THE HARDSHIPS AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN
Young Hee PARK
NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR
DATE OF ENTRANCE TO SOUTH KOREA: DECEMBER, 2001
Restrictions on marriage due to class differences
I was born in Ryanggang-do(province), and my father was from the South. It was difficult for me to get married due to my family background. At the time, because it was so difficult just to make a living, P'yongyang men who received more food ration or boarder guard or national security agency officer were considered to be the most desirable suitors. Also I wanted to marry a person who got more ration so that I could help my parents. But no one would marry me because my parents were from the South.
After graduating college I was posted as a teaching staff to a mine. Hearing the news, a man kept on visiting everyday to borrow encyclopedias and other books. One day I visited his living quarters; there were lots of books there. He worked at the art propaganda squad, and he seemed too have feelings for me. Afterwards I found out that his father had formerly fought underground alongside KIM Jong-tae, the leader of the Revolutionary Party for Reunification. I accidently came across his diary among the books. KIM Jong Il's words, 'all sects will be wiped out,' was written in it, and I could see traces of tear marks alongside those lines. His family history was also written in the diary. The details concerning the incident, including the name of Prosecutor-General at the time and the fact that his father had taken the blame of PARK Heon-young and LEE Seung-yup in order to protect them were also written in the pages. I started to like him because we shared the same history. But when we tried to get married, my relatives strongly objected because of his background. In the end I could not marry him, and I was married off to a different person.
A tortuous married life, bribing for divorce
My husband and I did not get along from the first, and I could not warm up to him because I could not stop thinking about the man I loved. Eventually my husband started to hit me. If it had been just him, it would have been all right, but even my brother-in-law abused me, and my mother-in-law only pretended to stop them saying 'she bad mouths our family behind our backs,' and just let them beat me up. But I couldn't tell the safety Department(police) officers that my husband abused me, and even if I had they would not have been helpful in any way. Being abused was solely my humiliation and disgrace. At one point I could bear it no more, so I packed my belongings and headed towards my parents', but in the end I had to return because I couldn't go anywhere without a permit.
My husband ate only white rice. I had to go to work everyday, but if I didn't want a beating I had to make alcohol from the hardly earned corn rations, sell it, and buy white rice for my husband. I had to make a round trip of 60 li (15 miles) on foot and ride a train just to dig up potatoes for myself. The immense work load was physically draining, so much so that I was hospitalized. While I was hospitalized for 40 days, I was diagnosed with myocardial infarction. At my husband's house my mother-in-law told my mother to take me home saying 'myocardial infarction killed even KIM Il-sung, we don't want a funeral in our house.' Later on I found out that I had a different heart disease, not myocardial infarction. There had been an diagnostic error because of the outdated medical technology. No one from my husband's family visited me until I left the hospital. I figured I was not well liked, and felt disappointed but thought I must bear the burden and return to my husband's house. However a friend from the neighborhood visited one day and told me "Why do you live there? They think you're dead, there's already a new woman in the house..." I was just a dead person to them. I decided to return to my parents' home, and made up my mind to get a divorce. But the court would not allow the divorce. My husband's family was wealthy, so they sent two truck loads of wood and 100 liters of gasoline, but it didn't work out. They wanted more. So although I had to go to the city court, I went to the province court, where a lot of people that had taken my class worked. I gave them alcohol I had made with my own hands, and by answering according to the pre written questions I finally succeeded in getting divorced.
Section 5 that deprives freedom
After my divorce, I had no choice but to quit my new job because my supervisor kept on harassing me. He was about my father's age. When his advances became too severe, I asked him to 'treat me like a daughter.' Afterwards he would distribute boots to everyone except me. I asked him why and he said to others, 'she will be gone soon so I don't have to.' Just in time a colleague of my mother's told me be patient. I will introduce you to section 5 soon.' A divorced woman such as myself working for section 5 meant swearing an oath never to associate with men again, and live as a house servant for Central Party. Basic living conditions would be guaranteed for life, in exchange for freedom. But people considered themselves very fortunate to be sold to such servitude. These opportunities are hard to come by, and at least one can escape starvation working there. I decided to quit my job, but even quitting was not easy.
Afterwards I started selling stuff on the market with help from a neighbor. I borrowed 200 won from her and gave her 10% interest each month. At first I went to Kangdong county mining area to sell things. I didn't know anyone there but because it was a mining area rice and oil was being rationed. So doing business there was profitable. I met an old lady at Kangdong county and stayed at her house for seven days. She told me about her daughter. Her daughter had graduated foreign language university. One day a car drove by the house and just took her daughter away, and her grandson was sent to Man-Gyoung-Dae-Hyuk-Myoung Hakwon (Man-Gyoung Revolutionary school). It seemed like they were taken to better places, so she figured all was well. A year later her daughter returned looking younger and prettier then before, but she could not see her daughter's eyes because she would not take off her sunglasses. It felt weird, and a man stood watch the entire time. Her daughter gave her a light hug, and dropped a letter into her pocket. She showed me the letter. Her daughter had written a blood oath and entered section 5, but had been taken elsewhere because she was good with foreign languages. A country succeeded in earning foreign money through prostitution, and North Korea followed suit and built international prostitution hotels(P'yongyang Daedong River Yangkak-do(island), opened 1995). Her daughter had been sent there despite her age because of her language skills and her classy appearance. Prostitute or not, her daughter seemed to be alright, so the old lady let things be.
But two years later the old lady's son who worked for the Safety Department (An-Jun Bu) came to the mining area. She was worried for her daughter's safety, but her grandson stayed at Man-Gyoung Revolutionary school so there was no way to get any news. She thought about her daughter constantly. The son asked around and heard rumours that the daughter had been exiled to a secluded island. Her daughter had been exiled, and her grandson continued to go to Man-Gyoung Revolutionary school without a clue. Her daughter must have done something wrong. But because her daughter had inside information about Central Party her death would be confirmed only after her death in exile. We cried for a long time talking about this. I was suddenly scared, and thought that section 5 is not such a good choice after all.
The train ride
I will tell you about the things I witnessed during the train ride between Kangdong and Kilju county. In North Korea one must have a certificate to ride trains, but it is very hard to get it issued. At the time I got the certificates issued by bribing the officials about 150-200 won, but many women traveled without the certificate to save money. The certificates were checked on each stop, and people without certificates in a corner were rounded up in the corner, beaten up, and taken someplace.
When the inspectors caught women without certificates, it was very common for them to kick them in the womb. Sometimes women that had been kicked severely couldn't even scream. Their faces turned black and would roll over in pain. The inspectors even kicked pregnant women. But hitting a pregnant woman too severely was against the law, so at least they weren't too harsh, but when the pregnant woman turned around in shame they would kick her in the back. Even old ladies were not exempt from such treatment when caught without a certificate. Once I saw an old lady's leg get amputated by accident when the train bumped while she resisted getting thrown off the train. I felt all my blood rush to my head in shame, and felt that women must abandon all femininity to earn money. To escape from such indignity I vowed to leave North Korea and go to China.
Human Trafficking in China
First of all I thought I must go to China to make a living. I contacted a smuggler and sent my little sisters over first while selling squid and such. I knew nothing was free. I implored him to let my sisters choose where they will be married off to. The brokers introduced my sister to a Korean man that had come to Jang-Baek-Hyun on a tour, and luckily my sister followed him to South Korea first.
I worked at a restaurant. The Korean owners gave me more money and treated me better because I worked hard. The Chosun-jok (ethnic Korean-Chinese) women were jealous of me, and the Chosun-jok men said that it was dangerous to have a North Korean refugee working with them. I had to leave in the end. My next job was at a coffee house and karaoke at Yanji. At the time the crackdown on North Korean refugees were so severe they were caught in truck loads. The Korean owner said that hiding out in the karaoke was safer, so with his help I cleaned the basement of the karaoke. It was difficult to find a regular job, and if I was caught the owner had to pay a 5000 yuan fine, so I was married off.
There were many North Korean women that had been sold in the area. One women had been sold for 500 won and had a child but couldn't register the child officially (3000 yuan to register). A woman living at a Jung-Mi-So had been sold for 1000 yuan, had a child, and even registered the child to the authorities. Those two were better off, but a woman in her forties that lived with a 32 year old man got beaten all the time he got drunk no matter what she did. I wanted to go to Korea with her, but she had a child and I couldn't trust her easily, plus something could go wrong so I was very careful. The man that lived with her didn't trust me, and threatened me saying that 'if I chop you up with the axe in the cellar and put you in a sack and bury you in the mountains nobody will find you, and you won't be a problem.' I thought I must leave the house. But I was too scared to leave alone so I kept on searching for a fellow female that could leave with me. I kept on holding on to the money I had earned and the money my sister had sent from Korea, and continued to search for somebody I could trust. Because I was always on the lookout I knew all the stories of the women that had been sold from place to place. During my two years there I saw and heard many things. A 28 year old women had been sold to a poor house for 1000 yuan, and after being impregnated by that man had been sold to a different man, was forced to have an abortion, and had been forced to chop firewood right afterward, so had ran away only to be captured and sold again to the same neighborhood. A woman that was sold to a Han-Jok (Chinese people) was prisoned inside the house, with the man locking and unlocking the doors with a knife in his hand. That woman too escaped only to be recaptured and sold again and again.
The man I married had sent his wife on a disguised marriage to Korea for money. During the day he made me work, and at night he thought of me only as something to warm his bed. He never paid me, but he always said that I would leave someday. I was always anxious living in China so I made up my mind to leave him. In December 2000 I came to Korea with help from others.