldwide criminal enterprise … However, of North Korean women and girl refugees in China, an estimated 80 to 90 percent are victims of trafficking. This is likely the highest percentage of trafficking in a single population.

The trafficking of these women is tangled up in the thorny politics of the region. North Korean refugees began crossing into China in large numbers in the 1990s. North Korea considers such people defectors and treats them as criminals. It denies the existence of trafficking and treats its victims as corrupt and traitorous criminals for consorting with foreigners. China views the refugees as illegal migrants and, by longstanding agreement, deports 5,000 to 10,000 North Koreans every year. The UN withholds official refugee status, saying only that they are monitored as an at-risk population.

China has a long history of trafficking its own women and girls as sex workers or as wives for rural bachelors, so it’s no surprise that North Korean women became another”product”for traffickers. Even as China cracks down on refugees, officials who are often in cahoots with traffickers and buyers turn a blind eye to women forced to work in karaoke bars and other commercial sex establishments. The wider world takes little notice of these victims, with mainstream media closely focused on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Estimates of the number of North Korean refugees in China range from the Chinese government’s low of 10,000 to activist organizations’ high of 300,000:some 70 percent of them women, aid workers say. With nowhere to turn for official assistance, they are particularly vulnerable. Even those who have lived in China for years remain in constant fear of exposure and deportation. Consequently, trafficked North Korean women are under the near-absolute domination of traffickers and buyers. …

You should read the whole thing. Meanwhile members of the Southern Legislative Conference are trying to draw attention to domestic trafficking, as evidenced by this report. Pimps want sex trafficking to stay under the radar. Props to Yuh for her important work.

–Ann Bartow

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2 Responses to “What Were Laura Ling and Euna Lee Looking For in North Korea?”

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