A North Korean Orphan in China
The Great North Korean famine drove Ha-neul’s mother into China to search for food. But when her mother crossed the border, she was captured by traffickers and sold to a man in a town near the border.
North Korean women have been sold by the thousands to feed China’s gender disparity. In some of China’s most densely populated regions, there are three boys for every girl born. This is because of China’s One-Child Policy, which China changed last year, allowing families to have two children.
But the damaging effects of this policy have lasting impacts that cannot be easily erased, especially for China’s poor who cannot find wives.
North Korean refugees have no rights in China. It is illegal for them to be in the country. If discovered by the police, they are sent back to North Korea where they will serve hard time in the country’s infamous system of prison camps. It is a common practice by the regime to execute people who dare to leave the country.
Seventy percent of North Korean refugees are women and 80 percent of these women have been trafficked, according to a 2008 US Congressional Report.
Ha-neul’s mother had no choice but to marry and give birth to their only child in 2002. In 2004 her mother decided to take the Underground Railroad through China to gain refuge in South Korea. Her mother was described as tough. She was as strong as a man, according to people who knew her. And when she arrived in South Korea, she took up welding.
Ha-neul’s father joined her mother in South Korea and took odd jobs. The couple put Ha-neul in the care of a friend in China. They would send money for Ha-neul but they did not want their daughter to join them in South Korea for reasons that were not explained to us.
Her father paid a visit to Ha-neul in the summer of 2008 and then disappeared. There were rumors that he was killed in South Korea or was jailed in China.
Shortly after his disappearance, support for Ha-neul stopped. The family that was taking care of the young girl, now six-years-old, took her into town, dropped her off and left her to fend for herself.
Ha-neul roamed the streets, crying and asking people for help. She made it to the authorities who were somehow able to send her to her uncle, who took custody of her. Her uncle also purchased a North Korean wife who abandoned him and their young daughter. He was described to our workers on the ground as a man who was loving and caring but lacked the skills to hold a job.
When our staff visited their home on multiple occasions, it was in disarray. Dirty dishes were scattered where they slept. The two girls were covered in soot. The children were often left alone to fend for themselves as Ha-neul’s uncle would leave town to find work. Our worker on the field would make frequent visits and bring them to church on Sundays.
Ha-neul gradually opened up to our field staff. She was described as smart and artistic. Over the years our staff got to know her and described her as a great student, eager to learn and motherly. She was very protective of her younger cousin.
Crossing Borders sends a team of volunteers to spend time with the children in our network each year. Children learn English, hear messages on how they can heal from their past and receive vital career training. This camp is a powerful time for these children who, like Ha-neul, have many hidden wounds.
During our sessions she would listen attentively. She would ask for prayers for her father and mother. It was clear that she was moving on from her past and attempting to forge a future for herself. But early last year, Ha-neul’s mother contacted her and said she wanted Ha-neul to join her in South Korea.
In the spring Ha-neul boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to reunite with a mother she barely remembered.
Crossing Borders believes that the best environment for our children is for them to live with their parents, especially their mothers. Of the 53 children in our network, 20 have mothers who have successfully made it to South Korea. Fifteen of these children have had contact with their mothers. Two have plans to reunite with them.
Family fighting and unforeseen circumstances often prevent these children from being with their mothers. This is why we continue to help them, minister to them, and point them to hope in their times of darkness.
It is estimated by the United Nations that there are about 40,000 of these children in China. With your help we have been able to extend a helping hand to a small fraction of them. Through continued efforts we can help more.
The Bible is clear that we must care for the orphan, the widow and the poor. It is also clear that we must do this out of love. This is why our mission is to “show the compassion of Christ to North Koreans and their children in China.” For it is out of Christ’s great compassion for children like Ha-neul that we find strength to carry on.
Ha-neul is adjusting to life in South Korea and is doing well. She has finally reunited with her mother.
We know that their reunion will erase some of the anguish this young girl has experienced in her life. The rest must be taken to God.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.