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Street Children

Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery

Poverty drives the unsuspecting poor into the hands of traffickers

Published reports & articles from 2000 to 2025                   

Republic of Korea - ROK

(South Korea)

Since the 1960s, South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and integration into the high-tech modern world economy.

The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption.  [The World Factbook, U.S.C.I.A. 2009]

Description: Description: Description: SouthKorea

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.   - 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 Republic of Korea.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to validate their authenticity or to verify 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.

HELP for Victims

International Organization for Migration
21 83 01 91
Country code: 82-



South Korean labour laws reduce migrant workers to slaves

Mostly Water, 16 March 2004

[accessed 3 September 2014]

Migrant workers treated like "slaves" in South Korea's agricultural industry

ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

[accessed 25 February 2019]

To migrant workers, the EPS is a law that allows slavery. According to the new law, migrant workers can work in South Korea for only three years and for only one employer. Since migrant workers cannot change their work place, the employer basically has complete control over the wages and working conditions of migrant workers; thus these workers are bound to the employer like slaves.


*** ARCHIVES ***

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Republic of Korea

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

[accessed 25 June 2021]


NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, many of whom worked more than 18 hours per day. Migrant seafarers, primarily from Southeast Asia, were physically or verbally abused by Korean captains and other crew and were forced to work even when sick. According to NGOs, deep-sea fishing vessels depended heavily on migrant seafarers; 73.3 percent of workers on Korean deep-sea vessels in 2018 were migrants.


There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children.)

Freedom House Country Report

2020 Edition

[accessed 7 July 2020]


Protections against exploitative working conditions are enforced by the authorities. Nevertheless, foreign migrant workers remain vulnerable to illegal debt bondage and forced labor, including forced prostitution. In August 2019, a coalition of migrant workers’ groups and unions voiced opposition against a proposal by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises, a government agency that proposed differing minimum wage standards for migrant workers.

Women in South Korea are vulnerable to recruitment by international marriage brokers and sex traffickers. In September 2019, five men were arrested for allegedly luring seven Brazilian women to the country; they had promised to shepherd the women into singing careers but instead forced them to engage in sex work. Although the government actively prosecutes human trafficking cases, those convicted often receive light punishments.

Human trafficking in S. Korea

Editorial, The Hankyoreh, Feb.28,2009

[accessed 23 December 2010]

“Natasha,” 29, came to South Korea from Uzbekistan to realize the simple dream of living a slightly more comfortable life, and the terrible suffering she endured here is a shame on us all. She came to this country through a sham marriage with a Korean, enticed to hear that she could earn five times her salary at home if she got a job at a factory assembling cell phones. But her dream was brutally crushed the moment she set foot on Korean soil. The place awaiting her was not a cell phone assembly plant but a prostitution business. After suffering terrible hardship, she managed to escape. But instead of being protected by South Korean law, she was booked on charges like “making false entries in public electronic records.”

Seoul Denies Human Trafficking Accusations

Kang Shin-who, Asian Sex Gazette, 8 September 2006

[accessed 3 September 2014],-Seoul-denies-7177.html

[accessed 28 September 2016]

Seoul officials yesterday challenged the United States’ portrayal of Korea as ``a frequent destination for trafficked women and children from the former Soviet Union and neighboring Asian nations.’’

Indonesia traffics children who often become sexually enslaved, said the report, and women and girls as young as 10 years old from Kyrgyzstan are transported for sexual exploitation and end up in countries like South Korea, the report said.

U.S. Busts Tell Sorry Tale of Korean Prostitutes Abroad


[accessed 3 September 2014]

The number of Korean women looking for work as prostitutes abroad or being trafficked for the purpose is on the increase. Some 50 members of two gangs busted in California on Friday on charges of selling hundreds of Korean women to places of prostitution are just the tip of the iceberg.

Key US Gulf Allies Cited in Human Trafficking Report

Voice of America VOA News, 3 June 2005

[accessed 4 September 2012]

[accessed 6 May 2020]

Mr. Miller also commended South Korea for what he termed a brave initiative to curb the sex trade in that country, and Sweden for similar action and for a Europe-wide information campaign focused on curbing demand for trafficking victims.

NBI Busts Mail-Order Bride Syndicate

The Philippine Star, Manila, January 18, 2005

[accessed 24 June 2013]

[accessed 25 February 2019]

In his report to Wycoco, NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) chief Romulo Asis said the group’s modus operandi was to entice Filipino women to apply for match-marriages with male Koreans.  Asis said Korean clients would come to the Philippines and choose a wife to take to Korea. However, two months after the arranged marriage, the husband abandons the wife and looks for another Filipina to marry.

South Korea Assists Illegal Foreign Workers

Xinhua News Agency, September 13, 1994

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

Illegal foreign workers deported from South Korea without being paid back wages or worker's compensation will be offered government assistance. The South Korean government requested that the governments of the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh and other Asian nations compile complaints from their nationals who were exploited by South Korean employers.

Korea Must Counter Foreign Reports on Child Prostitution

Moon Gwang-lip, The Korea Times, 8 September 2004

[accessed 23 December 2010]

In July, Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University, wrongly stated in a lecture in the United States that there were one million child prostitutes in Seoul in the 1970s. After protests, he apologized to the Korean people for his comments, admitting the figure was incorrect.  Last month, the Washington Post sparked controversy here by falsely reporting there were currently half a million child prostitutes in Korea.  Korvinus said, "The matter is not the number itself. The situation of children being exploited in the sex industry is a huge problem. In that sense, the Korean government should come up with solutions, not just protest against the reports."

South Korea accused of using slave labour

Sally Hardcastle, BBC News, 27 September 2001

[accessed 23 December 2010]

Garment workers around the world are accusing South Korean companies of treating workers as "virtual slaves" in factories abroad.  The Secretary General of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLW) has gone to Seoul to protest about the treatment of workers in countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  The ITGLW, which represents workers in the garment industry all around the world, alleges that South Korean companies running factories abroad top the list of bad employers.

Global Dimensions in Mapping the Foreign Labor Policies of Korea: A Comparative and Functional Analysis [PDF]

Dong-Hoon Seol, Dept of Sociology, Chonbuk National University, Korea and Global Migration Conference, 11 December 2004

[accessed 23 December 2010]

[accessed 18 June 2017]

ABSTRACT - This paper focuses on global dimensions in mapping the foreign labor policies of Korea. First, I categorize the foreign labor policies in the world into five types in terms of the integration methods of foreigners and the standard for naturalization. Second, I analyze the system and the operation of foreign labor policies in Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. The eight countries have substantial similarities, with minor differences in foreign labor policies: “temporary migrant workers program for manual workers.” In this study, I identify the migrant recruiting scheme, including legislatures, the responsible government bodies or public organizations, major economic sectors engaged, and major nationals recruited in each country, and compare international labor migration management programs among them. Finally, I discuss the current issues of the foreign labor policies in Korea.

Sex slaves

William H. McMichael, Times staff writer, Songtan, Republic of Korea, August 12, 2002

[accessed 23 December 2010]

Lana came to South Korea for the money. Back home in the Kyrgyz Republic, where she toiled in a shoe factory for $20 a month, she longed to buy an apartment, but the $5,000 price tag seemed impossibly high.  Then she saw a newspaper ad seeking women to dance and talk with U.S. servicemen in nightclubs in South Korea. The ad promised what for her was an astounding wage - $2,000 in the first six months. Lana, a bright, attractive blond, took the job.  Now, she wishes she hadn't.

The nine months she has worked in clubs that dot the half-mile strip running straight away from the front gate of the U.S. Air Force's Osan Air Base have left her with eyes far too world-weary for a 24-year-old.  Stripped of her passport by her bar owner, in fear of corrupt South Korean police and deeply in debt to her new bosses, she was forced to sell sex to American servicemen.  She became, in essence, a sex slave.

Thousands of Women Forced Into Sexual Slavery For US Servicemen in South Korea

Feminist News, Feminist Majority Foundation, September 9, 2002

[accessed 23 December 2010]

Since the mid 1990s, more than 5,000 women have been trafficked into South Korea for sexual services for United States servicemen, according to a report from the International Organization for Migration. These trafficked women have typically come from the Philippines, Russia and Eastern Europe and were lured to work as prostitutes in bars frequented by US servicemen stationed in South Korea.  Many of these women live a life similar to that of a slave as they are kept from a regular income, live in horrible conditions, are forced to sell sex, and often face violence. "Hidden fees, charges, employer fines, forced savings and other fees often completely deprive these women of salaried income forcing them to sustain themselves on a commission system based on the sale of drinks, and can virtually turn them into indentured servants," the report reads.

U.S. Military Patrols In S. Korea Often Don't Recognize Instances Of Human Trafficking

Malia Rulon, Associated Press AP, Washington, August 7, 2003

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 11 September 2011]

[scroll down]

U.S. soldiers visiting brothels may have encouraged sex slavery in South Korea because of a lack of understanding about human trafficking, the Defense Department's inspector general concluded in a report.  Investigator Joseph E. Schmitz found that military patrols were sometimes overly friendly with bar owners and often didn't report cases of sex slavery and prostitution because of a misperception that they could only report them if they had hard evidence.

As a result of the investigation, U.S. military officials in South Korea have made an additional 26 establishments suspected of being involved in prostitution and human trafficking off-limits to U.S. servicemen. They also have increased educational efforts for all service members on how to spot instances of human trafficking.  The report recommended that the military create a standardized human trafficking curriculum; make improvements to on-base entertainment and recreational facilities; and continue coordination efforts with South Korean law enforcement officials.

Korea is a Center of Human trafficking

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 11 September 2011]

Korea itself is a center of human trafficking. However, it has enjoyed shifting the spotlight to the American military, in order to divert attention from itself. The Koreans have allowed the Americans to stew and only act when forced to due to complaints from abroad. In fact, in 2000 the U.S. Congress condemned Korea as a human trafficker, though in 2004 it praised Korea's efforts to "attempt" to change.

Base Instincts

Donald Macintyre/Tongduchon, TIME Magazine, Aug. 05, 2002,9171,501020812-333899,00.html

[accessed 23 December 2010]

"The women are here because they've been tricked," he says, nonchalantly. "They're told they're going to be bartending or waitressing, but once they get here, things are different," he adds, with a knowing look.  The fact that the women may have been forced into prostitution doesn't seem to bother most of their soldier-patrons. Nor, until recently, did it bother the military brass at the bases. But now a U.S. Senator and 12 members of Congress are demanding action. Alarmed by a Fox Television news report casing brothels where trafficked women were allegedly forced to prostitute themselves to G.I.s, the lawmakers sent a letter to the Pentagon in May, asking for an investigation.

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

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 31 January 2003

[accessed 23 December 2010]

[42] The Committee remains concerned that, due to prevailing negative cultural traditions, domestic adoptions may be arranged without authorization or involvement of the competent authorities and that such arrangements do not necessarily take into account the best interests of the child or, where appropriate, the views of the child. The Committee also notes with concern the high number of inter-country adoptions, suggesting that this form of adoption is not necessarily a measure of last resort, and reiterates its concern, stated in previous concluding observations, that the State party has not ratified the Hague Convention of 1993 on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption.


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 11 February 2020]

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS – Women from Russia, other countries of the former Soviet Union, China, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries were trafficked to the country for sexual exploitation. They were recruited personally or answered advertisements and were flown to Korea, often with entertainer or tourist visas. As of August the government had issued 4,551 entertainer visas. Once in the country, employers in some instances held victims' passports. The government has restricted issuance of certain types of entertainer visas. There was no credible evidence that officials were involved in trafficking.

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