sex trafficking

For North Korean women, freedom in China can mean sex-trafficking

Tim Peters, a human rights activist and the founder of Helping Hands, speaks during a protest in front of the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, in 2007.

Tim Peters, a human rights activist and the founder of Helping Hands, speaks during a protest in front of the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, in 2007.

For many women who flee from North Korea into China, their futures are dependent upon the sex-trafficking market in China. Often sold to men who are disabled or elderly, these vulnerable women can be forced into situations that are far from the freedom they imagined.  

The South China Morning Post article features an interview with Miyoung, who was coerced into “choosing a husband” once sold to smugglers.

“[The couple] did everything to convince me that living with a Chinese man was my best choice to help my family back in North Korea,” she said. “They took me to the homes of various disabled or handicapped men in China for me to choose who I wanted to live with.

“I wept bitterly. I knew the punishment that awaited me in North Korea would be severe since I’d left without permission.”


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PTSD and North Korean Refugees

For North Koreans in China, finding help from anyone can be difficult. This is especially true for finding medical care. But for those who struggle with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD), finding help can be impossible. China struggles to deliver quality medical care to its citizens. The World Health Organization has ranked China’s medical care system 144 out of a possible 190 countries.

We found this to be true when we recently brought a doctor from the US to assess the medical needs of the refugees in our network. Refugees who had access to some medical care were often misdiagnosed or over prescribed medicines that didn’t treat the cause of their symptoms.

We also found that the refugees in our network were relatively healthy. They do not suffer from issues that many people in the developed world suffer from, such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Many of the symptoms that the refugees suffer from can in fact be related to PTSD.

Along with the internal symptoms of this condition (irritability, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, angry outbursts, etc.), many of our refugees display psychosomatic symptoms of PTSD. These are symptoms from a mental disorder that manifest themselves physically.

The symptoms that our doctor saw last year were all in line with textbook PTSD. Even in our new area where the refugees feel safe from immediate harm, they still display strong symptoms of PTSD.

It is important for us to handle this condition in a way that is consistent with our faith and is culturally sensitive.

The good news is that treatment for PTSD was already occurring. We have and are forming new faith communities. These communities are a place for our refugees to gather together for worship and fellowship.

This is happening in our communities now. This year we started three churches in the new area we are working in. Already, these churches are thriving and they are helping our people deal with the trauma they experienced in North Korea and China.

We will continue to improve our services but the bulk of their needs are being met. Please pray for us as we continue to support these churches and further expand our reach.

Next Steps: Reaching back to move forward

Second Wave is a program Crossing Borders operates to show the compassion of Christ to the children of North Korean refugee women. According to a US Government report, 70 percent of all North Korean refugees are women and 80 percent of them have been trafficked.

Let’s do the math here. If there have been an estimated 500,000 North Korean refugees who have fled to China since the famine, then approximately 350,000 of them are women. This means that 245,000 North Korean women have been sold in China.

An important fact to remember, that helps us understand this astonishing statistic, is that every North Korean refugee in China is an outlaw. China denies these people the most basic human rights, even though the country signed the UNHCR Refugee Convention of 1951. It is illegal to help a North Korean refugee, according to Chinese law. North Korean refugees are hunted down, arrested and deported to North Korea and sent to prison camps where they face torture and possible execution.

This leaves many children who have been born to North Korean mothers at risk. Many of these children have had mothers stolen away from them at the hands of Chinese authorities.

When Jong was about 6 years old, his mother was captured by Chinese officers and has not  been heard from since. He vaguely remembers what his mother looks like. He is in his teens now.

Jong’s father is a farmer and walks with a limp in one leg. His father has had brain surgery in the past, and is very forgetful. Because Jong’s father is not able to take care of him, Jong was brought to a Crossing Borders group home and has been under our care since.

Jong is a kind-hearted boy, who often looks for the approval of his caretaker, teachers, and other adults. He has often struggled in school, and has been described as slow by his teachers. Because of this, he has lacked effort and interest in his studies in the past.

However, Jong’s attitude changed last year, when two new boys were brought into his group home. Jong was told that he had to serve as an example for these two younger children and he took this call to action to heart. This past year, he has been much more studious and has been making better grades at school.

On a visit to China by our team last winter, Jong was found in his bedroom studying by himself while the rest of this housemates were playing games.

This summer, Crossing Borders sent a team to run a camp for children in our Second Wave program. During free time, the counselors reserved a room where children could talk to counselors about their problems and ask for prayers.

Jong met with one of our team members  and shared that he was beginning to remember his mother. Memories of her come in brief flashes but had a powerful impact on him. As the counselor prayed for him, Jong cried. For the first time in his life, Jong realized he really missed his mother, and wished he could be with her.

Crossing Borders understands that though progress and healing is underway, some of  the wounds in the hearts of these children are deep and often suppressed. China is a land of progress and many children are encouraged to forget painful memories from their past and work toward a brighter future. But in our work, Crossing Borders has found that sometimes, this isn’t possible. For children like Jong, old wounds come back regardless of how much a child tries to stifle them.

At the heart of Crossing Borders’ work is an effort to give these children an avenue to express their pain and to teach them to deal with it through principles taught in the Bible. This is our primary task as an organization in the face of such hardship. As we add programs and structure, this will not change.

What will become of Jong depends upon how he can process these old memories. It is our hope that he would be able to do so in a healthy, productive way and that he would be ready for whatever life throws at him.

This story can be found in our Newsletter, which was published last week. To get a copy of our newsletter, click on this link and sign up.