Subject: NEWS:For Some Food, North Koreans Deal Daughters
From: Jyothi Kanics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Feb 12 1999 - 15:28:52 EST
For Some Food, North Koreans Deal
By John Pomfret
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 12, 1999; Page A30
WANGQING, China—On Dec. 30, the mother of Han Jin O and Han Eu
No was arrested as she tried to sneak back into North
Korea with a sack
of rice on her back and her children by her side.
The police let the teenage girls go but detained the
mother. The next day,
North Korean police came to the family's house in the
northern city of
Hyesan and demanded a $125 bribe -- a fortune for poor
-- to release the woman from one of North Korea's
camps, the girls said. With a father so malnourished that
he is unable to
work and with no savings, there was no way to get the
mother out of jail --
until a gut-wrenching solution was found.
A North Korean businessman with contacts in China promised
to raise the
money. His price? The girls. There are many men who need
China, the girls said he told their father. But the man
assured their father
that he would settle the girls within miles of the North
Korean border. With
relatives over the border, you will have the right to go
to China, the
businessman told him.
"I was willing to be a bride so my mother could be free,"
said Han Jin O,
an extremely thin 15-year-old who looks barely 12. "I
wasn't going to let
them sell my sister." Han Eu No is 13 but looks no more
The Han sisters are part of a river of girls and women
flowing out of North
Korea as that isolated Communist country stumbles toward
self-destruction. As many as 2 million people are feared
to have perished
in North Korea since food shortages swept the country in
Interviews with 20 refugees and aid officials during a
recent four-day trip
to the North Korea-China border painted a picture of a
desperate straits. Malnutrition and hunger are the norm,
search for the next meal the obsession.
As such, women and girls in North Korea have been turned
into chattel to
be traded by their countrymen in the quest for food and money.
According to officials in private aid agencies working on
the North Korean
side of the border, an increasing number of young North
many in their early teens, are being smuggled out and sold
farmers and laborers from throughout the country who have
wives. Others are sold to karaoke halls and brothels,
which line the grimy
streets of the small cities in northeastern China. But
most are sold to single
men from villages that many young Chinese women have
the perceived brighter vistas of bigger cities.
Aid officials said they had no estimate on the number of
into China but several officials, who have operated on the
border for three years or more, said they believe the
number of smuggled
women is increasing. The reason, they said, is that North
already cannibalized a large portion of their factories
and clear-cut a large
percentage of their forests to trade to China for grain.
"They need other things to trade, so they are trading
their girls," a South
Korean aid worker said.
Chinese smugglers, engaged in moving everything from spare
parts to cars
and women from North Korea to China, corroborated this
view. In their
smugglers' den -- a circle of three houses on Chinese
territory just opposite
the North Korean city of Musan -- two Chinese acknowledged
four women they were keeping in one of the red brick
North Korean, and bound for customers in China.
"They don't have anything else," said one of the men,
referring to his North
Korean partners. "We've cleaned out the mine, and the
chicken farm" -- a
reference to Musan's two biggest industries. "Now we are
A source in Yanji, a regional center near the border, said
the price for a
"pretty North Korean miss" ranges from $800 to $1,150,
her age, looks and health. Health is very important, he
added, because so
many of the girls are malnourished and gaunt.
This source arranged for one North Korean woman, Kim Jin
Hai, 23, to
marry a Chinese farmer of Korean extraction in a village
near Helong, a
township 30 miles from the border. Kim hailed from Hyesan,
Korean border city. She was smuggled to China by a North
businessman after her parents decided she would be better
Kim is the daughter of well-placed local officials but
even they determined
that life was deteriorating at home, her husband said.
"Everything was fine at home," Kim said. "We lived better
"So why did you come to China?" countered her new husband,
26, a farmer who married her in January. "She refuses to
admit that things
are better here."
The smuggler said he paid $500 for Kim but gave her to the
free because they are distant relatives. And, he added, he
dealings with Kim's mother, who is a part of a network of
officials who regularly travel to the Yanji region for
business -- such as
selling antiques and ginseng and smuggling cars.
The selling of wives to Chinese men in this region has
prompted a battle
between the Chinese government and the smugglers of human
cargo. In the
last two months, Chinese authorities have increased the
fine for this activity
to more than $1,000, according to local sources, although
dampened business much because by simply selling one
can recoup the fine.
The smugglers, for their part, have taken to selling the
women to Chinese
not living in the region, such as transient laborers from
as far away as
Zhejiang and Shandong, more than 1,000 miles to the south.
Operating in between the smugglers and the authorities are
officials, often South Koreans, who -- at great risk to
attempt to save the women from being sold. They also try
to keep them
from border police, who will forcibly repatriate them to
an uncertain future
in North Korea. Some aid officials attempt to help the
women leave China,
via Mongolia, to Kazakhstan in central Asia, which has a
The private aid groups operate illegally on Chinese soil;
China does not
recognize North Koreans as refugees and has thus outlawed
to help them.
Late one recent evening a private aid official was
patrolling the border
when the headlights of his car raked across two women
being led by a
man. "Korean girls!" the man shouted to his driver. The
pair jumped out of
their jeep onto a snowy road and gave chase into the
forest, shouting after
the girls in Korean, "We're here to help you, we're here
to help you."
Nine North Korean refugees, mostly elderly women and men,
the jeep -- fearing a sudden sweep by Chinese border
police, which would
have meant deportation.
"We reacted too slowly," said the aid official as they
returned to the jeep.
"Those girls got away."
Private aid officials were luckier with the Han sisters.
The girls were
rescued after a local Chinese contact tipped the aid
officials that a North
Korean businessman was trying to sell two teenagers. They
would not say
if they paid for the girls.
In Wangjiang, a small town 50 miles north of the border,
the Hans have
been placed in the house of an elderly Chinese couple of
extraction. Private aid officials are giving the family
food to feed them. Still,
the fate of their mother weighed on their minds.
"Will you save her?" Han Jin O asked a visitor in a soft
voice. "Will you
save my mother?"
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