torsdag 30. juli 2020

Interview: They Said My Face Looked Pretty But Also Old, So $1,100 Was All I Was Worth

In the spring of 2000, Park Ji-young (a pseudonym) crossed the Yalu river into China to escape a dire situation in her native North Korea, which was struggling to recover from a 1994-1998 famine that killed millions of North Koreans -- as much as 10 percent of its population by some estimates. But this was not the first time she had ventured across the border—she had made two trips previously and had become separated from her daughter.

This time the desperate mother was looking to reunite with her child and make a life for herself, possibly in South Korea, but she was again caught by Chinese police in Changbai, an ethnic Korean autonomous county across the border from the North Korean city of Hyesan. She fully expected to be sent back to North Korea again, when the authorities made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

They wanted Park’s help in taking down several human trafficking rings that preyed on North Korean women escaping into China. In return they promised to help her find her daughter, and quietly send them back to North Korea. With nothing to lose, Park agreed and went immediately to work helping infiltrate and arrest bride sellers and their customers.

Trafficking of North Korean women in China was at or near its peak at the time Park got caught. Estimates place the number of North Koreans illegally in China at about 150,000 in 1999 according to a 2019 report published by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).