WATCH: This woman was sold as a bride in China. Here’s her story.

0
377

North Korean native Kim Jeong-ah found herself alone and starving.  She knew she couldn’t stay any longer in North Korea or she’d die. That was when she decided to go to China — even though she knew she’d be sold there. She just hoped she wouldn’t be sold into the sex trade.

“I had to make a choice between dying in North Korea and being sold in China. As it is human instinct to survive, I chose to be sold in China. Not knowing what the outcome was going to be, I chose to rather be sold. I just hoped that I wouldn’t be sold into prostitution,” she says.

Tens of thousands of North Korean women have crossed the border into China to avoid starving to death in a country whose economy collapsed years ago. They are prime targets to be sold into the sex trade or to Chinese men seeking a bride, as China has a shortage of women. Some, like Ms. Kim, know they’ll be sold once they cross the border, as brokers who bring women across the border know the sale of North Korean women is lucrative.

The months leading up to that decision to leave were hell, she says. After getting divorced, her husband kicked her out on the streets, and her parents — shamed by their daughter’s divorce in an ultra-conservative country — turned their back on her. Previously, her ex-husband had kicked her in the stomach while she was seven years pregnant, causing the child’s premature birth. Since North Korea has very little real medical care or know-how, the premature baby died soon after birth. That’s why she divorced him.

After the divorce, she became homeless, going from friend’s house to friend’s house to sleep, and wondering the streets by day.

After the divorce, she became homeless, going from friend’s house to friend’s house to sleep, and wondering the streets by day.

“I could no longer stay in North Korea… It had to do with having no food,” she told Borderless News Online.

It was difficult to ask friends for food in a nation where most people don’t have much to spare.

“Many households are struggling to feed their families,” she says, explaining that most North Koreans are constantly hungry, except for the few who are politically connected, and because of this it was hard to ask friends for food.

“So under these dire circumstance, I had to always be cautious around them and lived under constant pressure. I would eat breakfast, drink one cup of water in the morning and come out to the streets. I would eat half a piece of Chinese bread for lunch and save the other half for dinner,” she says.

“For a period of three months, I endured through this terrible situation. But after that, I felt that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I could only stay at a friend’s place at most two days. So for three months, I moved around from place to place and finally, I decided to escape,” she says.

“There are many merchants (on the North Korean side of the border) that will help you to escape and take you to China. I asked one of them (to take me across). These merchants also work as brokers that guide North Korean defectors to China,” she said.

Many North Korean woman already know the risks of falling victim to human trafficking prior to leaving, but take their chances in order to survive.

“I already knew what I was getting myself into. This was my last resort to escape from North Korea because I knew I could not live there. When I told the broker that I wanted go to China, he told me that I could go under the condition that I am going to be sold,” she says.  

“I already knew what I was getting myself into. When I told the broker that I wanted go to China, he told me that I could go under the condition that I am going to be sold.”  

“But even knowing that I was going to be sold, I chose to go because this was matter of life and death. I had to make a choice between dying in North Korea and being sold in China. As it is human instinct to survive, I chose to be sold in China,” she says.

“Not knowing what the outcome was going to be, I chose to rather be sold. I just hoped that I wouldn’t be sold into prostitution. So in the end, I was sold as a wife for one of the older bachelors in the countryside China. I was sold for 19,000 Renminbi,” she says.

Speaking of the man who bought her, she says: “He was not an old man, just an older bachelor. He was 8 years older than me. Because we were only 8 years apart, I did not feel as if he was much older than me. He was never married and I was his first experience with a woman,” she says, explaining that the man had not had any prior sexual experience prior to meeting her.

“When I got there, I was not feeling so well and stayed in bed most of the time. So we did not have many interactions in the beginning. But probably one of the most shameful experiences was that due to a language barrier, he always treated me as if I were stupid,” she says.

“For example, he would just wave and mime eating to convey that we were having a meal. After one or two years, I started to understand Chinese a little better. He told me then that when I first came, his relatives used to call me stupid because I couldn’t understand anything. Apparently, I smiled at them whenever they made fun of me because I couldn’t understand a thing,” she says.

“From this story, I constantly felt very ashamed. The Chinese man that I married was one of the nicer ones. Some defector women who meet horrible Chinese men are forced to have sex on the very first day they arrive,” she says.

“In my case, when I arrived, I was running a high fever. I was relatively young. I was only 31 years old and I was also tall. Other North Korean defectors were sold for 5000 RMB, but I was sold for 19,000. They negotiate the price of women based on their looks. From this, I did not feel as much shame,” she says.

“But the way in which they treated me as if I were stupid because I could not understand the language—I felt most shame from that,” she says.

Many of the Chinese men who purchase North Korean women as brides live in isolated, rural areas of China — a different world from the shiny new buildings in Beijing and Shanghai, and a throwback to a time before globalization brought massive wealth to China.  Women in these areas tend to leave for a better life in the city, but men often stay behind to take care of their parents or small family farms. That’s why many remain single late into their 30s.

Many of the Chinese men who purchase North Korean women as brides live in isolated, rural areas of China — a different world from the shiny new buildings in Beijing.

Many of these men have have very little education, and often have very little contact outside their relatives and villages. The vast majority would have no contact with anyone speaking a foreign language.

“Because he would always mime simple things like sleeping and eating repeatedly, as if I were stupid. One time, the second day after I was sold, my husband wanted to explain that he wanted to buy me clothes at a market. To explain this, he got naked and put on his clothes repeatedly. He then pretended to walk somewhere, held the money as if he were giving the money to a merchant and pretended to grab clothes. He did this for an hour,” she says.

“In reality, I actually understood what he was trying to say after 10 minutes of him doing these gestures, but I was so taken aback that I just did not say anything on purpose. He made me feel as if I were stupid. After an hour, I said ‘Okay, let’s go.'”

“He then got upset because I made him do this for an hour and did not say anything, even though I understood what he was trying to say. But I did not say anything for a long time just to get back at him, because he treated me as if I were stupid,” she says.

Ms. Kim says she the hardest part of her life was when her Chinese husband found out she was pregnant with her previous husband’s child, just a month after she arrived in China.

“When I left my North Korean husband, I did not know that I was pregnant. I did not know that I was pregnant until one month into my time in China. I had finalized my divorce with my North Korean husband and after that I stayed at my friend’s place for another month. By the time I came to China and stayed for one month there, I found out that I was already about three months pregnant,” she says.

“So I went to the hospital and I found out that I had been three months pregnant. Before I had time to debate whether I should have abortion or not, the same night when I went back home, the police came to my house,” she says.

Neighbors in China, especially rural areas, often inform on each other and go to the police when something strange is happening with their neighbors. As Ms. Kim was staying in the country illegally, it’s likely a neighbor got wind that there was a North Korean living nearby, and told the police.

As she was staying illegally in China, the police wanted to deport her to North Korea. But Ms. Kim knew she would face starvation again if she went back. Plus, it’s illegal in North Korea to leave the country, and she could be put in prison for her actions. She could also face a long prison sentence with hard labor if North Korean security forces found out that she had married a Chinese man, as North Korea’s government looks down on their “pure” North Korean women being made “dirty” by sex with a foreign man.

“So I tried hurt myself. I told the police that if I were to be sent back to North Korea, I would rather kill myself,” she says.

“I told them as long as I was alive, I would never go back. If I were to go back, they would have to send me back as a dead corpse, I told them. At the time, I was not feeling well. My Chinese husband could not grasp what was going on. When I had to go to the police station, I was worn out both mentally and physically.The police then told me to think about the child inside my body. I responded, ‘How can I think about the child when my life is at risk?'”

TO BE CONTINUED ON FRIDAY…

No material may be fully re-printed or re-broadcast without the written permission of Borderless News Online.