Mon, Dec 18, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Sold North Korean brides face tough decisions in China

Enticed across the border with promises of work, some of the women sold to Chinese men are content, while some are abused and others face choosing to leave their children behind again, this time in China


Illustration: Yusha

The North Korean woman drives a motorbike slowly down a narrow lane shaded by tall corn to the farmhouse where she lives with the disabled Chinese man who bought her.

It has been 11 years since she was lured across the border by the prospect of work and instead trafficked into a life of hardship. In those years, she has lived with the dread that Chinese police will arrest her and send her back to be jailed and tortured in North Korea. She has struggled with the scorn of neighbors who see her as an outsider.

Most of all, she has been haunted by grief and regret over the children she had to leave behind.

“When I first came here, I spent all day drinking because I worried a lot about my kids in North Korea,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only as S.Y. due to safety concerns. “I was quite out of my mind.”

Experts estimate that thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of North Korean women have been trafficked across the border and sold as brides since a crippling famine in North Korea killed hundreds of thousands of people in the mid-1990s.

Brokers tell the women they can find jobs in China, but instead sell them to Chinese men, mostly poor farmers in three border provinces who struggle to find brides in part because Beijing’s one-child policy led to the abortion of many female fetuses.

Like S.Y., many of the women have children still in their homeland.

Their plight is largely ignored, partly because the women almost never agree to interviews. The Associated Press spoke with seven trafficked North Korean women and three Chinese husbands.

Since the women have been trafficked to China, they are living in the country illegally and have never officially married their husbands.

Some of the North Koreans get along with their new families and are satisfied with their new life in China. Others are abused by their husbands, or are ignored or mocked by their new relatives and neighbors. Others have risked the perilous journey to South Korea — with some having to make the heart-wrenching choice to leave children behind again, this time in China.


The first years were the hardest, S.Y. said.

A widow from a city near Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, she did not even give her two sons a proper goodbye when she left for China, thinking she would be able to quickly return home after making some money. Instead a broker sold her to her new husband for 14,000 yuan (US$2,122).

Although the now 53-year-old said she was treated well by her Chinese husband, and the two have a daughter together, she was never able to forget her North Korean children who she last saw in 2006.

One day, saddened and frustrated, she swallowed a box of sleeping pills in a suicide attempt. When she was revived she said she began to realize that her half-Chinese daughter needed her.

She has passed on the chance to flee to South Korea, saying she worries about leaving her daughter and husband, a poor farmer with polio.

“I’m living here because of my family ... and because I feel grateful to my husband,” S.Y. said. “What matters is not breaking up our family.”

Her 55-year-old husband and his relatives sold hogs and corn to pay brokers to check on S.Y.’s children in North Korea. They found that her brother was raising her sons and S.Y.’s husband sent 15,000 yuan ($2,273) to help support them.

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