North Koreans have been living and working in China for a number of years. Some are fortunate enough to make it out of China and have prosperous and positive lives in South Korea and other countries. My interested now turns to those who are not as fortunate; those who escaped the regime and were met with very unfortunate ends. Out of all the defectors from North Korea, women make up the vast majority. Moreover, these women are subjected to and vulnerable to abuse and sex trafficking.

Many of these North Korean women were forced to marry Chinese men as they were sold for profit upon arrival. With no rights and at the mercy of their husbands, women continue with life having children. This is where the story truly unfolds.

According to the Guardian, there are roughly if not more than 30,000 North Korean children living in China. The exact number cannot be determined as North Korean refugees are forced to live under the radar for fear of repatriation. These children are born to mothers who have fled the Democratic Republic of North Korea and sought refuge in China. The issue for these children is that they have no access to schooling, healthcare, or even citizenship. Neither North Korea nor China will grant them citizenship status making their lives forced to be held in limbo.

It appears that these children no longer exist and are living with no basic human rights. Blocked access to education, healthcare, and country will have a significant impact on China and the functionality of their welfare state. There is also an issue for those children who are separated from their mothers. Women who are in fact repatriated to North Korea are forced to leave their children alone and may never see them again.

International law states that China should be held responsible for these refugee children and mothers. Unfortunately, Beijing does not view these children and mothers as refugees, but as “illegal migrants”. As the North Korean mothers have illegally crossed the border and did not arrive in China through the normal immigration procedures, China feels that their responsibility does not exist.

Thankfully, NGOs like the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights is making an effort to help and protect North Korean refugees and their children. More help is needed by the international community to intervene in the lives of nation-less children in China.

Kychele Boone

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