Related Content

Struggling for Life in Desperation (Part I)
Name :
Date :
2016-01-20 17:47:18
Hit :

Struggling for Life in Desperation (Part I)

Hwa-young KIM
A North Korean female defector

Hwa-young Kim, 19-year-old lady, came to South Korea on 29 October 2000. The following was written from her oral testimony recorded be NKHR’s field research team while she was still in China in June 2002. 

I was born on May 20, 1983, in Chungjin, which is located in the North Hamgyong province. My father entered the workforce after graduating from his university studies and became a section chief.  My mother, a kindergarten teacher, performed the hand organ in the propaganda squad. As for me, I lived happily together with my elder sister and elder brother. They were extremely talented in their studies and elder brother in particular showed other talents as a swimmer, winning honors in various swim meets. When I was a child, I did not have a difficult time, thanks to my father’s good position. However, when I became 11 years old, my father quit his job due to a sudden heart attack, which dramatically affected the living conditions of living my family. Mother suffered from gastric ulcers and my brother became sick with pulmonary tuberculosis after he was discharged from military service. My sister was enlisted in the People’s Army’s shock troops.  I remember back in 1998 when I was 15 years old, my family having not been able to touch a piece of food for weeks suffered from serious malnutrition was in desperate straits. Consequently, it occurred to me that I could not live in North Korea any more and decided to leave.

May 1998 : My First Escape from North Korea 

On May 23, 1998, I found an aunt, who assists people in leaving North Korea, and asked for her help. I could cross the North Korean-Chinese border in the evening through a river with two women from Hamheung and Hoeryong whom I met in Musan. 

My aunt could not contact the Chinese person, with whom she had kept in touch and we became very nervous. The reason was that our arrival of China was delayed due to the close observation of security guards, and we could not find Nampyung Samhab (a dugout in a mountain) where we were supposed to meet our Chinese contact. On that day, I lost my shoes in the water, and with drenched clothing we huddled together to keep warm. We had passed the day in fear of not being able to meet him. Next day, luckily, we met our Chinese contact. Upon meeting, he advised us to marry Chinese men. I replied that I was too young to have the thought of marriage, and had to instead work hard to earn money. He arranged a job in a colliery located in Huanren. 

I worked in digging stone for 8 hours in a day in Huanren. They separated three of us from one another, saying that if we worked together, we could not learn Chinese. We worked on a three-shift system. On 6 October 1998, it was Chinese Thanksgiving day. I took the day off with sickness, and a generous chief of the colliery brought a round rice-cake. When I wanted to have Kimchi, he brought it to me. When I felt better, I washed my hair. Combing my hair, I found the comb broken. It brought a gloomy foreboding to me. In the midnight of that day, public security officers made a raid on our lodging and arrested us. After finishing interrogation, we implored a public security officer to help us. He said that there was no special way but to jump down from the second floor. Looking down from the second floor, it was seen a long way off. I was afraid that I would have my leg broken, and be caught by public security officers. I was also worried that I would be treated in contempt as a cripple, if I were sent back to North Korea. Thus, I could not leap down. The next day, I was shackled and sent to the border area, where pictures were taken of me and I was signed over to the North Korean authorities. A guy, who seemed to be 50 years old and was three times as big as me, called out the other two girls in order. They returned with a grimace. At last, the guy called me out, and took me a toilet. He warned that I should do whatever he said, lest I should be sent back to North Korea. The guy raped me. The memory seems to make my blood in body reversed, and I could not control myself with anger. Nevertheless, we were sent to North Korea. I was so young that a citizen card had yet to be issued. Thus, they called my mother living in Chungjin, to take me back to home in a week. I went back to Musan with Mother, but there was no change in life. As usual, we skipped meals. I left North Korea again in November, since I could not bear starving any longer. 

November 1998 : My Second Escape from North Korea 

Three women, including myself, crossed the river without a guide. I could not stand the chilliness. It felt as though my body was freezing over, and we embraced each other to overcome the chill. We groped along in the dark for many hours until we at last came upon a village. We eagerly approached a house and knocked on the door, but there was no sign of somebody present. I cried loudly for someone to help us, and finally someone opened the door. The man in the doorway staring at us stated,  “I came out of the house because I though I heard a child crying, but…” He looked reluctant without knowing what to do. We said, “We came from North Korea. Please give us something to eat.” He refused to give us food but guided us to another place, a house located at the corner of the village. He told us that he would make a fire for the room and bring something to eat, and asked us to wait for a while.

After time passed, we heard that some men noisily chatting with each other outside. We were very frightened and trembling at hearing what a man’s voice calling out, “Who’s in there? This is my house, and how did you get in? Who let you inside?” We were terrified and trembling. They exchanged some signs each other, and came down on us. When I struggled and resisted them, they harshly beat me, and I do not want to remind myself of it. It was the moment that I want to wipe out in my memory. I still have a scar in my face, which was made at that time.  

Since then, I have been engaged in serving men, bound up with the traffickers. On September 1999, I was sold to a Chinese man around 40 years old who took me to an isolated place (I could not remember the name of the place). However, I did not know how much was paid. Whenever he went out, he was afraid that I might run away from the house, and he locked the door from outside. Every night, he stretched out my arms, tied my wrists, and raped me. This hellish life lasted for 6 months until one day I discovered I was pregnant. I gave birth to a boy in September 2000. When I recall those times, I am overcome with rage and an overwhelming urge to kill my captor and tormentor. I try not to remember those times. 

In October 2000, when I was nursing my baby, Chinese public security officers fell upon the house I was staying.  I was sent to North Korea yet again, leaving the baby behind. This time, when they called my family, there was no one remaining at home, and I had no place to go.  I was led to a labor training camp, which I worked at for six months. I had a very generous director who gave me the chance to work in a restaurant, saying that I was the same age as his daughter and shared the same name. Nevertheless, I felt like I would die if I stayed there for six months. I could only endure these hardships for two months, and left North Korea again on January 23, 2001.  I felt apologetic towards the director, who took care of me. 

January 2001 : My Third Escape from North Korea 

As soon as I crossed into China, I was caught by traffickers and forced into ruin. As the summer passed, I was sold to a 27 year-old Chinese man. He seemed to have mental problems as every night he harassed me. When I resisted, he harshly beat me. I could no longer find any value in life, if this life continued. It would have been my third time if I were sent to North Korea again. If I were to be sent a back, I would surely face the death sentence and therefore attempted to commit suicide by stabbing myself in the head.  I lost consciousness and when I came to I was in a hospital, which I stayed in to recover. (I have scar on my head left from this incident.) Why did I survive, even though I desperately wished to die? I felt as if I were lost in the dark and thought that I would surely have to restart my hellish life. My only thoughts were to run away. I pulled out the injection of Ringer’s solution, and did just that. I did not know where I was and what happened. It was long and hard fight. It was January 23, 2002. An aunt found me crying my eyes out, and had sympathy for me. She offered something to eat, and bought me a train ticket for Yanji. She also gave me pocket money, and taught me how to call her.  I really appreciated her help and asked her whereabouts I could contact her later. However, she said that it would be enough if I lived a good life and that there was no need to come and see her. I owe my aunt my life and will never forget her. 

I met my relatives in Yanji, and stayed their house. I could leave the house due to the prying eyes of my neighbors and stayed only in a room.  I could not leave if I wanted to because I was too weak and could not endure without medicine. I missed my family, but I would not go back to North Korea, since it would be assured that I would be cast into a life of starvation. I had never heard of South Korea and first learned of it through seeing North Koreans’ successive attempts to enter embassies in hopes of reaching South Korea.  If I were to ever reach South Korea, I only hope that I could live in there without a shame.