I was speaking with a colleague the other day about the gender inequality in parts of Asia, particularly in China and how it came about through abortion and infanticide.  Shannon blogged about this topic the other day.  My colleague said something along the lines of “at least women are now appreciated and more valued”.  I told him how wrong I thought he was and wish I had had this story on hand to show him. 

It is from the Hudson Institute and is by Melanie Kirkpatrick.  She is the author of a book “Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad”.  In this article, Kirkpatrick tells us about Steven Kim, an American businessman from Long Island, New York, a practising Christian and the angel of mercy for many North Korean men and women who he has helped escape from the Stalinist hell of a country.  He has spent time in a Chinese prison camp (he lived there at the time) for helping illegal North Korean immigrants:

“Today he runs 318 Partners, a US-based nonprofit dedicating to rescuing trafficked women in China.  It’s named after Article 318 of the Chinese criminal code, the law under which Kim was arrested in September 2003 as he led nine North Koreans in a prayer meeting in his apartment, Convicted of helping illegal migrants, he spent four years in a Chinese prison.”

Refugees from North Korea can only practically escape into China.  Apparently around 80% of such refugees are women and girls who have become “commodities for purchase”.  That is, women enticed, coerced and kidnapped from their homes in North Korea and sold as brides to husbands in China.  Why is there such a demand for brides? The shortage of women in China:

“But why import brides from North Korea? The answer is China’s family-planning laws. Ever since the one-child policy went into effect in 1979, Beijing has enforced it through fines, imprisonment, forced abortion, sterilization, and even, human-rights groups charge, infanticide. The policy has had its intended effect of slowing the rate of expansion of China’s population. But there has been an unwelcome side effect: an unnaturally high male-to-female ratio.

Women may hold up half the sky, in Mao Zedong’s famous phrase, but they are treated as second-class citizens in much of modern China. Many couples still favor sons, both to carry on the family name and support them in their old age. In rural areas the birth of a son heralds the arrival of an extra farmhand as soon as the boy is old enough to hold a hoe. Not so long ago in China, an unwanted baby girl might be drowned in a bucket at birth or left unattended to die. These days abortion is the preferred method, and ultrasound tests let couples find out the baby’s sex early in the pregnancy for about $12, well within the means of most couples. There are laws against using ultrasound this way, but they’re widely ignored. ‘Sex-selection abortion accounts for almost all the excess males, says the British medical journal BMJ.”

So, there is a shortage of marriage-age women, especially in rural areas.  That is where the supply chain kicks in – supplying women from North Korea to rural China.  There are “suppliers”, “wholsesale providers” and even “retail sellers”.  The article details the stories of women desperate to escape North Korea and leaving willingly and those horrific examples of drugging and kidnapping.  At the end of the supply chain, a Chinese man can expect to pay between USD1200 and USD1500 for a wife, depending on age and appearance. 

“At some point the woman realizes what is happening to her. She then has two choices: go through with the marriage or try to escape. This is not really a choice. The woman is on her own in a strange country. She knows no one. She doesn’t speak the language. As she quickly finds out, in escaping to China from North Korea, she has exchanged one form of bondage for another. Most accept the inevitable and agree to be sold. They reason, not illogically, that life with a Chinese husband, even an abusive one, is preferable to arrest, repatriation, and automatic imprisonment in a North Korean labor camp for illegally leaving the country. Nevertheless, the couple’s living arrangement will have no standing under Chinese law. Because the woman has no official identity papers, the marriage cannot be legally registered.”

I would recommend that you read the article in its entirety, but as a flavour of the terrible things that are happening and which we have no or little idea about in the West, read this experience of Bang Mi-sun:

“She crossed the Tumen River, motivated, she later said, by one thought: ‘I might find refuge in China.’ Her husband had died of starvation in North Korea. Her elder daughter had disappeared, and her two younger children needed her help. She hoped to find work in China. Instead, she found Chinese police waiting for her, ready to send her back to North Korea unless she agreed to be sold. Speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C., she described what happened next: ‘My first buyer sold me to another buyer, and then that buyer sold me in turn to another buyer, each buyer for additional profit.’

‘I was being sold like a beast,’ she said. ‘I remember these Chinese brokers would call us, those who were being sold, pigs. Well, I was the best pig they had. I was sold at top price.’… She finally escaped again to China and made her way to South Korea. At the Washington press conference, she stood on a chair, lifted up her skirt, and displayed the deep furrows in her thighs, scars where she’d been tortured. She asked, ‘Why do North Korean women have to be treated like pigs and sold like pigs and suffer these things?’”

Why indeed? Because there is a demand for women in China because the “commodity” is scarce. Gendercide is an horrendous injustice: it is an injustice to the girls killed in the womb or left to die soon after birth; it is an injustice to the men left without the remotest chance of enjoying one of life’s great joys, a wife; and it is an injustice to the girls and women who are treated as rare commodities to be bought and sold like pigs.

And yet we know next to nothing about this injustice here in the West. Do we not care? Or are we too busy worrying about Israel and Obama’s election chances? Are we scared of even questioning the liberal sacrament: abortion for all and in all cases and for all reasons?  Let us hope that the UN’s cognisance of the problem is a sign that the world will start to take notice. I mean, just look at the sterling job that the UN did in Rwanda and Bosnia and Syria…oh dear…

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...