Hundreds of thousands of women have fled North Korea, only to find themselves living in a Chinese region known as the Red Zone in conditions similar to the dystopian sci fi television show The Handmaid’s Tale. A new report published by international human rights law firms Global Rights Compliance lifts the lid on the appalling conditions endured by vulnerable women and girls, with one telling of being “kicked and beaten” after being trafficked across the border.
The Red Zone is a dangerous border region in which Chinese sex and bride trafficking gangs prey on the vast numbers seeking to escape the totalitarian Hermit State, led by Kim Jong-un.
The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Elizabeth Moss, and based on a 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, is set in the near future in a world where fertility rates have collapsed, in which the tyrannical government of Gilead rules over the former United States, with women ruthlessly subjugated.
The report, entitled The Real Life Handmaid’s Tale, reveals many are simply swapping one form of oppression for another, with systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy commonplace in their new home.
A series of pandemic induced lockdowns, closed borders and information blackouts in both China and North Korea have created a black hole of human rights abuses in the region, says GRC, which worked closely with a group of Seoul-based North Korean Human Rights organisations including the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB).
Previously published figures suggest there are between 150,000 – 200,000 North Korean defectors in China, but GRC believes the situation is even grimmer, with vastly more women and girls, some as young as 12, in the Red Zone.
Current estimates are that 70-80 percent of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade.2
Trafficking of North Korean women is a lucrative business, which reportedly generates more than £86 million annually for Chinese and North Korean organised crime networks, often being sold for as little as a few hundred dollars.
One North Korean woman, who was trafficked to Yanbian in Northeast China, told investigators from NKDB, whose testimony is stored in NKDB’s Unified Human Rights Database containing more than 82,000 cases of violations: “I was sold to a Han Chinese living in Yanbian.
“We lived together for oneyear and we couldn’t have a child, so he beat me.
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“He kicked me. He kicked my head a lot. I have depression now as the aftermath.”
Those living residing in the Red Zone live in constant fear of forced repatriation as financial incentives are high for people reporting North Korean refugees.
Defectors forcibly repatriated to North Korea are labelled as ‘traitors,’ and subsequently subjected to invasive strip searches during interrogations and imprisoned, often without trial. Some are even issued an automatic death sentence on re-entry to North Korea.
Those who escape death are often sent to forced labour camps, where a blanket policy of forced abortion for pregnant women defectors returned to North Korea is in wide effect.
Sofia Evangelou, North Korea Lead Legal Advisor for Global Rights Compliance commented: “A black hole of information currently exists around China’s Red Zone which means that many more North Korean women and girls are falling victims of China’s sex slave industry.
“The current situation leaves North Korean women and girls exposed to the stark reality of either being sold into a lifetime of sexual and mental abuse, slavery, forced labour, or reaching freedom.”
She continued: “The pandemic of international silence around the human rights atrocities against North Korean women and girls must end. The illegal sexual slavery of women and girls will not stop until a concerted international effort is mobilised.
“The international community can no longer turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed against women and children, fleeing for their lives and – in too many cases – those of their unborn children.”
Describing what needed to be done end to human rights violations against North Korean women and girls, she added: “A full investigation into the human rights abuses suffered by women in and around North Korea is urgently needed. If nothing is done to address the urgent human rights situation for North Korean women, the situation will only get worse, with many hundreds of thousands more women falling victim to exploitation, forced labour, and sex and bride trafficking.
“The international community must take a stand against these atrocities and work together to ensure that the rights of these women are protected.”