[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

REPUBLIC OF KOREA (TIER 1)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a source country for the trafficking of women and girls within the country and to the United States (often through Canada and Mexico), Japan, Hong Kong, Guam, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The ROK is a destination country for women from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries, some of whom are recruited to work on entertainment visas and may be vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Some brokers target poor women and runaways, pay off their debts, and then use this as leverage to force them to work in the commercial sex trade. Labor trafficking is a problem in South Korea, and some employers allegedly withhold the passports and wages of foreign workers, a practice that can be used as a means to subject workers to forced labor. One foreign embassy alleged that some of its citizens sign contracts for employment in their home country, but have their contracts destroyed upon arrival in Korea, where they are forced to work excessively long hours. An increasing challenge for the ROK is the number of women from less developed countries who are recruited for marriage to Korean men through international marriage brokers; limitations on citizenship and anecdotal reports of fraudulent brokers mean some of these women may be vulnerable to trafficking. Some, upon arrival in South Korea, may be subjected to conditions of sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and involuntary servitude. South Korean men reportedly continue to be 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 Korean National Police Agency continues to cooperate with foreign law enforcement agencies to crack down on human smuggling networks that have been known to traffic women for sexual exploitation. The government acknowledges that trafficking is a problem and is committed to stopping it. The ROKG continued to improve its legal structure to protect populations vulnerable to trafficking; in 2008 the Marriage Brokerage Act entered into force to regulate international marriage brokers, the Passport Law increased the government's ability to prosecute certain crimes committed overseas by Korean nationals, and the Ministry of Labor continued to expand the scope of countries eligible for the Employment Permit System (EPS). The Korean government increased anti-trafficking public education efforts. These commendable efforts with respect to sex trafficking have not yet been matched by convictions for labor trafficking occurring within South Korea’s large foreign labor force. Efforts to reduce demand for child sex tourism, in light of the scale of the problem, would be enhanced by increased law enforcement efforts to investigate Korean nationals who sexually exploit children abroad.

Recommendations for the Republic of Korea: Expand efforts to reduce demand for child sex tourism by increasing law enforcement efforts, including cooperation with child sex tourism destination countries, to investigate and prosecute South Korean child sex tourists; continue to expand efforts to ensure that foreign women married to Korean men through commercial marriage brokers and resident in Korea are not vulnerable to trafficking; improve the available statistical data on trafficking victims; develop and implement proactive victim identification procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations including foreign women arrested for prostitution and foreign workers; develop and implement a formal trafficking-specific referral process for law enforcement officials to direct trafficking victims to short- and long-term care; and take steps to improve protections for foreign workers by continuing to investigate and prosecute any reported cases of forced labor among migrant workers.

The ROK government increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. The ROK prohibits trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, including debt bondage, through its 2004 “Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade and Associated Acts,” which prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment – penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Trafficking for forced labor is criminalized under the Labor Standards Act, which prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment. The Korean government did not, however, obtain the convictions of any offenders of labor trafficking during the reporting period. In 2008, the ROK government reportedly conducted 220 trafficking investigations and secured the convictions of 31 sex traffickers who received sentences ranging from six months to twelve years in prison. It is unclear, however, how many of these were actually trafficking cases, since the laws used to prosecute traffickers are also used to prosecute a variety of other crimes, and the government does not keep track of the number of trafficking cases it handles. The government reportedly secured the convictions of 52 traffickers the previous year. During the reporting period, ROK law enforcement authorities closely cooperated with U.S., Canadian, Australian, and Japanese counterparts; however, one foreign embassy expressed concern about entertainment (E-6) visas, arguing that the ROK government should either significantly tighten the visa qualifications or stop issuing them altogether. Korean employers of E-6 visa holders sometimes confiscate foreign workers’ passports, which can facilitate trafficking. While the government is currently investigating at least one case of alleged trafficking through fraudulent international marriage, no other cases were reported to the ROKG during the reporting period; there were no prosecutions or convictions of such offenses in 2008. In 2008 the Ministry of Labor investigated 4,204 cases involving the alleged nonpayment of wages to foreign workers. To date the government has prosecuted 1,385 of these cases, some of which may have involved trafficking in persons. The ROKG aggressively investigates and prosecutes trafficking-related crimes against foreigners as human rights abuses.

The Government of the Republic of Korea increased efforts to protect victims of sex trafficking over the last year. During the reporting period, the Korean government opened four additional support facilities for victims of abuse, including trafficking victims, bringing the total to 100. These facilities now include 43 adult and youth facilities, 29 counseling centers, 10 group homes for longer-term support, six rehabilitation centers, and three shelters for foreign victims, a decrease from the previous year’s funding. In 2008 the government also increased access to group homes by relaxing the standards for entrance and increasing the maximum length of stay from one year to three years. Police regularly refer victims of abuse to care and counseling facilities, though the government does not have a formal system to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, so the government did not employ a trafficking-specific official referral process to transfer trafficking victims to institutions that provide short- or long-term care. The government did not provide data on the number of trafficking victims it identified during the reporting period. The ROK government allocated $10.9 million in funding for victim support facilities to support victims of all types, including 29 counseling facilities, 10 group homes, and 3 shelters for foreigners, a decrease from previous year’s funding. These shelters provided clients, including trafficking victims, with psychological and medical aid, legal assistance, counseling, and occupational training. Counseling centers subsidized by the central government provided medical and legal aid to trafficking victims. NGOs report that one counseling center and two shelters in the country are exclusively dedicated to foreign victims of sex trafficking. Most other facilities that support foreigners are geared towards women who have married Korean men and subsequently encounter abuse or conditions of forced labor, rather than sex trafficking victims. Most of the shelters are run by NGOs that are partially or fully funded by the government. The government encourages sex trafficking victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. The government provides legal alternatives to the removal of sex trafficking victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution -- primarily through the issuance of G-1 visas or orders of suspension of the victim’s departure, though NGOs report some victims are not aware of these options. G-1 visa holders may apply for jobs in Korea, but are not eligible for permanent residency. The government has no record of how many trafficking victims were granted G-1 visas during the reporting period. The ROK government did not penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. The government continued implementing the EPS, a system for recruiting foreign workers through government-to-government agreements, that has eliminated the role of private labor agencies and recruiters, many of which had been found to employ highly exploitative practices – including fraudulent recruitment terms and excessive fees. The Ministry of Labor continued to fund three Migrant Worker Centers to support the needs of foreign contract laborers in the country. During the reporting period, the Labor Ministry increased from 20 to 27 the number of support centers that facilitate recovering unpaid wages.

The ROK government continued anti-trafficking prevention efforts through sex trafficking awareness campaigns. In 2008, the Ministry of Gender Equality allocated $118,000 to trafficking prevention campaigns and $45,000 to educational programs in public schools, public agencies, and local governments. The Ministry of Justice continued to run 39 “John schools,” requiring that convicted male “clients” of prostitution attend these one-day seminars – in lieu of criminal punishment; 17,956 first-time offenders who were arrested by ROK police in 2008 attended these seminars. The seminars were designed to reduce demand for commercial sex acts and give attendees a greater appreciation for the potential for sex trafficking in Korea’s sex trade. Some NGOs criticized the fact that women detained for prostitution were sometimes also required to attend these rehabilitation seminars, along with the male “clients.” Some ROK men reportedly continue to travel to the PRC, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for child sex tourism. In 2008, the government funded an NGO to carry out an anti-sex tourism and anti-child sex tourism campaigns at Incheon International Airport. In 2008 the National Assembly revised the Passport Law enabling the ROKG to control more strictly the issuance of passports and to cancel the passports of Koreans convicted of engaging in a variety of illegal acts abroad, including participation in child prostitution. During the reporting period the Ministry of Labor implemented measures to prevent delayed or non-payment of wages, protect underage workers, encourage firms to abide by the minimum wage standards and have all firms sign written contracts with their workers. However, the government has never prosecuted a Korean national for child sex tourism. The ROK government provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The Republic of Korea has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.