US downgrades S. Korea to Tier 2 in annual human trafficking report

Posted on : 2022-07-21 16:54 KST Modified on : 2022-07-21 16:54 KST
The report noted weak protections for foreign victims of trafficking in South Korea
Secretary of State Tony Blinken of the US holds a press conference on the release of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report on July 19. (AP/Yonhap News)
Secretary of State Tony Blinken of the US holds a press conference on the release of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report on July 19. (AP/Yonhap News)

The US State Department downgraded South Korea’s standing a rung in its report on human trafficking for the first time in two decades, noting that the Korean government’s efforts to stamp out trafficking have lost steam.

South Korea was categorized in Tier 2 along with 132 other countries in the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report released Tuesday. The report placed 30 countries in Tier 1, the highest standing, while it listed North Korea, China and Russia among 30 countries in Tier 3, the lowest.

The report defines human trafficking as commercial sex by underage individuals and commercial sex or involuntary labor that is “induced by force, fraud, or coercion.”

When the report was first published in 2001, South Korea was placed in Tier 3, but it maintained its position in Tier 1 from 2002 until last year.

“The Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” said the report, which assessed each government’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking from April 2021 to March 2022.

While the report acknowledged that the South Korean government’s efforts included “creating a new training course for prosecutors [and] training seafarers’ labor inspectors on trafficking,” it said that “these efforts were not serious and sustained compared with the efforts during the previous reporting period.”

The report noted that “the government initiated fewer prosecutions than in 2020” and that “courts sentenced the majority of criminals convicted for trafficking-related crimes to less than one year’s imprisonment, fines, or suspended sentences.”

The report also cited cases in which foreign victims of sex trafficking were deported without a proper investigation of the perpetrators and cases in which the authorities failed to prosecute those implicated in reports of migrants being forced to work on ship crews.

In regard to North Korea, which was placed in Tier 3, the report said that the existence of correctional labor camps illustrated “a government policy or pattern of human trafficking in prison camps.” The report estimated that there are from 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in the North.

In addition, the report said, North Korea’s practice of sending people to work abroad amounts to human trafficking, since those workers “also face conditions of forced labor.”

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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