According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), "Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transfering, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims."
Mark Lagon of the US State Department reports that North Korea is classified as a Tier Three country, which means that in the eyes of the UN, it is seen as not making any substantial effort to end the practice of human trafficking. The VOA News explains that:
Conditions inside North Korea are dire. They include a severe food shortage, a lack of basic freedoms and a system of political repression that includes a network of government-operated prison camps. The approximately two-hundred thousand prisoners in these camps are subjected to reeducation and slave-like conditions. Under these conditions, it is little wonder that many North Koreans choose to flee across the border into Northeast China, where tens of thousands may be residing illegally. It is estimated that more than half the refugees are women.
The North Korean women and children who have fled into China find themselves in a vulnerable position with no legal status. As a result, they are often sold into prostitution, marriage, or forced labor. The trend of North Korean women trafficked into and within China for forced marriage is well-documented. A potential factor in the trafficking of brides, among others, is the gender imbalance in China caused by the government's one-child policy. There is an imbalance in the number of Chinese men relative to the number of marriageable women... Unfortunately, China classifies North Korean refugees as "economic migrants" and forcibly returns some of them to North Korea, where they face severe punishment, including execution.
The South Korean Constitution, "recognizes all North Korean defectors as South Korean citizens." The previous President Lee Myung-bak, advocated a policy of increased reciprocity and improvements of human rights. The North subsequently cut off official dialogue and demanded that Lee implement agreements reached in the 2000 and 2007 Summits. North Korea then refused to deal with President Lee's administration and was waiting for a new administration to be inaugurated in 2013. The situation under the new President, Park Geun-hye, is still unclear.
For more general information about human trafficking, read BookBrowse's Beyond the Book feature entitled "Contemporary Slavery," or click on the video below to watch a mini-documentary created by students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. (Click on the bottom right-hand corner to expand the screen).
This article was originally published in May 2012, and has been updated for the
March 2013 paperback release.
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