The one child policy in China is infamous for its strict controls limiting phenomenal population growth. However, such a policy has backfired, as a cultural preference for sons over daughters has resulted in high levels of abortion and staggering amounts of female infanticide – young girls are twice as likely to die as young boys in their first year of life. As of 2004, there were 120 boys for every 100 girls in China. In the three provinces closest to North Korea, the ratio of young men to women is 14 to 1, according to an estimate from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. This imbalanced gender ratio has created opportunities for illegal, yet massive industries for human trafficking, leaving men searching for alternative means to find their ‘wives’ as it is becoming increasingly difficult to find Chinese partners through traditional channels.
The human trafficking industry has identified a large market in China and started to take advantage of the search for wives. Chinese males who are ‘buying’ their wives, however, do not wish it to become public knowledge. They have therefore started to look for females who look similar to Chinese women; North Korean women are deemed to be an easy target. North Korean women living in China are exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking due to their status as illegal immigrants and escapees. The methods these trafficking organisations use vary, but the majority play upon the strong will of North Korean escapees. They will hire smugglers who know the exact routes to get out of North Korea, with the least amount of risk involved, and use them to bring North Korean women into China. Both trafficking organisations and North Korean individuals who are trying to escape then pay the smugglers. Once they escape, the individuals are then taken to so-called ‘safe houses’ and smugglers leave them there, as they have often already made arrangements with different human trafficking organisations to pick escapees up from the ‘safe house.’ Once the escapees are sold, it is impossible to find them. This is one of the fundamental reasons for which North Korean escapees’ families are torn apart, unable to see their family members ever again as they have already been sold to different traffickers in different regions.
The exact numbers of North Korean women who are being trafficked into China as wives of Chinese men are not known; measuring how many North Korean escapees exist seems to be impossible due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. According to Mr Kim, a missionary in the region who helps women trafficked into China, approximately 80% of escapees are women and girls who have become the ‘commodities for purchase.’ The most popular marketplaces are in the three Chinese provinces closest to the North Korean border—Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang—but North Korean brides are sold to men throughout China. Kim also points out that most of the buyers are farmers; some with mental or physical disabilities, as those male groups are seen as unsuitable husbands in the eyes of Chinese people. Furthermore, women who were have fled from these ‘husbands’ have testified that most North Korean ‘brides’ are subject to horrible sexual, mental, and physical abuses such as forced abortion if they become pregnant with a baby girl, forced starvation, continual beating, and worse.
As previously mentioned, North Korean escapees are exceptionally vulnerable to the human trafficking industry –they are vulnerable to recapturing, unfair treatment and discrimination from Chinese as well. I would argue that these issues surrounding North Korean escapees and refugees must be brought to the fore, and require the attention of the global public. Human rights issues concerning North Korea are scarcely reported due to the country’s closed political nature, but as the number of refugees who find their way into South Korea increases, there is a growing number of reports on North Korean escapee-related issues. I can only hope that these issues will receive attention from all over the world, as North Koreans deserve the same human rights as we all do.