Kim Jeong-ah knew that if she didn’t leave North Korea, she’d never survive. That’s why she agreed to be sold as a wife to a man in China’s rural countryside.
“When I told the broker I wanted to go to China, he told me that I could go on the condition that I would be sold,” she told Borderless News Online. “Even knowing that I was going to be sold, I chose to go because it was a matter of life and death.”
Kim Jeong-ah is from North Korea, the source of thousands of foreign brides in China. As the number of North Korean women escaping to China is on the rise, they are at danger of being sold against their will. Sometimes they are sold into prostitution, but mostly they are sold as brides for rural Chinese men.
In China, an estimated 30 million to 40 million men are unable to find wives, according to The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as cited by The Economist. That’s partly because under China’s one-child policy, couples preferred to have boys and aborted millions of female babies. While women tend to leave villages in search of better incomes and higher-earning men, rural men often stay at home to look after their aging parents and any land they may own.
With no women to marry, there’s been a surge in demand among Chinese men for brides from much poorer neighboring countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and North Korea.
North Korean women are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. If they are sold, they cannot go to the police for help, as Chinese cops are instructed to return them to North Korea, where they will be interrogated and severely punished for the “crime” of leaving the country.
Being interrogated in North Korea is nothing to take lightly. According to a UN report, women under interrogation have been raped and even killed by police, even before they even make it to trial.
China’s massive number of single men has led to a surge of matchmakers in China who promise to get brides from neighboring countries for Chinese men. Some women are trying to find a way out of poverty in their own countries, and freely allow themselves to be sold to a future husband.
Kim Jeong-ah got pregnant and had a child while in China. But she was constantly hunted by authorities, and was afraid they’d catch her and send her back to North Korea, where she’d likely be tortured and jailed for illegally leaving North Korea. With no other options, she left China for a third country, and finally made it to South Korea.
But she left a child behind, and is one of many North Korean who have children in China, with no way to get them back.
She now heads Seoul-based Tongil Mom, a group that advocates on behalf of North Korean women who’ve left children behind in China.
WATCH the video above to hear her story.
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