Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Korea, Democratic People's Republic of (Tier 3)

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking. North Korean women and girls commonly migrate to China, often with the help of a facilitator, seeking food, work, freedom, and better life prospects, but may then be forced into marriage, prostitution, or labor. Trafficking networks of Korean-Chinese and North Koreans (usually men) operate along the China-North Korean border, reportedly working with Chinese and North Korean border guards to recruit women for marriage or prostitution in China. North Korean women often pass through many hands, with multiple brokers involved in their trafficking. In some cases, friends, neighbors, and village acquaintances transfer them to traffickers. Some vulnerable North Korean women who make their own way to China are lured, drugged, or kidnapped by traffickers upon arrival. Others are offered jobs, but are subsequently trafficked into involuntary servitude, through forced marriages to Chinese men, often of Korean ethnicity, into forced prostitution in brothels, or the Internet sex industry. Some are forced to serve as hostesses in nightclubs and karaoke bars. Many victims are unable to speak Chinese and are held as prisoners by their traffickers. If found by Chinese authorities, victims are deported back to North Korea where they may face harsh punishment, and may be subject to forced labor in DPRK labor camps.

NGOs and researchers estimate that thousands of undocumented North Koreans currently live in northeast China, and as many as 70 percent of them are women. There is no reliable information on how many of these North Koreans have been trafficked, but their status in China as illegal economic migrants who may be deported to North Korea makes them particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Reports indicate corruption exists involving North Korean border guards facilitating cross-border movement, particularly involving traffickers and professional border crossers.

Within North Korea, forced labor is part of an established system of political repression. North Koreans do not have a choice in the work the government assigns them and are not free to change jobs at will. The North Korean government is directly involved in subjecting North Koreans to forced labor in prison camps. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons are held in political prison camps in remote areas of the country; many of these prisoners were not duly convicted of a criminal offense. In prison camps, all prisoners, including children, are subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, and farming for long hours under harsh conditions. Reports indicate that political prisoners endure severe conditions, including little food or medical care, and brutal punishments; many are not expected to survive. Many prisoners fell ill or died, due to harsh labor conditions, inadequate food, beatings, lack of medical care, and unhygienic conditions.

The North Korean government recruits workers for work abroad under bilateral contracts with foreign governments, including in Russia; countries in Africa; Central and Eastern Europe; and East and Southeast Asia, including Mongolia; and the Middle East. There are credible reports that many North Korean workers sent abroad by the government under these contracts are subjected to forced labor, with their movement and communications constantly under surveillance and restricted by North Korean government "minders." Credible reports state that they face threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in North Korea if they attempt to escape or complain to outside parties. Workers' salaries are deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government, which keeps most of the money, claiming fees for various "voluntary" contributions to government endeavors. Workers reportedly only receive a fraction of the money paid to the North Korean government for their work. Tens of thousands of North Korean workers are estimated to be employed in logging camps in Russia's Far East, where they reportedly have only two days of rest per year and face punishments if they fail to meet production targets. Wages of some North Korean workers employed in Russia reportedly were withheld until the laborers returned home, in a coercive tactic by North Korean authorities to compel their labor. North Korean workers at joint ventures with foreign investors within the DPRK are employed under arrangements similar to those that apply to overseas contract workers.

The North Korean government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government has denied explicitly that human trafficking is a problem. Authorities do not differentiate between trafficking and illegal border crossing, and victims are punished for violation of migration laws. The government contributes to the problem of trafficking through its harsh restrictions on emigration, its poor economic and food situation, and through its forced labor prison camps, where North Koreans live in conditions of servitude, receiving little food and little, if any, medical care.

Recommendations for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea: Improve the poor economic, social, political, and human rights conditions in North Korea that create an enabling environment for human trafficking; recognize human trafficking as a problem in North Korea, and one that is distinct from human smuggling; cease the practice of forced labor in prison and detention facilities; institute systematic victim identification procedures to identify and protect victims of trafficking; provide assistance to victims of trafficking and forge partnerships with international organizations and NGOs to aid in this effort; and cease the systematic punishment of trafficking victims in forced labor camps.


The North Korean government made no discernible law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The government continues to deny the existence of trafficking as a problem. The country's penal code prohibits crossing the border without permission; this provision, however, is used against both traffickers and trafficking victims. Article 233 of the Penal Code criminalizes border crossing and Article 234 prohibits border guards from assisting border crossers; both articles carry a penalty of up to two to five years of labor correction. Other provisions of North Korean law could be used to prosecute trafficking offenses, such as prohibitions on abduction; for example, Article 289 of the Penal Code criminalizes the abduction of children and Article 290 criminalizes the abduction of individuals or groups; both articles carry a penalty of up to three to 10 years of labor correction. Article 7 of the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes forbids trafficking in women. However, fair trials did not occur in North Korea and the government was not transparent with its law enforcement data, so it remained unclear under what provisions of the law, if any, traffickers were prosecuted. There were no known prosecutions or convictions during the reporting period against trafficking offenders. Nonetheless, there was evidence that DPRK authorities enforced laws that seek to limit all cross-border migration, including refugee outflows, which often end up harming trafficking victims and perpetrators alike. Reports indicate that more restrictions were imposed on leaving North Korea during the last year, and there are reports of more severe punishments being imposed on those who seek to leave the country and those who are forcibly returned after having successfully left illegally. Reports by North Korean defectors include instances of the government punishing traffickers, including execution; however, NGO reports indicate that the "traffickers" may include activists or professional border crossers who assist North Koreans voluntarily leaving for China.


The North Korean government did not make any known attempts to protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government reported no efforts to identify individuals as victims of trafficking or to assist trafficking victims. The government did not ensure that trafficking victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. On the contrary, victims undergo severe punishment by the authorities if caught attempting to cross the border or if deported back to North Korea by Chinese officials. While authorities screened repatriated North Koreans for contacts with South Koreans and exposure to South Korean cultural influences, they did not make a distinction between trafficking victims and illegal migrants. North Koreans forcibly repatriated by Chinese authorities, including a significant number of women believed to be trafficking victims, were sent to prison camps, where they may have been subjected to forced labor, torture, sexual abuse by prison guards, or other severe punishment. Sentences in these prison camps may range from one month to several years, and victims may continue to face discrimination once released. Repatriated victims who were suspected of having become pregnant with a child of possible Chinese paternity may be subject to forced abortions and infanticide; reports indicate that prison authorities may brutally kill infants born to repatriated victims while in prison. Government authorities provided no discernible protection services to victims of trafficking and did not permit indigenous NGOs to operate in North Korea; the few international NGOs allowed in the DPRK were not permitted to assist trafficking victims. The government neither encouraged victims to assist in investigations against their traffickers nor provided legal alternatives to removal to countries in which the victim may face severe hardship or retribution.


North Korean authorities made no efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Internal conditions in the DPRK prompted many North Koreans to flee the country, making them particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Although press reports indicated that border security increased during the reporting period, there was no evidence that the government attempted to prevent human trafficking by screening migrants along the border, nor did the government differentiate between trafficking and illegal migration or defection. The government may have cracked down on official corruption that facilitates cross-border trafficking, however there are reports that corruption among border officials continued to facilitate trafficking. DPRK authorities made no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. North Korea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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