Ms. L (age 35) was on her way home from work in North Korea in July 2001, when a man approached her. He whispered to her, "Are you satisfied with your life here? If you go to China, you can make much more money." This caught Ms. L's attention.
Ms. L's life in North Korea was not very easy. Ever since her parents passed away of starvation and side-effects from a vaccine in 1997, she struggled to make ends meet with her little sister. Her company overworked her and withheld her pay. Her sister was not very healthy and prone to long bouts of illness. It was common for Ms. L to forgo meals.
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Ms. L crossed the Chinese border with two other North Korean women at night a week later. They remained together before being diverted to different regions.
Dong-A Ilbo met up with Ms. L in China. An illegal resident, she glances around nervously as she tells us that she gave up all hope after being sold to an old bachelor in the hinterland of China by the broker, unable to contact her sister.
Women who are sold into slavery
Ms. G (age: 26), a former nurse from the North who made it across the border to China in February was appalled after she was sold to a family. She was the only woman in the house with 62-year-old father, 32 year-old oldest son and other three men. Her worst fears turned into reality when the father and four sons each demanded her to share their bed every night. She was forced to go through this ordeal, even when she was sick or had her period. She did not have anyone to turn to, because there was not even a village nearby. She put up with this life for about eight months.
Ms. G fled this situation by begging the second son, who showed sympathy for her, to take her to town. She ran off when she got the chance. When she reached a shelter, she asked to be returned back to North Korea. A worker at the shelter, who told us about Ms. G, says she gave her money to return to North Korea, but she did not know whether the woman returned to North Korea.
Ms. K and Ms. C, whom we met in China, said that during the day they were put to work and taken advantage of at night. Ms. K, who fled North Korea in June 2000 and was soon sold, says she was beaten after being caught talking to other North Korean women from her hometown about the atrocities she went through. Not only are North Korean women watched closely, they have no one to reach out to because of the language barrier, and they cannot flee lest the authorities arrest them. If they bear a child, they have no choice but to settle down.
A North Korean woman in China said women were sold to more than ten households in a city in China en masse. According to her, the women are isolated and kept under close watch.
Women are priced based on their age and location in China
Ms. P, who was sold to China, received only two thousand yuan (approximately USD $250). The broker pocketed eight thousand yuan (about USD $1,000). Another North Korean woman, Ms. K, only received one thousand yuan (USD $125), because she was sold before the trade became common. A broker says that different parts of China offer different prices for North Korean women as the market is known across the country.
The broker says that recently, women in their twenties are priced the highest at 20 thousand yuan (about USD $2,500) in Hebei province and lowest in the countryside at two to three thousand yuan (about USD $250 to $375). North Korean women are popular in Hebei province as it is teeming with money invested in their mines and unmarried men flock here for work. He adds that women are also priced based on their age. The market for these women is getting broader as the trade spreads from the Northeast provinces to the inland provinces.
The North Korean women face challenges trying to be good mothers to their children, because they do not have citizen status. Ms. H, who has a five-year-old son with her patron in China, says, "I want a normal family relationship with this man, but I cannot apply for citizenship, nor marry this man, because I fled from North Korea. I probably will not be able to attend parent-teacher meetings at school."