Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Korea, 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, Republic of, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
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, Republic of (Tier 1)

The Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) is a source, transit, and destination country for men and women subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor. Some men and women from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Colombia, Mongolia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries are recruited for employment or marriage in the ROK, and subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Some foreign women who entered the country on entertainment visas, were trafficked for forced prostitution. Some women from less developed countries recruited for marriage with South Korean men through international marriage brokers are subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor upon arrival in the ROK or when running away from abusive spouses; some brokers reportedly charged up to $20,000 from Korean clients. The use of debt bondage was common among sex trafficking victims, and employers and brokers often found ways to compound victims' debt. Many of these women also faced nonpayment of earnings, withholding of their passports, and restrictions on their movements. South Korean women were subjected to forced prostitution domestically and abroad in destinations including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia, many coerced by traffickers to whom they owed debts. According to government authorities, South Korean teenagers are increasingly exploited in prostitution; particularly runaways, more than 95 percent of commercial sexual exploitation of children in South Korea is arranged over the Internet.

Migrant workers who travel to the ROK for employment may incur thousands of dollars in debts, contributing to their vulnerability to debt bondage. There are approximately 500,000 low-skilled migrant workers in the ROK from elsewhere in Asia, many of whom were working under the Employment Permit System (EPS). While protections were implemented for EPS workers, observers claimed the EPS assigns excessive power to employers over workers' mobility and legal status, making them vulnerable to trafficking. Migrant workers commonly face conditions indicative of forced labor, including nonpayment of wages, withholding of passports, and work upon arrival in the ROK that differs from the job description offered to them in their country of origin. Korean men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The Government of the Republic of Korea fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government reported significant efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period, including through anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable groups, such as teenagers at risk of commercial sexual exploitation and foreign wives in South Korea. South Korea also maintains an extensive network of victim protection services throughout the country, and works in cooperation with NGOs to provide care to identified victims of trafficking. In addition, South Korea allocated significant resources to protecting victims of trafficking and continued to train law enforcement and other government officials on trafficking in persons. The government's efforts to investigate labor trafficking remained relatively weak, however, and the government did not institute formal procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking.

Recommendations for the Republic of Korea: Enact drafted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that defines and prohibits trafficking in persons; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders, including those involved in labor trafficking; ensure that convicted traffickers receive jail sentences for trafficking offenses; develop and implement formal victim identification procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including women arrested for prostitution and illegal immigrants; make greater efforts to identify victims of forced labor among migrant workers, such as those who file complaints of unpaid wages; proactively grant victims permission to work pending investigations and prosecutions against their traffickers; and take steps to increase awareness of child sex tourism and enforce laws against South Koreans engaging in such acts.


The ROK government took adequate steps to prosecute trafficking offenses during the reporting period, but its efforts were hampered by the lack of a clear law prohibiting all forms of trafficking. South Korea prohibits most aspects of trafficking through its 2004 Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic and its Labor Standards Act, which prescribe up to 10 years' and five years' imprisonment, respectively; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed penalties for other serious crimes. The government also reports using other criminal statutes related to kidnapping and juvenile protection to prosecute and punish trafficking offenses. During the reporting period, government authorities reported investigating 40 cases under the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic; however, this resulted in only six convictions – a significant decrease from the 17 convictions reported last year – with only four traffickers serving prison sentences ranging from 18 months to two years; two trafficking offenders received only fines as punishment. Authorities investigated 43 cases under the Labor Standards Act, but reported only one indictment and no convictions or sentences for forced labor. The government reported 338 investigations under other statutes related to trafficking, resulting in 110 indictments, 68 convictions, and 37 prison sentences. The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) received over 9,000 complaints from migrant workers of $19 million in unpaid wages and reported helping resolve 96 percent of these cases; the ROK did not, however, report investigating any of these complaints for forced labor. During July and August 2010, ROK police authorities conducted a special crackdown on illegal international marriage brokers, arresting 761 for illegal operations and indicting 399 of them. Korean authorities also continued to train law enforcement and other government officials on trafficking and created a standardized training program on sex trafficking prevention. There were some reports police officers took bribes from brothel owners in exchange for prior notice about police raids; the government did not, however, report any law enforcement efforts against official complicity in trafficking offenses. During the reporting period, the government upgraded its data collection system to provide more detailed information on human trafficking prosecutions.


The Government of the Republic of Korea sustained robust efforts to protect trafficking victims during the reporting period, but its victim protection efforts were weakened by its lack of formal proactive victim identification procedures across the government. In 2010, the government spent approximately $16.8 million to protect sex trafficking victims, mainly by providing financial support to NGOs offering shelter, counseling, medical and legal assistance, and rehabilitation services. The government also operates one shelter for foreign victims of sex trafficking, but did not report the number of victims assisted at this facility during the reporting period. The government expanded its extensive network of support centers for foreign wives and runaway teenagers, which offer support such as counseling in various languages, legal advice, and referral to medical services and shelters. Although the government continues to lack a formal system to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, there were 76 victims identified in 2010, 26 of whom were identified by government authorities and all of whom were victims of sex trafficking. Foreign sex trafficking victims may receive temporary relief from deportation under the G-1 visa system, which allows them to remain in South Korea for up to one year to participate in investigations against their traffickers. Victims reportedly may apply for employment authorization under the G-1 visa, but NGO and other sources report that, in practice, the government has not authorized any existing G-1 visa holder to work pending an investigation or prosecution. The government did not report issuing a G-1 visa to any victim during the reporting period. Foreign victims of trafficking are offered legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. North Korean victims of trafficking may receive refugee settlement services. MOEL operated seven Migrant Workers' Centers nationwide to assist foreign workers in 15 different languages and the Seoul Metropolitan City Government maintained six similar centers; during the reporting period, the Seoul City Government opened its first migrant center with shelter facilities that would appear to be accessible to male victims of trafficking. However, the ROK government did not report efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking during large crackdowns on illegal immigrants during the reporting period. As a result of the government's lack of proactive victim identification procedures and relatively less awareness of labor trafficking than of sex trafficking, victims of forced labor may have been arrested and deported for crimes including illegal immigration without receiving any protection services.


The ROK government took steps to prevent trafficking during the reporting period, though these efforts focused primarily on sex trafficking. The government continued to conduct a wide variety of campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking in South Korea, targeting particularly vulnerable groups such as teenagers and foreign wives. In December 2010, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) developed training materials on sex trafficking for juveniles for distribution in schools and to public officials. MOGEF also launched the "Youth Keeper" program to notify police authorities when Internet sites were being used to arrange the prostitution of children and operated 77 shelters for runaway teenagers to reduce their vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation. In addition, MOGEF ran specific campaigns to raise trafficking awareness among foreign wives, including messages publicizing the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women on buses, electronic billboards, subways, and in foreign language publications. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) also hosted pre-departure trainings for Koreans participating in working-holiday programs in Australia on their vulnerability to sex trafficking. In an effort to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, the Ministry of Justice continued to run 39 "Johns Schools," requiring convicted male "clients" of prostitution to attend one-day seminars on the risks of prostitution and sex trafficking in lieu of criminal punishment. According to reports from destination countries, South Korean men continue to be a source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In response to reports in recent years that South Korean men engage in sex tourism, MOFAT continued to run public awareness campaigns against prostitution overseas, but during the reporting period, the government did not prosecute any Korean nationals for engaging in child sex tourism abroad or make other efforts to reduce the demand for this practice. The ROK government provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The Republic of Korea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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