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Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery

Poverty drives the unsuspecting poor into the hands of traffickers

Published reports & articles from 2000 to 2025                   

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK  (North Korea)

North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages of spare parts. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption.

Large-scale international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions.  [The World Factbook, U.S.C.I.A. 2009]

Description: Description: Description: NorthKorea

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK 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 subjected to involuntary servitude after willingly crossing the border into the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Once in China, they are picked up by traffickers and sold as brides to PRC nationals, often of Korean ethnicity. In other cases, North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korea to escape poor economic, social, and political conditions by the promise of food, jobs, and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in China.

In some cases, women and girls may be sold to traffickers by their families or acquaintances. Women sold as brides are sometimes re-abducted by the traffickers or are sold by husbands who no longer want them. In some cases, North Korean women are sold multiple times to different men by the same trafficker.

Many victims of trafficking, unable to speak Chinese, are held as virtual prisoners. The illegal status of North Koreans in the PRC and other Southeast Asian countries increases their vulnerability to trafficking for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.   - U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2009   Check out a later country report here and possibly a full TIP Report here



CAUTION:  The following links have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in the DPRK.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to verify their authenticity or to validate their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspects of Human Trafficking are of particular interest to you.  Would you like to write about Forced-Labor?  Debt Bondage? Prostitution? Forced Begging? Child Soldiers? Sale of Organs? etc.  On the other hand, you might choose to include precursors of trafficking such as poverty and hunger. There is a lot to the subject of Trafficking.  Scan other countries as well.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.


Check out some of the Resources for Teachers attached to this website.


An Auschwitz In Korea

Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, February 8, 2004

[accessed 29 August 2011]

Nor is it breaking news that North Korea operates a vicious prison gulag -- "not unlike the worst labor camps built by Mao and Stalin in the last century," as NBC News reported more than a year ago. Some 200,000 men, women, and children are held in these slave-labor camps; hundreds of thousands of others have perished in them over the years. Some of the camps are so hellish that 20 percent or more of their prisoners die from torture and abuse each year. The dead can be of any age: North Korea's longstanding policy is to imprison not only those accused of such "crimes" as practicing Christianity or complaining about North Korean life, but their entire families, grandparents and grandchildren included.

Human Trafficking Thrives Across N.Korea-China Border

The Chosun Ilbo, 03 Mar 2008

[accessed 14 December 2010]

A 26-year-old North Korean woman, Mun Yun-hee crossed the Duman (or Tumen) River into China in the dawn of Oct. 22 last year, which at that point was some 40 m wide, guided by a human trafficker. She was being sold to a single middle-aged Chinese farmer into a kind of indentured servitude-cum-companionship. Both of them wore only panties, having stored their trousers and shoes in bags, because if you are found wearing wet clothes across the river deep at night, it is a dead giveaway that you are a North Korean refugee.

Mun was led to a hideout, and the agent left. Asked why she crossed the river, she replied, "My father starved to death late in the 1990s, and my mother is blind from hunger." Her family owed 300 kg of corns, beans and rice and sold herself for the sake of her blind mother and a younger brother. The middleman paid her 350 yuan, or W46,000 (US$1=W939), equivalent to half of the grain debt.


*** ARCHIVES ***

Examining Human Trafficking In North Korea

Mckenzie Staley, The Borgen Project, 1 December2020

[accessed 23 February 2021]

CHILD EXPLOITATION: The North Korean government is paying schools for child labor while the children are under their care. Teachers and school principals exploit students for personal gain. The effects of child exploitation can cause physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion and growth deficiencies.

U.S. human trafficking report: China, Iran, N. Korea worst offenders

Nicholas Sakelaris, United Press International UPI, 20 June 2019

[accessed 20 June 2019]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday human trafficking is a strain on humanity that violates basic human rights. He named China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba among the worst offenders.

Those countries all scored the lowest on the 2019 Trafficking in Person report released by the U.S. State Department.

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 March 2021 north-korea/

[accessed 20 June 2021]


Forced labor continued to take place in the brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. The Walk Free Foundation, in its 2018 Global Slavery Index, estimated that one of every 10 individuals, or approximately 2.6 million persons, in the country were in situations of modern slavery.

According to Open North Korea’s report Sweatshop North Korea, 16- or 17-year-old individuals from the low-loyalty class were assigned to 10 years of forced labor in military-style construction youth brigades. One worker reportedly earned a mere 120 won (less than $0.15) per month. During a 200-day labor mobilization campaign in 2016, for example, these young workers worked as many as 17 hours per day. State media boasted that the laborers worked in subzero temperatures. One laborer reported conditions were so dangerous while building an apartment building that at least one person died each time a floor was added. Loyalty class status also determines lifelong job assignments, with the lowest classes relegated to dangerous mines

The vast majority of North Koreans employed outside the DPRK were located in Russia and China. …  Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month … in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take-home pay..


Children ages 16 and 17 were enrolled in military-style youth construction brigades for 10-year periods and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work. Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies as a result of required forced labor..

Freedom House Country Report

2020 Edition

[accessed 4 May 2020]


Human trafficking networks, sometimes operating with the assistance of government officials, target North Korean women; those ensnared by this activity are subject to sex slavery and forced marriages, often in neighboring China.

North Korea turning to human trafficking for foreign currency

Holly LaFon, Medill News Service, 18 May 2015

[accessed 18 May 2015]

North Korea, frequently ranked as the world’s worst human rights abuser, has lured between 50,000 and 60,000 citizens to work in industries around the globe with the promise they would keep their wages, according to a paper from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights presented on Tuesday. Instead, the wages are sent to the North Korean government, generating as much as $2.3 billion per year.

Industries employing the laborers range from logging and mining to restaurants, and workers who complain or escape risk reprisal against themselves and their families who remain in North Korea, said Robert King, special envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, at the House hearing.

Workers have been sent through bilateral contracts to around 40 countries, primarily Russia, China, Mongolia and nations in Africa, central Europe and the Middle East, according to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from March.

NK Defectors Describe Horrors of Human Trafficking

The Dong-A ILBO, MAY 01, 2009

[accessed 14 December 2010]

Bang Mi-sun, who came to the South in 2004, spoke first. She said she fled the North to feed her two children after her husband starved to death in 2002.

 “I thought that if I went to China, I could eat heartily and lead a better life than in North Korea. What waited for me was a wretched life,” she said.   “I was sold to a disabled Chinese man for 585 dollars at a human trafficking market and resold to another man.”

Bang was caught by Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea. There, she was subjected to severe corporal punishment and forced labor.   “I was put in a detention camp and flogged. I was battered so badly that I cannot walk well now,” she said.

Human Trafficking In North Korea

Voice of America VOA News, 9 August 2012

[accessed 30 August 2012]

Conditions inside North Korea are dire. They include a severe food shortage, a lack of basic freedoms and a system of political repression that includes a network of government-operated prison camps. The approximately two-hundred thousand prisoners in these camps are subjected to reeducation and slave-like conditions.

US lashes out at NKorea's "horrendous" human rights record

Agence France-Presse AFP, WASHINGTON, Oct 31, 2007

[accessed 1 September 2014]

Tens of thousands of North Koreans, fleeing hunger or repression at home, have travelled across the border to China in recent years.  But China has an agreement with its close ally to repatriate them as economic migrants, a policy strongly criticized by refugee aid and human rights groups.  Returnees can face harsh punishment including jail terms and forced labour and even death, according to rights groups.

North Korean women crossing the border into China are generally "most vulnerable" to trafficking given their illegal status in China and their inability to return home, he said.  Amnesty International said it had documented cases of North Korean women being lured from their homes and trafficked as "sex slaves" into China, where they are sold as brides in forced marriages.

Victims of Human Trafficking Speak

The Dong-A ILBO, December 15, 2006

[accessed 14 December 2010]

WOMEN WHO ARE SOLD INTO SLAVERY - Ms. G (age: 26), a former nurse from the North who made it across the border to China in February was appalled after she was sold to a family. She was the only woman in the house with 62-year-old father, 32 year-old oldest son and other three men. Her worst fears turned into reality when the father and four sons each demanded her to share their bed every night. She was forced to go through this ordeal, even when she was sick or had her period. She did not have anyone to turn to, because there was not even a village nearby. She put up with this life for about eight months.

North Korea exporting workers into lives of slavery

Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, ZELEZNA, Czech Republic, December 28, 2005

[accessed 14 December 2010]

[accessed 26 September 2016]

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNT - Almost the entire monthly salaries of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, are deposited directly in an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives them only a fraction of the money.  To the extent that they are allowed outside in this village 20 miles west of Prague, they go only in groups.

The refugees forced to be sex slaves in China

Richard Spencer in Seoul, The Telegraph, 01 Oct 2005

[accessed 14 December 2010]

The women who flee North Korea believe nothing could be worse than their dictatorship's famine and labor camps.  But many change their minds after they cross the Tumen River into the "safety" of China, smuggled by middlemen who promise safe passage.  "I was locked into a house and raped every night," said Kim Chun-ae, a matronly 51-year-old. "My teenage daughter was sold three times by traffickers. She was 'recycled'."

Why North Korea Deported Me

Norbert Vollertsen, Front Page Magazine, June 15, 2005

[accessed 14 December 2010]

Most of the patients in the hospitals suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. They’re worn out by compulsory drills, innumerable parades, mandatory assemblies beginning at the crack of dawn, and constant, droning propaganda. They are tired and at the end of their tether. Clinical depression is rampant. Alcoholism is common. Young adults have no hope, no future. Everywhere you look, people are beset by anxiety.

North Korea's horrors cannot be tolerated

Editorial, The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 15, 2005

[accessed 1 September 2014]

[accessed 26 September 2016]

By the best estimates, between 2 million and 3 million North Koreans starved to death during the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been confined in a network of brutal forced-labor camps. The world now has sufficient eyewitness accounts and other documentary evidence to conclude beyond any doubt that these camps are the scenes of horrific crimes – summary execution, torture, privation and abuse on a hideous scale, forced abortions and infanticide, and more.

The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps

Report, Jul 5, 2003

[accessed 4 February 2016]

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - This report outlines two distinct systems of repression: first, a North Korean gulag of forced-labor colonies, camps, and prisons where scores of thousands of prisoners — some political, some convicted felons — are worked, many to their deaths, in mining, logging, farming, and industrial enterprises, often in remote valleys located in the mountainous areas of North Korea; and second, a system of smaller, shorter-term detention facilities along the North Korea–China border used to brutally punish North Koreans who flee to China — usually in search of food during the North Korean famine crisis of the middle to late 1990s — but are arrested by Chinese police and forcibly repatriated to the DPRK.

Worse Than 1984 - North Korea, slave state

Christopher Hitchens, Slate Magazine, May 2, 2005

[accessed 14 December 2010]

In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished.

The Democidal Famine In North Korea

R.J. Rummel, OrthodoxyToday -- Sources: Many of the specifics were taken from a report by Seong Ho Jhe, published in "Korea and World Affairs" (Summer 2003)

[accessed 14 December 2010]

[scroll down]

This is not all. In this "classless" communist society, the regime has divided North Koreans into a rigid hierarchy of three classes, and fifty-one subdivisions, depending on a person's status within the communist North Korean Workers Party and the military, their perceived faithfulness to communism, and family backgrounds. In other words, Kim uses the very food people need to live as a tool to reward and punish his subject slaves. Thus, vast numbers of people whose loyalties are questioned or may be deemed useless to the regime do not receive enough food to live long. The worst off are those people and families incarcerated in Kim's concentration or forced labor camps. They receive the lowest food allowance of all, in spite of their being forced to work from 5 am to 8 pm.

Escaping North Korea

Sarah Buckley, BBC News Online, 28 July 2004

[accessed 14 December 2010]

ILLEGAL WORK - They seek work - perhaps in mines, factories or cattle farms - but are often swindled out of their earnings.  A mine owner might promise them 500 yuan a month, but actually they are paid less than half, or nothing at all - forced into acquiescence by the fear of being reported to the authorities.

the horrifying situation in North Korea

Al-Muhajabah, Islamic Blogs, January 30, 2003

[accessed 1 September 2014]

I've been reading about the gulags of North Korea, in which an estimated 400,000 people have died since 1972. Up to 200,000 people are still imprisoned there today, according to this report. When a person is accused of a political crime, they and their family are sent to the camps. There is also a policy of infanticide and forced abortions in the prison camps.

Grim fate for N. Korean prisoners

Mike Chinoy, Cable News Network CNN, TOKYO, October 31, 2003

[accessed 14 December 2010]

Hidden in the valleys between high mountains in the northern provinces of North Korea lies one of the country's darkest secrets -- political penal labor prisons.

Behind the walls of a Kwan-li-so conditions and treatment are brutal.  "People are starved to death, worked to death, frozen to death over a period of time, and it's just absolutely horrific, reminiscent of what we've read coming out of the old Gulags under Stalin," says Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback.  Along with political prisoners, up to three generations of their families also are banished without trial -- usually for lifetime sentences in a system of "guilt by association," the report finds.

Opening a Window on North Korea's Horrors

Doug Struck (with Special correspondent Joohee Cho), Washington Post Foreign Service; Page A01, Seoul, October 4, 2003

[accessed 1 September 2014]

[accessed 11 February 2018]

Han, a Communist Party official in North Korea, was walking home from work when he heard he was in trouble. He had smuggled a radio back from China after an official trip. He listened to it late at night, huddled with earphones on and shades drawn, to hear music that brought him a whisper of sanity and took him away from the horrors of his day.  Now, someone had found it, or someone had told.

If a farmer or laborer had a radio, he could have been released," Han said. "But I was an official. In my case, it would have been torture and a life sentence in a political prisoners' camp."

Why North Korea is No. 1

Christopher Hitchens, Newsweek International, July 8, 2001

[accessed 4 February 2016]

It's the totalitarian aspect that strikes you first, as it did me when I visited North Korea last winter. Fifty years of ultra-Stalinism have made the very idea of a private life almost unthinkable. Every move and utterance is planned and scripted, with an entire people endlessly mobilized for a cult of hysterical adulation. The president of the country is a dead man named Kim Il Sung, whose rotund visage glares from every wall. All other official leadership posts are held by his son Kim Jong Il, whose birth is said to have been attended by miraculous signs and portents. All films, all books, all newspapers and all radio and television broadcasts are about either the Father or the Son. Everybody is a soldier. Everybody is an informer. Everybody is a unit. Everything is propaganda.

A Prison Country

Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, Opinion Journal, April 17, 2001 and UN and Iraq and 9 11 Korea/LIFE UNDER THE RED STAR.doc

[accessed 9 September 2011]

[accessed 20 February 2019]

Human rights are nonexistent. Peasants, slaves to the regime, lead lives of utter destitution. It is as if a basic right to exist--to be--is denied. Ordinary people starve and die. They are detained at the caprice of the regime. Forced labor is the basic way in which "order" is maintained.

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 4 June 2004

[accessed 14 December 2010]

[62] The Committee notes the lack of information in the State party report on human trafficking, in particular, involving children.


Freedom House Country Report - Political Rights: 7   Civil Liberties: 7   Status: Not Free

2018 Edition

[accessed 4 May 2020]


Forced labor is common in prison camps, mass mobilization programs, and state-run contracting arrangements in which North Korean workers are sent abroad. There have been widespread reports of trafficked women and girls among the tens of thousands of North Koreans who have crossed into China. Due to changing economic conditions, prostitution has reportedly become common in North Korea itself in recent years.

Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 10 February 2020]

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS – There were no known laws specifically addressing the problem of trafficking in persons, and trafficking of women and young girls into and within China continued to be widely reported. Some women and girls were sold by their families or by kidnappers as wives or concubines to men in China; others fled of their own volition to escape starvation and deprivation. A network of smugglers reportedly facilitated this trafficking. According to defector reports, many victims of trafficking, unable to speak Chinese, were held as virtual prisoners, and some were forced to work as prostitutes.

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Cite this webpage as: Patt, Prof. Martin, "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery – DPRK (North Korea)",, [accessed <date>]