Inside North Korea
Women work in the Kim Jong-suk Pyongyang Silk Mill in Pyongyang April 9, 2012. The factory is named after the wife of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung. REUTERS


  • A human rights report said the trafficking industry in the China-North Korea border has reached $105 million a year
  • The number of North Korean refugees at risk in China significantly increased
  • A North Korean woman who was sold to a Chinese man said she was beaten for not bearing a child

A new report has revealed chilling accounts of North Korean women and girls being subjected to physical abuse, sexual violence, forced marriages and slavery in China.

Global Rights Compliance, an international human rights law firm, recently released a study showing that a rising number of women and girls, some as young as 12, have been sold as sex slaves by traffickers. and forced into marriage after escaping North Korea and arriving in a region along the China-North Korea border dubbed China's "Red Zone."

The sex and bride trafficking industry is booming in the region, according to the human rights report, reaching $105 million a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened North Korean women and girls' plight in China as lockdowns prevented them from entering through the border and service jobs stopped, Sofia Evangelou, the North Korea lead legal adviser for Global Rights Compliance, told The Telegraph.

Evangelou said evidence analyzed by researchers, including information from North Korean diaspora groups in South Korea, suggested that the North Korean refugees at risk in China more than doubled from previous estimates made by the United Nations of about 100,000.

"The current situation leaves North Korean women and girls exposed to the stark reality of either being sold into a lifetime of sexual and mental abuse, slavery, forced labor, or reaching freedom," Evangelou told the publication.

Many North Korean women were unable to escape China, fearing that being caught by the Chinese authorities and deported back to their homeland could land them harsher punishments such as torture or death in prison camps.

One North Korean woman told investigators from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights about her experience being sold to a Chinese man. The unnamed woman, who was trafficked to Yanbian in northeast Chinese, said the Chinese man "beat" her after they failed to conceive a child within one year of living together.

"He kicked me. He kicked my head a lot. I have depression now," the North Korean woman added.

Another woman who was caught told investigators that she was raped by a camp supervisor in a police holding center when she was forcibly sent back to North Korea.

One young North Korean woman named Lee Keum-Soon was sent back to a forced labor camp in her home country after she defected to China, according to the report.

Lee tried to hide her pregnancy to avoid being forced to abort her baby. However, as malnutrition and intense labor gravely affected her health, she drowned in a river where she had been ordered to gather stones.

Upon learning of Lee's pregnancy, North Korean prison guards strip-searched all other female prisoners to terminate any other pregnancies forcibly.

Following the release of their report, Evangelou urged the international community to pressure China to treat North Korean women defectors as refugees.

Evangelou also called for an urgent "full investigation into the human rights abuses suffered by women" in and around North Korea.

The human rights law firm's lead legal adviser warned that North Korean women and girls' human rights situation will only worsen if nothing is done to address it.

Meanwhile, Korea Future, a human rights watchdog, released a report earlier this month detailing the horrors inflicted on detainees inside North Korea's prisons.

Korea Future's report showed that women prisoners were raped and tortured by prison guards.

According to the report, one female North Korean inmate was allegedly forced to have an abortion in the seventh or eighth month of her pregnancy.

China priest North Korea defectors Murder
Getty Images/AFP/Mark Ralston