A steady stream of North Korean defectors make their way down through China, across to Laos, then into Thailand and eventually to South Korea. Most are women from the northern provinces, considered down-and-out even by North Korean standards, and face an extremely precarious life in northeastern China.
Many had been sold — some knowingly, thinking life couldn’t get any worse. But other women had been tricked into thinking they were heading to jobs in China, only to find that the man who offered to help them escape, paying bribes to border soldiers and arranging passage, turned out to be a trafficker, selling the women and pocketing the profits.
The buyers are men in the countryside who are too poor or unappealing to get a wife any other way, and the women are stuck in remote villages where they cannot communicate with the locals — if they are permitted to leave the house, that is.
Women ages 15 to 25 are the most prized, fetching between $10,000 and $12,000, brokers and humanitarian workers say, while women in their 30s can be acquired for half that. These increased prices mean that some Chinese families are spending their entire life savings to buy a North Korean woman, and as a result the women are sometimes shackled inside the house.
But even if the women are allowed out and even after they learn some Chinese, venturing into the open is a risky business. If they’re caught by the Chinese police, they face repatriation to North Korea and, at a minimum, time in a labor camp. Read more