Sources on North Korea: Free NK Gulag Survey on Women in China

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)
December 7, 2011 7:00 AM

The issue of trafficking of North Korean women in China is probably the most appalling aspect of the refugee issue. We touched on it in Witness to Transformation and recently noted in a post that the migration patterns of men and women differ, with women spending more time in  China. There are a number of other more detailed accounts. Jane Kim offers an overview of the international legal issues in a Virginia law review piece and the US Committee on Human Rights in North Korea has a 2009 study based on interviews in China by Lee Hae Young called Lives for Sale.

Recently, the DailyNK has reported on a new survey by the Free NG Gulag group in Seoul (in Korean). The study was supported by MOU and conducted between May and August in China. It included 126 North Korean defectors in China; the article makes reference to five male respondents, so we assume the remainder were women.  The report does not appear to be available yet in electronic form, so we simply report the DailyNK’s coverage.

  • The article does not report the share of women who were married, but 64 of the 121 women (52%) experienced violence at the hands of their Chinese husbands
  • 35 out of the 64 respondents who were abused (54%) said that they were beaten more than once a month. Such violence were most likely to occur when husbands were drunk.
  • 34 out of the 64 respondents who were abused (53%) said that they did not do anything about it. Eight said that they asked for forgiveness (12%). 16 would run away (25%) and only six responded that they would fight back or ask help to the neighbors (9%).
  • The most significant reasons for the tolerance of abuse were because the women had nowhere to go and feared arrest and expulsion by Chinese security forces.
  • The survey suggested that 41% of North Korean defectors in China are suffering from health problems and 54% report more adverse work conditions China than they faced in North Korea.
  • Finally, 75% of the respondents said that they would try to enter South Korea. Those not seeking to go to South Korea cited economic difficulties and fear for families left in North Korea.

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