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Mass defection highlights plight of N.K. women in China

All Headlines 16:44 April 11, 2016

BEIJING/SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- Chinese media have recently shed light on the plight of North Korean women in China amid the surprise defection of 12 North Korean female employees who reportedly worked at a Pyongyang-run restaurant in China.

In a recent report, The Beijing News said some North Korean women have resorted to marrying Chinese men who are much older, divorced or disabled simply in order to survive.

Many North Korean defectors risk their lives to cross the border into China before traveling to Southeast Asian countries with the hopes of being sent to South Korea.

The 12 North Korean women, who arrived in South Korea last week along with a male manager, were different from most North Koreans in China in that they carried passports. The vast majority of North Korean defectors are known to live in China illegally under the constant threat of being deported to their home country.

One village chief from Yanji in China's Jilin Province near the border with North Korea told the paper that 10 North Korean women married into Chinese families in his village in the past 20 years. Of them, seven have left for the South, one has gone missing, another has been deported to the North, leaving only one in the village, he said.

One North Korean woman who was married to a Chinese man defected to the South via Thailand, but had to pay 20,000 yuan to a broker with money her family borrowed from close friends, the paper said. The woman has been struggling to bring her family over to the South, it added.

According to the village chief, North Korean women are mostly quiet and hardworking, rarely causing any trouble. However, he recalled one incident in which one North Korean woman slapped another North Korean woman for insulting the country's leader, Kim Jong-un.

North Korean women are also known to become victims of sex slavery and human trafficking, but few are able to resist for fear of being sent back to the North.

Kim Ok-seon, a 40-year-old North Korean woman who defected to the South in 2010, told Yonhap News Agency in Seoul that she and her co-workers had to work up to 18 hours per day at a Pyongyang-run restaurant in China.

"I never had enough sleep and the work was tough, but I had to endure it all because of my family at home (in the North)," she said. Pyongyang is known to punish defectors and disloyal workers by sending their families to concentration camps or subjecting them to other disciplinary measures.

Instead of being paid proper wages, the employees had to write in a ledger whenever they needed money and spend it under the supervision of a manager, Kim said.

hague@yna.co.kr
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