North Korean mothers

North Korean Mothers, Chinese Fathers: Caught in the Middle

“Amy,” a North Korean mother who lives in the U.S., has not seen her daughter, who lives in China, in over a decade. Amy’s ex-husband purchased her at the height of the Great North Korean Famine in the early 2000s, when she had arrived in China as a North Korean refugee. She fled China and chose to make her home in America. Amy lives in the Midwest, has a steady job and has remarried.

We recently met Amy in Chicago. She had an odd request: To obtain guardianship over her daughter from her ex-husband’s family and so they could be reunited in the U.S.

Amy’s ex-husband’s family will not grant her request unless she promises to help her husband get a work visa and a job in the U.S., a request that is impossible for Amy to fulfill because she and her ex-husband are not legally married. Amy is also scared that, if her husband comes to the U.S., he might harm her. Crossing Borders told her that we couldn’t help because it is outside the scope of our mission.

Half-North Korean children such as Amy's daughter are often in the middle of disputes that they have little to do with. Many North Korean children in the care of Crossing Borders are in similar predicaments.

Kyung Min, a teenage boy who has been in our care since 2009, has a North Korean mother who fled China for South Korea. Kyung Min’s caretakers say that his mother “lives to get revenge on his father’s family” because she was abused after they purchased her as a forced bride. She often uses Kyung Min to slight his father’s family by making promises to them, then reneging or by sending messages to the family through Kyung Min.

This has gone on for over five years. And though Kyung Min’s caretakers have tried to shield him from this ongoing battle, he is entering into adolescence and is more aware that he is at the center of an ongoing dispute. It is hard for him to not have seen his mother in years, but to realize that much of her contact with him has been to manipulate him to hurt his father's family is a difficult matter for Kyung Min to cope with as he matures.

The lives of these children and their relationships with their North Korean mothers are complex. To say that we have put systems and rules in place to tackle all their issues is foolish. The best we can do is make sure our workers on the ground have been engaging with our children’s every need. We can say that our current workers truly love our children and that they make sure every hair on their head is in place and every problem they have is attended to.

Crossing Borders cares more about people than systems. As we continue to grow, we want to make sure we don’t lose this.

Please pray for us as we deal with diverse and complicated matters in families of Chinese fathers, lost children, distant North Korean mothers. Pray for our caretakers who deal with these problems day in and day out. And pray for our children, who are trying to make sense of their complex situations.