Thousands of North Korean women and girls are being sold into sexual slavery in China, a new report has found, citing interviews with survivors. While some women are forced into marriage, others are forced into cybersex acts or prostitution. Some are as young as 12 years old.
The investigation, conducted by the London-based nonprofit Korean Future Initiative, estimated that as many as 200,000 North Koreans are living as refugees in China, having fled oppression and poverty in their homeland, with an estimated 60 percent of women and girls being trafficked into sexual slavery. A recent report from Human Rights Watch reached similar conclusions on the risks that women defectors face, according to CNN.
The one-child policy in China, which was eased in 2016, has led to a profound gender imbalance in which men outnumber women, reportedly increasing demand for brides.
The investigation took two years to complete, with researchers finding an “illicit industry that accrues vast profits from trafficked women and girls,” according to the report. Some of the victims are sold into slavery by the very smugglers who helped them escape across the Chinese border.
That’s what happened to Yeonmi Park.
She told Women in the World in an unforgettable summit appearance in 2015 about growing up in the brutal North Korean regime, describing how food and electricity were scarce, and the government told people how to dress, how to think. She was taught in school that Americans were to blame for the country’s problems. Her father was sent to a labor camp for starting his own business. When he got out, his bones protruding from hunger, her family decided to risk their lives to flee to China with the help of smugglers.
Those smugglers turned out to be sex traffickers.
They brought the family to China, and raped her mother in front of Yeonmi, who was 13 at the time. Then they sold Yeonmi and her mother as brides. Yeonmi initially tried to fight off the sexual advances of the man who had bought her, but eventually she gave into him, when he promised to help reunite her with her family. Astoundingly, he did so, and they later managed to escape to South Korea with the help of Christian missionaries. There, Yeonmi said, she was allowed to think freely and have her own opinions for the first time—something she had never learned to do in North Korea.
You can watch a video of her appearance at the 2015 Women in the World Summit below.
Read the full story at CNN.