Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - North Korea


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K. or North Korea) is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The most common form of trafficking involves North Korean women and girls who cross the border into the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) voluntarily. Many of them are from North Hamgyong province, one of the poorest provinces in the country, located near the Chinese border. Once in the P.R.C., they find themselves in difficult legal and financial circumstances, are picked up by traffickers, and sold as brides to PRC nationals, usually of Korean ethnicity. In other cases, North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korea to escape poor social and economic conditions by the promise of food, jobs, and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in the P.R.C. While many women trafficked into China are sold as brides, some North Korean women in China are forced into prostitution, usually in brothels. The illegal status of North Koreans in the P.R.C. and other Southeast Asian countries increases their vulnerability to trafficking for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. NGOs estimate that tens of thousands of North Koreans presently live in China, more than half of whom are women; however, there is no reliable information on how many of these North Koreans are or have been trafficked. Within the D.P.R.K., forced labor continues to be part of an established system of political repression. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons in political prison camps are subjected to reeducation through labor, by logging, mining, and crop tending. Reports indicated that conditions in camps for political prisoners are extremely harsh, and many prisoners are not expected to survive.

The D.P.R.K. regime recruits an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 North Korean contract workers to fill highly sought-after jobs overseas for D.P.R.K. entities and foreign firms. While there is no evidence of force, fraud, or coercion in the recruitment process, there are continued reports that North Koreans sent abroad may be employed in harsh conditions, with their freedom of movement and communication restricted. There are concerns that this labor may be exploitative, since their salaries are deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government. Countries in which North Koreans work through such arrangements reportedly include Russia, Romania, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Mongolia, Kuwait, Yemen, Iraq and China. The North Korean government recently signed an agreement with Mongolia that will send up to 5,300 North Korean laborers to Mongolia over the next five years. North Korean workers at joint ventures within the D.P.R.K. 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 does not acknowledge the existence of human rights abuses in the country or recognize trafficking, either within the country or transnationally. The D.P.R.K. government does not differentiate between trafficking and other forms of illegal border crossing, such as illegal economic migration or defection. The government also contributes to the problem of trafficking through forced labor prison camps, where North Koreans live in conditions of servitude, receiving little food and little, if any medical care. There also remain concerns about the government's contract labor arrangements abroad, with the D.P.R.K. government keeping most or all of the foreign exchange paid for workers' salaries.

Recommendations for North Korea: Institute a victim identification procedure to systematically identify and protect victims of trafficking; cease the punishment of trafficking victims for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; and support NGO presence in North Korea to assist victims of trafficking.


The D.P.R.K. made no effort to combat trafficking in persons through law enforcement efforts. There were no reported prosecutions or convictions during the reporting period. Little information is available on North Korea's internal legal system, and it is unlikely that North Korean laws are adequate to address the trafficking problem. Article 150 of the Penal Code criminalizes the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children, but there are no known laws that address the trafficking of adults for labor or sexual exploitation. The penal code criminalizes crossing the border without permission and defection; these laws are used against both traffickers and trafficking victims. However, the question of how laws are applied in North Korea is usually more important than their terms. Fair and transparent trials do not occur in the D.P.R.K., so it is unclear under what provisions of the law, if any, traffickers are prosecuted. The government sends political prisoners and some criminals to prison camps where they are forced to engage in harsh labor. The regime's claimed crackdowns on "trafficking networks" are likely a result of its desire to control all activity within its borders, particularly illegal emigration, rather than to combat trafficking in persons. The laws invoked against traffickers are those that seek to limit all cross-border migration, including refugee outflows, and often wind up harming trafficking victims.


The North Korean regime not only does not recognize trafficking victims and fails to make any effort to provide protection or assistance to victims; through invocation of the same cross-border migration laws used to punish trafficking offenders, it regularly punishes victims for acts committed as a result of being trafficked by failing to differentiate them from other border-crossers. North Koreans forcibly repatriated from China, including a significant number of women believed to be trafficking victims, are often jailed and forced into prison camps, where they may undergo torture and other severe punishment. The North Korean government places priority on controlling all activities within its borders; protecting individuals from mistreatment, exploitation, and retribution are not government priorities.


The North Korean government does not acknowledge the existence of human rights problems, including trafficking in persons. The government purports to attack trafficking networks, but in reality, this appears to be an effort to stem human smuggling into China, and a part of its effort to control all activities within and across its borders and limit the movement of its people. There is no evidence that the government operated, administered, or promoted any public awareness campaigns related to trafficking in the country. There are no known indigenous NGOs, and the few international NGOs permitted to operate in the country work under intense government scrutiny. North Korea has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

North Korea tier ranking by year


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