Imagine being sold to an older disabled man for $585 – a man who is only the first of a number of men you are forced to marry.
Imagine having to do 100 squats followed by 100 laps around a soccer field only to finish and endure an intense beating.
Imagine being forced to terminate a pregnancy by having two men stand on a plank that was placed on your pregnant belly and then losing not only your child’s life but yours as well.
Women from North Korea know this unbearable treatment all too well – for them it is reality.
Last week, a group of these women traveled to Washington to raise awareness of the extreme abuse North Korean refugees face at the launch of the report, “Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea to China” released by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
According to the report, women who flee hunger and repression in North Korea face a whole new set of obstacles in China where they are often sold as wives and prostitutes. Trafficked into “forced marriages,” these women face grueling labor from the Chinese men who buy them – not to mention the physical and sexual assault that is typical in these marriages.
“The Chinese would even refer to North Korean women as pigs. We are forced to do farmwork and household chores by day and at night we were subjected to subhuman experiences,” said Bang Mi-Sun, a woman who escaped to South Korea in 2004, at the news conference.
“The world needs to know what is happening. If I had a chance to meet President Obama, I would tell him that North Korean women are being sold like livestock in China.”
Chinese authorities do not welcome the North Korean refugees and instead treat the women as economic migrants rather than the political asylum-seekers they are. They are often sent back to North Korea where they face punishment as political traitors for having fled their home country. At home, prison conditions are horrendous. Inmates often go without food or water and torture and abuse are commonplace. Some are even forced to undergo unwanted abortions.
For the women of North Korean it is a lose-lose situation.
With its 64 page report, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea hopes to highlight these abuses so both North Korea and China can be held accountable for their inhumane treatment of women. The report calls on the U.S. and other countries around the world to put pressure on China to protect the women who seek asylum in their country. Specifically the report calls on Beijing to prosecute human traffickers, take the initiative to ensure that marriages between North Korean women and Chinese men are consensual rather than coerced, and allow thousands of North Koreans access to asylum screenings by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In North Korea the report asks that the government to do more to aid women without husbands or fathers, grant U.N. access to returnees, and implement farming and economic reforms in the country.
It is absolutely shameful that this type of abuse occurs anywhere in the world and even more shameful that it exists yet receives so little media attention. While I found some coverage of what was going on (see here and here) I find it appalling that this report did not make front page news. Women are being sold, abused, and treated like “livestock” with no consequences, but around the world we turn a blind eye. It is time that something be done!
After their visit and launch of the report in Washington, the U.S. State Department saluted the women for having shared their stories.
“These brave souls help us all remember the importance of improving the human rights situation of the North Korean people,” said State Department spokesman Robert Woods.
Yes, this is very important so why aren’t more people talking about it and moreover what’s the U.S. going to do about it?
Photo originally from Agence France Press story - http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090430/wl_asia_afp/usnkoreachinarefugeerightswomen