[Editorial] Human trafficking in S. Korea

Posted on : 2009-02-28 15:32 KST Modified on : 2009-02-28 15:32 KST

“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.”

She says the tears she cried during her four months in South Korea were more than she had cried in her whole life before, but the bigger problem is that the story does not end here. The reality at this moment is that countless Natashas are shedding bitter tears all over the country, unable to reveal the truth of their victimization.

Foreign women began entering South Korea’s sex industry from the mid-1990s. Women from the Philippines and the former Soviet Union were brought in on entertainer visas by human traffickers. After it became a social problem, with so many foreign women present that they at one point accounted for some 80-85 percent of those working at clubs near military bases, the government put a halt to the issuance of entertainer visas to women from the old Soviet Union in 2003. But the brokers’ business is still thriving, they are bringing in foreign women through sham marriages, as in Natasha’s case.

What ultimately contributes to the continuation of this victimization through human trafficking is our legal system, which creates the conditions for such brokers to run rampant. There certainly are flaws with the system of immigration through marriage, which has arisen as a new tool for this trade, but the more serious issue is the system for protecting the victims. The United Nations warns that even if a foreign woman agreed to an illegal process such as a sham marriage, her consent is nullified and she must be seen as a victim if she has been forced into prostitution. But in South Korea, even victims of human trafficking are stripped of their visas, booked on criminal charges and deported if they enter the country illegally. The reality is that in such a situation, it becomes essentially impossible for women who have even incurred debts coming to South Korea to reveal that they are being victimized, and it becomes a breeding ground for organizations engaging in human trafficking.

We must therefore hasten our efforts to enact a law protecting the victims of human trafficking in order to prevent a second and third case like Natasha’s from occurring. And for Natasha herself, the right thing would be to grant her a temporary visa to stay in the country during her rescue period. Should South Korea suffer the dishonor of being labeled a human trafficking country?

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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