After Seon-mi’s mother escaped North Korea, hoping to find her way to South Korea, she was sold by traffickers to a man in a northeastern Chinese village. The man was a violent schizophrenic, but the mother was trapped. She lacked proper papers in China and was vulnerable to forced repatriation to North Korea, where she could face imprisonment, torture or worse. The two had a child, Seon-mi, who is now 11.
“I used to cry in the corner of the room while my father thrashed my mom,” Seon-mi recalled of her early years in China. “She once attempted suicide with rat poison.” When Seon-mi was about 6, her Chinese father murdered his own parents with a knife and then killed himself. But before he did so, he slashed Seon-mi nine times in the chin, neck and shoulder. Despite repeated plastic surgeries in South Korea, which the mother and daughter finally reached, the girl’s scars are still visible.
Seon-mi’s mother reached South Korea with the help of a smuggler and later sent for Seon-mi, who could go there legally because, having been born in China, she held a Chinese passport.
When children were born in China, South Korea’s government does not officially consider them defectors from the North. That means they get limited access to the governmental support normally given to defectors, like free health care, free college enrollment and housing subsidies.
Once enrolled in South Korean schools, classmates often taunt them for their background and for not speaking Korean well. Further complicating matters is that their mothers often start new families with men they meet in South Korea, straining ties at home.
Many drop out of school and end up in shelters, like the Rev. Chun Ki-won’s Durihana International School in Seoul, as Seon-mi did soon after her arrival in South Korea in 2015. Read more
“These children are more disadvantaged than North Korean defectors themselves,” Mr. Chun said. “Giving them South Korean citizenship is about all the government does for them.”
[The New York Times]