North Korean Orphans


The North Korean refugee crisis is a plight of unrecognized victims. In this body of people are the children of North Korean refugees who have little to no control over the circumstances that leave them vulnerable, living without the support of shelter, sustenance, or family.

According to estimates based on our refugee network, 56% of the 200,000 refugees hiding in China today are women who have been trafficked into forced marriages with Chinese men. Refugee women are sold to the poorest of China’s farmers and laborers who are often disabled or unable to provide financially stable lives. North Koreans are also vulnerable to arrest by the Chinese police. If they are caught, they will be repatriated to the North Korean government and face sentences in labor camps or execution. Facing potential repatriation, abuse, and severe boundaries upon their quality of life, many North Korean women attempt to escape China to South Korea.

As of 2016, it was approximated that up to 30,000 half-North Korean children are currently in China as the result of forced marriages between North Korean refugee women and Chinese men. This is, of course, excluding the number of North Korean children who are brought across the North Korean-Chinese border with their fleeing mothers. As North Korean mothers escape at the risk of their lives or are arrested by Chinese authorities, their children are often left behind. These are children who have no protection or support as their Chinese fathers often struggle to provide the resources to feed, shelter, and educate their families.


The United Nations Children's Fund defines an “orphan” as “a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death.” While not all the children who are victims of the North Korean refugee crises are left orphaned, a great number have lost one or both parents to the circumstances surrounding their lives. When abandoned, the status of their parents, especially their mothers, can often be left unknown.

All of the North Korean orphans and children in Crossing Borders’ care have no immediate family who can adequately care for their needs. A number of them have reported instances of physical and psychological abuse. Half-North Korean children are also not granted citizenship under naturalization. They must be explicitly reported by their Chinese fathers with documents proving that their mothers have been repatriated back to North Korea. But even as half-North Korean children are granted Chinese citizenship, they are not given basic rights to healthcare or education and left vulnerable without present or capable guardians.

For this reason, North Korean orphans and children are a population targeted for aid and support in our organization. While North Korean orphans and children cannot be immediately adopted by any foreign agencies, there are opportunities for the needs of sustenance, shelter, and education to be provided in China. Vocational schools and programs of support are vital to the maturation of many North Korean children who are swiftly growing into young adults. Financial support to local caretakers who house and feed North Korean orphans in group homes is a significant, present need in China.