Tokyo (AsiaNews) - A flourishing trade in women, for use as wives or as prostitutes, is growing on the border between North Korea and China. This trade intensifies because of chronic poverty and hunger of the population dominated by Kim Jong-il.
According to data from the Chinese authorities in 2009 about 25 - 30 thousand North Koreans entered into China fled into North Korea. Of the 40% who remain the majority are women. From a 'survey conducted by the Japanese Daisuke Nishimura, an 'Asahi journalist, their conditions are often humiliating.
In April last year, the Pyongyang government launched a campaign of farm work for 150 days. A peasant woman of about 30 years, alone and weakened by malnutrition, worked tirelessly on her unproductive land, in fear of being reprimanded by the village leaders in weekend rallies. The order was to work to maximum capacity to increase productivity.
In early July, by now at the limit of her strength, she met a 40 year-old foreign woman at the market who has said: "China is wonderful. There you will marry a nice man". The woman was an intermediary (broker) in human trafficking which has recently become a thriving industry because of North Koreans who flee to China to escape the chronic food shortages and unrest in the country.
A week after the meeting, the woman, crossing the mountains by night, reached the River Tumen, the boundary line between the two nations, she swum trembling not because of the cold, but for fear of being seen by North Korean guards. Beyond the river waiting for her were other brokers who sold her as a bride to an ethnic-Korean farmer from Chinese province of Jilin, near the border with North Korea, for a price of 6 Yuan (878 U.S. dollars).
"My husband has been good to me," she told the Japanese reporter. "I'm happy because I can eat what I want every day."
The young peasant is in a certain sense lucky. She is married, lives like a good housewife and helps her husband working the land. But her odyssey has not ended. "Although I am no longer obsessed by hunger," writes the Japanese journalist, "she has always afraid of being arrested by Chinese police. China does not recognize North Korean 'deserters' as refugees and, if discovered, they will send her back. So, legally it means that she can not formally marry the man she calls her husband".
From North Korean poverty to Chinese prostitution
Other women are not so fortunate. Many fugitives are sent to southern China, where they work as prostitutes in bathhouses.
The border between China and North Korea is the preferred route for those who attempt to escape from North Korea because, given the friendly relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, the police checks here are quite lax. It is estimated that currently in China, there are from 300 to 400 thousand North Koreans living illegally. Among them many young women, are subject ignoble human trafficking ring which while not vast is very well organised. The ring is comprised of about 150 ethnic Koreans with Chinese broker "cells" in North Korea. Their mastery of the language easily wins the confidence of the fugitive. Managers of hotels and bathhouses in the south send orders to be filled by the brokers with the collusion of the Chinese border guards
One of them, in an interview, said that each year he helps 40 to 50 North Koreans to cross the border. Reluctantly, he also said that in the month of November saw a group of young women cross the river in the north. They wore ragged clothes and were shivering with cold. They were welcomed by an ethnic-Korean broker on the Chinese side and offered a simple dish of meat which they devoured. The women, some not yet in their twenties, were then given clean clothes that the broker had prepared for them and were transported to a bathhouse in southern China, where they worked as prostitutes.
A month earlier, the same broker had sought cooperation from the guard to respond to the request of a client to send "several women aged 18 to 25 years." The young women were quickly recruited in the North.
The slave trade
If the broker in the country of departure are zealous in recruiting young women, the ethnic Koreans waiting for them at the Chinese border are just as good at getting them false ID cards and sending them off to their fixed destination: the south.
According to sources, the "customer" pays the broker who is in China from 6 to 7 thousand Yuan for every young North Korean; 4 thousand are pocketed by the Chinese guards (at the border) and a thousand by the Korean guards.
The brokers, concludes the Asahi analyst, see no sign of their business slowing. One of them says: "The poorer and more miserable North Korea becomes, the more money we earn".