Publications hero image
North Korean Defectors' Human Trafficking Victimization en Route to South Korea
December 01, 2018


Introduction Due to human trafficking clandestine nature, it is difficult to accumulate accurate statistics of the number of victims and perpetrator. The International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation (2017) stated that modern-day slavery victims totaled to approximately 40 million individuals worldwide in 2016. Human trafficking is not equally distributed across the globe. Human trafficking is predominately in Asia; approximately three-fourths of the world’s victims in forced labor are in Asia (Shelly, 2010). The International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation (2017) estimated that more than 70 percent of the 3.8 million adults and 1 million children who were victims of commercial sex exploitation were exploited in Asia and in the Pacific Region. While sexual exploitation is the most notorious form of trafficking, human trafficking occurs in many forms, such as forced labor, organ removal, domestic servitude, begging, forced marriages and forced combat (Kim, 2011). In 2000, the United Nations defined human trafficking during the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as: Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs; (p.1) It is the fastest growing criminal enterprise and it is estimated to be a 32 billion dollar industry (Kim, 2011). A growing trafficking phenomenon and one that is often overlooked is bride trafficking (Kim, 2011). The International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation (2017) estimated that 15 million people were victims of forced marriages. Purpose Extensive research on the repercussions of North Korean defectors such as posttraumatic stress disorder and difficulties assimilating into the South Korean culture; however, there is limited research on human trafficking schemes, locations of entrapment, and the business enterprise of trafficking of North Korean defectors. This study explored how female North Korean defectors entered and exited human trafficking, the actors involved in the trafficking scheme, and find common locations and methods of entrapment into human trafficking. This exploratory study will also be the one of the first to examine the criminal business enterprises involved in human trafficking and their profits. North Korean Defector Literature Push Factors The exodus of North Korean migrants to China began with the economic crisis and famine in the mid-1990s which still remains today (Muico, 2005). Interestingly, prior to the economic crises, the migration flow was reversed. Shen & Xia (2014) claimed that the Korean Chinese migrated to North Korea to escape poverty and discrimination before the occurrence of the great North Korean famine and drought in the 1990’s. Since the fall of the North Korean economy, defectors were primarily motivated to leave due to their hunger and economic instability (Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Muico, 2005). Since they are primarily motivated by hunger and economic reason, they are not viewed as refugees (Muico, 2005). According to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), refugees are defined as: ..fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (p. 14) Hence, they are viewed as economic migrants and not granted political asylum. North Korea’s patriarchal society is also one of the push factors for North Korean women. Many North Korean women could only find menial and low-income jobs. If they do have steady employment but become married, they are expected to leave the workforce. Once they left the workforce, they were stripped away from their state rations and forced to be fully dependent upon their husband’s income. North Korean women were further burdened with the expectation of caring for their aging parents (Davis, 2006). Hence the reason why many North Korean women fled to China for work or sought a marriage to a Chinese man. In fact, there is a disproportionate amount of North Korean defectors in China. Kim (2011) estimated that approximately two-thirds of defectors are female. North Korea is an extremely oppressive country and violates many human rights. Ko, Chung & Oh (2004) claimed some of the defectors who remained in North Korea but had family who had already defected were afraid or faced the punitive punishment from the North Korean government (Kim, 2011). North Koreans with family members that defected were negatively stigmatized as traitors of the regime. The entire family became blacklisted and sent to labor camps as punishment for their family members’ defection. If they were released from labor camps, they would never be able to obtain substantial employment. Much is at stake when female North Koreans illegally cross the Korean-Chinese border. Not only do the women fear repatriation for themselves, but also fear the consequences that her family will face if she is repatriated (Davis, 2006). Pull Factors China’s growing economy and its gender imbalance are pull factors for North Korean women (Davis, 2006). Since the implementation of the detrimental Chinese government's one-child policy in 1979 and the cultural preference for males, the Chinese population has suffered a severe sex imbalance (Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Muico, 2005; Tucker & Hook, 2013) Tucker & Hook (2013) projected that in 2030, the Chinese single men population would peak at an estimated 30 million. Even with sizeable changes, the sex imbalance will not be rectified any time in the near future. The migration of Chinese women from rural to urban areas in China or to other countries further exacerbates the shortage of women, especially in China’s agricultural provinces (Davis, 2006; Kim et al., 2009; Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Muico, 2005). The demand for women in China, coupled with the economic crisis in North Korea, has endangered female North Korean defectors by increasing their vulnerability to trafficking (Davis, 2006; Kim et al., 2009; Muico, 2005). Kook’s (2018) study corroborates with this issue-approximately 70 percent of the North Korean defector participants in their study were female and all of the female participants in the study were sold as brides to Chinese men. North Korean trafficked brides sell at a much lower price than Chinese brides, thus many indigent Chinese men sought for North Korean brides as a cost-effective choice (Kim, Yun, Park & Williams, 2009). The shortage of Chinese women affects the commercial sex industry in China as well. Tucker & Hook (2013) claimed the huge population of single men is turning to commercial sex from the lack of women. There is a growing demand for women in the sex industry since the local Chinese women cannot meet the demand. Chinese organized crime groups typically facilitate this demand and sexually exploit North Korean defectors and brothers, Karaoke bars and other exotic bars (Kim et. al., 2009). Since North Korean women cannot obtain legal status and fear of repatriation, they comply with the traffickers' demands (Kim et al., 2009). Thus, it is unsurprising that approximately 80 percent of female North Korean defectors are entrapped in a form of trafficking- commercial sex, forced labor, and forced marriages (Kim, 2011). Pathways out of North Korea Independent The majority of North Korean defectors are aware that the pathway of defection from North Korea is extremely dangerous. In Ko, Chung & Oh’s study (2004), prior to their participants’ defection, they meticulously plan their defection. They cautiously calculated the best pathway to cross the border and financially and psychologically prepared for their obscure and potentially dangerous fate in China, because they were aware of the high risk of becoming a trafficked victim. The study revealed 80 percent of the study’s participants have heard or knew of female North Korean defectors who were sold to the local Chinese. Despite the fact that the majority of North Korean defectors were cognizant of their vulnerability to human trafficking, the majority of defectors still used a third party to facilitate their defection from North Korea (Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Kook, 2018). In a recent study, Kook’s (2018) empirical study revealed the three different methods that female North Korean defectors used to cross the border. 1) Independently 2)Through a smuggler or broker 3)The third party introduced defectors to a broker. Approximately, one-third of the participants crossed the border independently by either studying the land surrounding the Tumen River or bribing border guards (Kook, 2018). After crossing the border and arriving in China, North Korean defectors were prone to trafficking victimization (Davis, 2006; Hughes, 2005; Kim, 2011; Muico, 2005). Traffickers traveled along the border and searched for North Korean women or hired runners to search the border and notify the trafficker if there was a North Korean defector nearby (Kim, 2011). Traffickers usually waited for defectors at River crossings, railroad stations, markets or other places where there is a high population of illegal immigrants (Davis, 2006; Muico, 2005). Ko, Chung & Oh’s (2004) study found that female North Korean defectors began their new lives in China as beggars and heavily dependent on the local Korean Chinese in the beginning. However, they claimed that the aid they received from the Korean Chinese was short-term and many defectors sought employment opportunities upon arrival. Most North Korean defectors found employment opportunities in agriculture, however, the pay was significantly lower and often resulted in exploitation. Chinese farm owners took advantage of North Korean defectors’ illegal status. Participants of the study shared that they were not given the same pension as the other Chinese laborers and sometimes received no pension at all. When the participants asked for their pension, Chinese farm owners threatened to report them to authorities. Thus, they eventually became victims of labor trafficking. North Korean defectors are usually approached by a trafficker as soon as they cross the Chinese-Korean border (Kim, 2011). Once the trafficker encounters the North Korean defectors, they begin to utilize their deceptive tactic of acting sympathetic and offering the North Korean help to build trust and lure them (Kim, 2011). North Korean defectors are offered false employment opportunities or marriages. Human traffickers and matchmakers persuade impoverished North Korean women that they will be supported by Chinese men (Davis, 2006 & Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004). Due to their desperation, many of the women take the trafficker’s bait. Kook’s (2018) study revealed that approximately 70 percent of the North Korean defector participants in the study were female and all of the female participants in the study were sold as brides to Chinese men. Using a broker or third party Profile of Brokers and Traffickers Throughout several North Korean defector literature, the term broker could be seen as an interchangeable term for a trafficker. Kook (2018) discovered that\ North Korean women referred to their traffickers to other titles, such as broker, smuggler, and matchmaker for arranged marriages. Brokers were labeled as good or bad- the helpful ones were called Seon and the malicious ones, traffickers, were called inshinmaemaebum. A trafficker could be a type of broker, but a broker cannot be solely labeled as a trafficker. Lindquist, Xiang & Yeoh’s (2012) study defined the term broker as an individual who convened two parties together. Brokers could operate in formal or informal networks, alone or in groups and motivated by altruistic or revenue generating purposes. Traffickers only operate for profit and use force fraud and coercion to entrap their victims. It is important to note that not all brokers and smugglers are traffickers. The profile of a broker or trafficker was commonly described as an independently operated Korean-Chinese male, an individual who is ethnically Korean who lived in China because they can speak both languages (Davis, 2006; Kim, 2011; Kim et al., 2009; Kook, 2018). However, it is not uncommon, for smugglers and trafficker to work together to benefit from selling North Korean defectors. Kim, Yun, Park & Williams’s (2009) study revealed that three nationalities- North Korean, Korean Chinese and Chinese- joined forces to mutually benefit from the trafficking trade. The Korean Chinese served as a bridge for the North Koreans and the Hans, those who were ethnically Chinese. The Korean Chinese utilized their familiarity with the Korean culture and language to entrap female North Korean defectors. North Koreans are active in the recruiting process (Kim et al., 2009). In many cases, a North Korean is sold by someone she knew. It is not uncommon for defectors to be sold by a family member, acquaintance or a friend (Davis, 2006; Kim, 2011; Kim, 2014; Muico, 2005). Kim et al. (2009) and Kim (2014) claimed brokers or recruiters used their own personal network to arrange the route for the victims. Former defectors may become involved in brokerage too. Kook's (2018) claimed an estimated 67 percent of the participants in the study provided brokerage or smuggling services to other North Korean defectors. Trafficking Methods Kim, Yun, Park & Williams’s (2009) study discussed the evolution of the North Korean trafficking trade of North Korean defectors. Traffickers have evolved from opportunistic individual offenders into a more organized criminal network. Prior to 1996, traffickers were employed in other positions, such as farmers or other vocations, but realized the high profits they could reap with trafficking. Hence, many of the Korean Chinese farmers would wait for the Korean defectors near the borderline. They would either kidnap them or offer them marriage. If a woman refused a trafficker’s marriage proposal, he would then threaten her by stating he would sell her or report her to the Chinese police. Today, traffickers operate individually or in organized criminal groups. An individual trafficker may collaborate with a few more individuals and form a joint business venture or traffickers may collaborate with a criminal organization (Davis, 2006; Kim et al., 2009). Yet, only a small portion of established organized criminal syndicates was active in the trafficking of female North Korean defectors since the drug industry was still more lucrative in China, but there is an increasing amount of criminal organization partaking in the trafficking industry (Kim et al., 2009). Traffickers involved in the trafficking trade of North Korea defectors operate transnationally and systematically. Kim et al. (2009) case study unveiled the procedural network of traffickers and the cross-border trafficking routes of female North Korean defectors. Their trafficking methodology can be divided into stages into four stages. 1) Stage 1: Recruiters in North Korea recruit potential victims and cross the border. 2) Stage 2: After crossing the border, recruiters sell North Korean defectors to intermediate traffickers. 3) Stage 3: Intermediate traffickers sell North Korean defectors to a final buyer. 4) Stage 4: North Korean trafficked victims are often recycled. Recruitment In the first stage, North Koreans played the role of recruiters and the Korean Chinese play the role as traffickers (Kim et. al. 2009). Recruiters or smugglers utilize their own social network to find victims (Kim et. al. 2009; Kook, 2018) or search the black markets, Jangmadang, The recruiters at the black market tend to be female middle-aged peddlers (Kim et. al. 2009). When recruiters recognized a potential victim, they employed deceptive tactics on North Korean females by building trust and enticing North Korean females with false promises and opportunities (Davis, 2006; Kim, 2011; Kim et. al. 2009; Muico, 2005). North Korean females were lured with false promises of employment opportunities such as a factory worker, maid or marriages between Chinese men (Davis, 2006; Muico, 2005). Human traffickers and matchmakers persuaded impoverished North Korean women by telling them that they will be supported by Chinese men (Davis, 2006 & Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004). Trust was additionally earned by offering the women food and shelter (Muico, 2005). After the recruiter successfully gained the victim’s trust (Davis, 2006; Kim et. al. 2009), the recruiter leads the defectors across the Korean-Chinese border (Kim et. al. 2009). Recruiters sell to intermediate traffickers However, instead of recruiters fulfilling their false promises, female defectors were sold instead (Muico, 2005). Once the recruiter crossed the border with the defector, they sold the defectors at a fixed price to the intermediate trafficker, usually a Korean Chinese, at a planned meeting location across the river (Kim et. al. 2009). Traffickers determined the price of North Korean victims by their appearance and age (Hughes, 2005; Kim et al., 2009). In an earlier study, Muico (2005) claimed women were sold from 400- 10,000 yuan ($50 to $1,250). However, in a later study by Kim et al. (2009), women were sold at fixed prices: women between the ages of 20 and 24 were sold at 7,000 yuan ($1,028), women between the ages of 25 and 29 were sold at 5,000 yuan ($734), and women in their mid-30s were sold at 3,000 yuan ($441). Once they were sold, they were dispersed throughout China. The Korean Chinese traffickers may work independently or affiliated with an organized Chinese crime syndicate. Intermediate traffickers wait until they have a small collection of women (3-4) before selling them to a final buyer. Women were housed in a trafficker’s safe house until they were sold (Kim et. al. 2009). During the North Korean women’s stay with their trafficker, they may experience physical assault, rape, psychological abuse (Kim et al. 2009) or starvation (Davis, 2006) from their trafficker. In Kim et al. (2009) study, a few survivors reported experiencing successive rapes by each intermediate brokers. Traffickers physically, psychologically and sexually abuse their victims to maintain control over them (Davis, 2006; Kim et al., 2009). Intermediate traffickers sell North Korean defectors to a final buyer Kim, Yun, Park & Williams’s (2009) claimed that the Han Chinese were usually the final distributors of North Korean brides. The division of labor was divided into different regions: North Korea and China. Traffickers in North Korea would collect and send the North Korean women across the border and the Korean traffickers in China would sell them to the Han Chinese organized crime groups. Communities in the area were aware that the traffickers were involved in the trafficking industry, even Chinese officials. The Chinese border guards and security officers were bribed by the Han Chinese so the Hans was able to administer the final distribution. Women were sold to two types of buyers: bride seekers or owners in the commercial sex industry, e.g., karaoke bars, brothels and for cyber-sex (Davis, 2006; Kim et al., 2009; Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004). Chinese criminal syndicates were usually involved in the commercial sex industry; those involved either managed or protected the commercial sex businesses in China. These criminal organizations maintained their connections with corrupt Chinese officials and police to keep their business afloat. Women sold as prostitutes for karaoke bars or entertainment bars usually sent to metropolitan cities in China (Kim et al., 2009). Yet, out of the two types of buyers, there was more business for forced marriages (Kook, 2018; Muico, 2005). Most bride-seekers originated from Northeastern provinces in China and the grooms are usually older, poor, disabled, and tend to be abusive (Davis, 2006; Kim, et al., 2009; Kook, 2018; Muico, 2005). Hughes (2005) claimed most of the forced brides are sold mostly throughout the Jilin Province, Northeast China. North Korean defectors married to Chinese men experienced being objectified and mistreated (Kim, 2011; Kook, 2018; Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Muico, 2005). Since a Chinese man paid a relatively high amount of money for his North Korean bride, the Chinese man and his family justified the mistreatment of the defector through the payment and treated her as a servant and expected her to work long hours and perform laborious tasks (Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004). The Chinese husbands and his family members controlled defectors through force and coercion. Many forced North Korean brides experienced psychological, physical, verbal and sexual abuse from their Chinese husbands (Kim, 2011; Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004; Muico, 2005). Kim (2011) claimed if North Korean forced brides did not comply with their demands, they were threatened with reporting her to the Chinese authorities for deportation. As of today, the Chinese government does not recognize marriage between Chinese men and illegal female North Korean migrants. Even if the husband sought his wife to have permanent residence, it is rather expensive for a rural farmer; it was estimated to be around 3,000 to 10,000 yuan (Kim, 2014). Therefore, female defectors were unable to obtain legal employment due to their inability of acquiring a residence permit or an identification card. Thus, many were forced to remain at home and perform household tasks or illegally work outside of the house. Some subjugating husbands forced them into prostitution to earn money for his family or pay off debt. However, many of them do not get to keep their earned wages (Kim, 2011). As a result of this abhorrent treatment, many female North Koreans runaway and developed a reputation for being runaway brides (Kook, 2018). Therefore, Chinese men fear that their wives will desert them and may chain or lock away his enslaved wife when he is out of the house (Kim, 2011; Muico, 2005). Victims are recycled Lastly, it is not uncommon for women to be re-trafficked again (Davis, 2006; Kim, et al., 2009). Kim et al. (2009) claimed Korean Chinese gangs search for female North Korean defectors in hiding for profit. They kidnap them, beat them and sell them to owners in the sex industry. North Korean forced brides can be resold by their Chinese husbands (Davis, 2006; Kim, 2011; Kim, et al., 2009). Kim (2011) claimed some of the enslaving Chinese husbands forced their brides into prostitution to earn money for his family or pay off the bride's purchased fee. There even has been cases where the Chinese police and border guards sell women to traffickers after “arresting” them for illegal migration. (Davis, 2006; Hughes, 2005). Therefore, it is unsurprising that a vast amount of studies claim that North Korean defectors experienced psychological trauma from their trafficked experiences (Kim, 2011). Not Everyone Is Trafficked In an earlier study, Muico (2005) claimed while the majority of North Korean women were trafficked for forced marriages, there was a large percentage of women that sought a third party to facilitate a marriage between themselves and a Chinese man. Consensual marriage was a growing occurrence between female North Korean defectors and Chinese men. Marrying a Chinese man seemed appealing to North Korean women because it was an assured way of receiving shelter, food, water and held the possibility of supporting their family back in North Korea (Muico, 2005; Kim, 2014). The belief that marriage was an assured way of survival and a successful method of migration continued. In a later ethnographic study by Kim (2014), it revealed North Korean female bordercrossers developed their own survival strategies, often using marriage-migration, to settle in China or used it as a waiting period until they acquired the skill set and funds to move on to a better opportunity. Female North Korean defectors had two main routes of marriage brokerage in China: 1) Female North Koreans choose to marry before entering China. 2) Female North Korean defectors who worked in the industry in China and then decide to marry. The wives worked on their daily tasks rigorously while maintaining a weak emotional connection with their husbands. In fact, they used their time during their marriage to learn Chinese and saved money so that they could leave their husbands and sustain on their own. Hence, their ambivalent attitudes towards their Chinese husbands and family remained during their stay in China (Kim, 2014). The brokerage network for arranged marriages also became safer as time progressed. A participant in Kim’s (2014) study stated that she did not experience any harsh treatment from her broker and actually enjoyed her stay; she ate well and was treated with respect. Kook's (2018) study revealed that the majority of the female North Korean defectors were not forced into marriage and incidences of coercion were rare during the North Korean defectors' journey across the border. In many scenarios, female North Korean defectors sought to be sold as a bride to a Chinese man by a third party and utilized the brokerage networks frequently. Only five out of the twenty-seven female participants experienced force, deception, and were sold by a trafficker. However, once they were married to their Chinese husband, they often become susceptible to abuse and exploitation. Despite the known risk that they may be forced into trafficking, many North Koreans viewed marriage as the only viable option for survival (Kim, 2011). Profile of Victims North Korean trafficking victims varied in age and were educated. Kim, Yun, Park & Williams’s (2009) study revealed the age range of female North Korean women trafficking victims had a vast age range- ages ranged from the late 10’s to the late 30’s. They were educated than most of the trafficking victims in other countries; many defectors obtained a high school or college degree. Some of them even worked in professional occupations before the fall of North Korea’s economy. North Korean women became entrapped into trafficking through two primary methods: deception and kidnapping. Women who crossed the border with the intention to work temporarily in China were kidnapped by Korean Chinese traffickers. Korean Chinese traffickers deceived female North Koreans by offering false job opportunities and marriage proposals from Chinese men. However, the traffickers’ promises were never as promising as it seemed. If they worked, they were hardly paid if they were paid at all. Pathway to South Korea Ko, Chung & Oh (2004) claimed that there were three precarious pathways to arrive in South Korea-visiting the South Korean embassy in China, traveling to third countries, boat smuggling and receiving aid from family and friends. Defectors, if caught, are at risk of exploitation by traffickers and repatriation by Chinese law authorities (Davis, 2006, Kim, 2014; Kook, 2018). Also, anyone who is caught aiding North Korean defectors faced serious repercussions as well (Kook, 2018). Davis (2006) claimed if defectors are found, they were sent to Chinese police stations for interrogation, where they succumbed to body searches, torture, physical assault, and rape. After interrogation, women were repatriated and incarcerated in a detention center or labor camp for one to three months (Kim, 2014). While detained, women are expected to perform strenuous labor with inadequate food in an unsanitary living condition (Davis, 2006; Kim, 2014). Pregnant and elderly women were not exempt from this formidable and punitive sentence, and depending on the nature of the North Korean defector’s case, she could serve up to six months at the labor camps (Davis, 2006). Hence, North Korean defectors attempted to run away, bribe or fight the guards at the border (Ko, Chung & Oh, 2004). If they were caught and repatriated back to North Korea and survived the labor camps, many still crossed the Korean Chinese border. Kook’s study (2018) revealed that half of the female participants who were repatriated to North Korea absconded once more. Even though they may have experienced severe trauma and hardships during their trafficking experience, it was better than starving in North Korea (Muico, 2005). Arrival in Korea Since it is difficult to start their lives in China because of their illegal migrant status and their marriages were not recognized by the government, were eager to start their life chapter in South Korea (Kim, 2014). South Korean Ministry of Unification (2016) claimed that approximately 70 percent of North Korean defectors are female. Upon their arrival in South Korea, North Korean defectors were immediately enrolled in a twelve-week long orientation program at Hanawon. The program rehabilitated defectors in order to regain their emotional stability and assisted them in cultivating the necessary tools needed to independently thrive economically and socially in their new environment (South Korean Ministry of Unification, 2016). Kim’s (2014) study found that female North Koreans gained empowerment through achieving their own economic stability and financial freedom. Hence, many do not report their marriages in China upon arrival in South Korea and inclined to sever ties with their former husbands, because they received free housing and settlement funding upon arrival and viewed their husbands as a burden. However, there are still many defectors who remained in contact with their husbands. Some remained in contact to repay them for their assistance in the past or they had children with them. However, they were burdened with the responsibility of taking care of their family in North Korea or China. Female defectors often emotionally divided their family into two categories: North Korean family and family created in mobility. Many female defectors felt a stronger attachment to their family in North Korea, but still had a strong desire to bring their children from previous marriages with them (Kim, 2014). Despite the aid and relief North Korean defectors receive in South Korea, many were inclined to move to other countries after their settlement in South Korea because of the discrimination and prejudice they experienced from South Koreans (Kim, 2014; Kim, 2017). North Koreans defectors expressed they had difficulty obtaining stable employment due to their lack of work experience. Employment in a third world country where they received better treatment seemed more appealing than to work in South Korea where they suffered from discrimination and could only find part-time employment. Criminals recognized this opportunity to profit off of North Korean. Perpetrators portrayed themselves as brokers who could assist North Korean defectors with their refugee screening for other countries. As a result, brokers conned many defectors and defectors were left with no other option but to remain in South Korea (Kim, 2017). III. Methodology Data Survey A convenience sample of 201 female North Korean defectors from three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) located in Gyeonggi and Seoul City Provinces in South Korea were administered surveys. The surveys were distributed during the week of August 4 - 17, 2018. Due to limited space at the NGO’s and out of convenience for the North Korean defectors, surveys were administered at eight residential areas near the defectors’ homes- two neighborhoods in Seoul City and six neighborhoods in Gyeonggi Province. The defectors’ host NGO arranged the time and location for the participants to fill out their surveys. Two social workers from each NGO acted as survey managers and were in charge of administering and explaining the purpose of the surveys to the participants and answering any potential inquiries regarding the questions on the surveys. Participants were given up to an hour to complete the survey. After completing the surveys, the participants were compensated with 20,000 Wons (approximately $18). When the last round of surveys were completed, all surveys were taken back to KIC for coding. Measurement and variables. Human trafficking victimization: Forced marriages- age, number of times, husband demographics, types of trafficking, money, and abuse. How they entered into trafficking, how they exited trafficking, the business framework of trafficking, trafficking routes, and popular cities. In-depth Interview Participants, who were victims of human trafficking and consented to participate in an interview, were asked for an interview. Most of the participants, 20 female North Korean defectors, came from one of the NGO’s and the remainder, 5, came from another NGO. After a week of contacting the 25 participants and arranging interview times, the study continued with 25 in-person, semi-structured, in-depth interviews of female North Korean human trafficking survivors during the month of August in 2018. The interviews took place at the NGO in a private and comfortable room with the survivor, a social worker/therapist from the NGO (as a source for comfort for the survivor), and one female researchers from the Korean Institute of Criminology (KIC). All of the surveys were written and verbally administered in Korean. All interviews were conducted on tape. Each interview varied in length from one to two hours. The study was approved from the Korean Institute of Criminology’s Research Board as well as consent from the NGO prior to the implementation of the survey instruments. Participants were verbally informed of the purpose, procedures, and nature of the study and assured of their confidentiality and anonymity prior to reading and signing the written consent form. Upon completion of the interviews, the participants were given 150,000 Wons (approximately $132) as a token of appreciation for her time and sharing her story. IV. Findings Motive and Process of crossing the North Korean- Chinese border Approximately 75 percent of the respondents responded that they crossed the border due to economic reasons. An estimated 21.4 percent used a broker for crossing the border and 31.8 percent received assistance from family and friends when they crossed the border. Out of all the defectors who used a broker, 31.6 percent of the defectors were requested money from a broker. Defectors spent on average 1.28 million Won during their process of defecting. Only 22.9 percent of the defectors experienced repatriation when crossing the border. Brokerage Experience Nearly all the defectors, 95.5 percent, encountered a broker during their process of defection. Approximately, 68 percent of defectors held favorable attitudes towards the broker. More than half, 60.4 percent, of the defectors met their broker through someone that know- family, friends, and acquaintances. Life in China Only 43.3 percent of the participants were victims of forced marriage and sex trafficking. Approximately 29.4 percent of defectors were arrested by Chinese police, and among those who were arrested, 67.8 percent of them were repatriated. Slightly over half, 54.2 percent, left China due to their unstable status, 26.9 percent of defectors left because of threats of repatriation, and 14.9 percent left due to a better economic life in South Korea. Interestingly, 32.9 percent of the participants claimed they would stay in China if they had a stable status. Crime Victimization in China Almost three-thirds of North Korean defectors experienced human trafficking victimization in China. Most, 90.7 percent, were victims of forced marriage, and 21.3 percent were victims of forced labor, and 4.7 percent were victims of sex trafficking. The average length of the forced marriages were 68.4 months for the first trafficked marriage, 47.5 months spent in labor trafficking. Approximately, 66 percent were unaware of their vulnerability to victimization. Over half, 57 percent, were trafficked as soon as they crossed the North Korean- Chinese border. Brokers were the main reason why the defectors became entrapped in human trafficking: 31.3 percent consisted of the brokers who assisted when crossing the North Korean-Chinese border, and 29.3 percent consisted of the brokers who deceived the defectors in China. The average age of the defector for her first marriage is 30.7 years old. Approximately, three-fourths of the defectors only were sold once into a forced marriage, and 13.2 percent of forced brides were victimized twice. Nearly 14.7 percent knew that they would be victimized before crossing the border, but most, 74.3 percent, did not have any suspicions of potential human trafficking victimization. Nearly, 41.9 married because they sought shelter and 26.5 were forced marriage. Most of the forced brides husbands were Chinese (47.8 percent) and then Korean Chinese (36 percent). The average age of the forced brides’ husband was 37.3 years old. Most of the brides, 62.5 percent, were unsatisfied with their marriages. Escaping China Approximately 25.9 percent of the defectors left China with the aid of brokers, and 16.9 percent left China with no aid. Nearly 32.3 percent of defectors escaped human trafficking because they desired to go to South Korea. After defecting from North Korea, the participants of the study stayed in the following countries: China (74.6 percent), Thailand (46.8 percent), Laos (26.9 percent), Vietnam (6 percent), Cambodia (4.5 percent), Mongolia (6 percent), and Myanmar (1 percent). Approximately, 68.7 percent of the North Korean defectors arrived to South Korea alone, and 25.4 percent arrived with family. Life in Korea Approximately, 37.8 percent of the participants were very satisfied living in South Korea, 47.3 percent were generally satisfied, and only 5 percent were not satisfied with their stay in South Korea. Nearly 63.3 percent of the participants claimed that they were well adapted to the Korean life and 20.9 percent claimed that they are very adapted to life in South Korea. Those who had difficulty with adapting to South Korean society were due to the following reasons: difficulty with finding a job (30.3 percent), their expectations were not met (18.4 percent), they were unsure of their life goal (16.9 percent), difficulty with raising a child in South Korean society (11.4 percent). When asked why it was difficult to adjust to South Korean society, 26.9 percent responded that it was due to economic reasons, 21.9 percent claimed it was due to apathy from South Koreans, and 20.4 percent stated that they experienced difficulty with adjusting their attitude. V. Conclusion and Policy Implications Stable political and social economic status in China is the foremost factor in preventing human trafficking victimization of North Korean defectors in China. An emergency shelter and long-term asylum is necessary for the protection of North Korean defectors. North Korean defectors also need the guarantee of refugee status. Additionally, the study revealed many of the participants would stay in China if their citizen status was stable. Since the 1980s, the Chinese government made significant efforts to eradicate trafficking in China, but the temporary campaigns and policy implication were not enough to eradicate trafficking.

Seongjin Yeon

Crime Trends&Analysis, Transnational Organized Crime

Senior Research Fellow

Seongjin Yeon's picture

Research Interest (Major)


Report List

Effective Measures to Advance Corrections and Rehabilitation for Reducing Recidivism (Ⅰ) -Housing and Employment Assistance for Ex-Offenders through Establishing and Promoting Social Enterprises-

Juvenile Victimization in Korea, 2014

Causes and Preventative Measures of Investigation Subject's Suicide During Prosecution

Anger Management Virtual Reality Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(VR-CBT) Program as an Alternative for Juvenile Offenders

Implementation and Improvement of Electronic Monitoring

Violence against Women: Intimate Partner Violence

Annual Report on UN and International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention (XII)

Policy Measures of Effective Investigation and Efficient Prediction for Preventing and Responding against Terrorism

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for International Crime Prevention (XIII): Publication and Distribution of Research Outcomes

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for International Crime Prevention (XIII): Establishing Criminal Justice Statistics in Asia

Cryptocurrency-related Crime and Criminal Justice

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention (XIV) (Outcome Report on the Korean Institute of Criminology International Forum)

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention (XIV) (Publication Dissemination of Research Outcomes)

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention (XIV) (Establishing International Network for Research on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice)

North Korean Defectors' Human Trafficking Victimization en Route to South Korea

Customer ‘gapjil’ Violence Victimization among Service and Sales Workers in South Korea

Effective Measures to Advance Corrections and Rehabilitation for Reducing Recidivism (Ⅰ)

Annual Report on UN Activities & International Cooperation 2013

Self-control and delinquency in Social-cultural Context: Formulating and Assessing an Elaborated, 'General Theory of Crime'

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for International Crime Prevention (XIII): Establishing International Cooperation Network System

Annual Report on UN-International Cooperation and Research for International Crime Prevention (XIII): Outcome Report on the Korean Institute of Criminology International Forum

Crime Statistics Database Project (XV)

Korean Institute of Criminology Official Video - img

Korean Institute of Criminology Official Video

Newsletter Subcribe

Please check the consent form
and enter your name and
e-mail address.

Collecting personal information and consent to the use

We collect the minimum amount of personal information necessary to use the services provided by the Science & Technology Policy Institute. Haohni this notice as follows regarding the collection and use of personal information please accept after a safe enough .