Thousands of North Korean women ‘being sold into Chinese sex trade’

Tens of thousands of North Korean girls and women ‘are being sold into Chinese sex trade and forced to endure rape and slavery’

  • Tens of thousands of North Korean women trafficked into the sex trade in China 
  • Most are refugees who fled their homes and were then exploited by Chinese
  • Girls as young as nine have suffered rapes, forced marriages and sexual assault
  • Many have died, either as the result of sexually transmitted infections or abuse 

Tens of thousands of North Korean women have been trafficked into the Chinese sex trade where they are subjected to rape, assault and forced marriages, a new report has found.

The women are typically refugees who flee into China to escape persecution or starvation in their home country, before being exploited by locals, according to the Korea Future Initiative.

Survivors who spoke to the group told how they saw women die as a result of sexually transmitted diseases or abuse they suffered.

North Korean women fleeing starvation or persecution back home flee into mainland China, where they are vulnerable to exploitation and are often forced into the sex industry (file)

Yoon Hee-soon, the author of the paper, wrote: ‘Pushed from their homeland by a patriarchal regime that survives through the imposition of tyranny, poverty, and oppression, North Korean women and girls are passed through the hands of traffickers, brokers, and criminal organisations before being pulled into China’s sex trade, where they are exploited and used by men until their bodies are depleted.

‘At a time when significant global capital is invested in China and, more recently, political capital expended on North Korea, it is a damning indictment that North Korean women and girls are left languishing in the sex trade. 

‘Condemnation is insufficient. Only tangible acts can dismantle China’s sex trade, confront a North Korean regime that abhors women, and rescue sex slaves scattered across brothels, remote townships, and cybersex dens in mainland China.’

Since the 1990s, more than 200,000 North Koreans – the majority of them women – are thought to have fled their homeland in search of safety overseas. 

Of the women who made the journey, 60 per cent end up in the sex industry, researchers said.

Around half of those end up in prostitution, a third are forced into marriages – largely in rural communities with a shortage of women – and 15 per cent end up being used for cybersex.

Korea Future Initiative estimated the industry to be worth some $105million per year – with sex selling for $4 per time and wives worth as little as $146.

The majority of victims are aged between 12 and 29, though victims have been reported up to the age of 49.

More than 40 per cent of those who ended up in the sex trade were pressured by Chinese who prey solely on North Korean immigrants, promising them food, water, work and passage to South Korea before trafficking them.

Around 18 per cent of victims were abducted by Chinese, often after refusing offers of help.

Cybersex is a small but growing part of the problem, with victims as young as nine forced to endure rape and degrading sexual acts for online viewers (file image)

Prostitutes are held in properties which masquerade as legitimate businesses – such as bathhouses, saunas, karaoke bars, cafes, massage parlours, beauty parlours, barbershops, hair salons, small hotels, and restaurants.

Women held in entertainment venues are typically aged between 15 and 25, and sleep with an average of two to four men per night. 

Those held in ‘service’ venues are on average older – between 17 and 39 – and are expected to sleep with up to nine men per night.

All of the women suffer rape, groping, forced masturbation, and gang-rape, the report’s authors said.

Forced marriages are typically carried out by a broker who isolate the women in safe houses in rural areas, before showing them off to perspective buyers.

Many of the buyers are from rural villages with low populations where the act of buying a wife is seen as necessary to maintain the community.

The woman are then subjected to domestic labour in the mornings and evenings, agricultural and other forms of manual labour during the days, and sexual intercourse with their husband and, on occasion, his male relatives, at night.

Cybersex is a less common but growing marketplace for traffickers in which victims as young as nine are subjected to abuse often involving extreme and degrading acts for online viewers.

Victims recalled being forced to cover up bruises with makeup, hair loss with wigs, and fatigue with drug abuse.

Off-camera, the women face coercion, starvation, intimidation, and brutalisation. 

While North Koreans in China are technically refugees, Beijing refuses to acknowledge them as such, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

With few legitimate ways to make money and survive – and the threat of deportation back to North if they are reported to the police – the women are forced to make desperate choices.

Yoon Hee-soon called on the Chinese government to be held accountable with international sanctions for failing to recognise North Koreans as refugees and protect them.

She also asked countries to help North Korean women escape into China, and said organisations that rescue North Korean women and girls from China should be given more funding. 

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