Life goes on -- even for the North Korean escapees in China.
Amid the constant threat of police crackdown, continuous barter in slavery and sex trade, and the general struggle for survival, the North Korean female defectors -- whether by choice or enforcement -- continued to give birth. As a consequence, an entire generation of stateless children in China has become the latest tragic outcome of the dogmatic North Korean regime.
In complete contradiction to article 15.1 of the U.N. Human Rights Declaration -- "everyone has the right to a nationality" -- these children born between Chinese Han farmers and stateless North Korean female defectors, or a North Korean born and raised in China, are denied the legal acknowledgement of their existence by both China and North Korea. In other words, the whole generation is currently kept secret.
"These children are the blind-spot of human rights," said Jang Bok-hee, professor of law at Sunmoon University in the South Chungcheong Province and one of the guest speakers at the International Youth Conference on North Korean Human Rights last Friday in central Seoul.
"North Korean orphans in China suffer from psychological and emotional stress and pain due to multiple factors, such as the constant fear of bodily danger, separation from family, threat to livelihood, and exclusion from medical, educational and other social services.
"Especially the orphans from North Korea, who have witnessed their parent`s death or have experienced extreme pain from human trafficking and starvation, display a greater psychological shock and instability," Jang said.
Though they are allowed to attend kindergarten and elementary schools, these North Korean-Chinese children are not allowed to enroll in middle and high schools. Lacking a citizenship, they are of course denied a means to a legal source of income, let alone social services. Not ensured such basic rights to livelihood and education, Jang alluded to these children`s easy inclination to crime as a life solution.
"First and foremost, North Korea has formally withdrawn its nation from being aided on an international level. Secondly, the Chinese government has the least interest in providing legal protective policies for unprotected, stateless residents in their nation. And to make matters worse, the `unpreparedness` as well as the lack of immediate and practical measures to aid the North is what prevent the numbers of defectors from reducing," said Do Hee-youn, another speaker at the conference.
Do, a representative of organization "Citizen`s Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees" (CHNK), provided rare insights into some of the challenges faced by South Korea in attempting to help these stateless children, such as providing evidence and proof of their North Korean heritage. "Having grown up in China (and often being half-Chinese), they lack any Korean language or knowledge, and thus to differentiate them from, say, Chinese immigrants is virtually impossible," Do said. "This inevitably prolongs the already-complicated process of providing help."
As well as undoubtedly calling on the South Korean government to provide necessary laws to take responsibility and accommodate for these defectors, Do also marked an initial stage as having the Chinese acknowledge their nation as being both a geographical and emotional "refuge."
"As a stepping stone, the Human Rights Resolution Proposal drawn up by South Korea was passed after a careful deliberation by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on Nov. 19. Nonetheless, there are still unthinkable numbers of stateless North Korean defectors who are exposed to the dangers of human rights violations and it is our duty to raise awareness of these defectors and establish a solid plan for a resolution," Do said.
Tim Peters, founder and director of NGO "Helping Hands Korea" concerned with providing famine relief to the northeastern portion of North Korea as well as assisting North Korean refugees in China, spoke on the fervent need "to put a face to this case of statelessness."
"These issues are not simply subject matters for academia, themes for masters` theses, or issues for legal research. These are human lives that are hanging by a thread, unprotected," Peters emphasized.
Daring to bluntly articulate the taboo topics of North Korean human rights, Peter asked, "If there is a humanitarian disaster of proportions equal to the Nazi camps and Stalin`s gulag, and it is about 1,000 miles north of here, how will history record the reaction of the countries nearby?"
Indeed, how will history record South Korea`s actions?
With the aims of providing knowledge as well as provoking concrete reactions, the conference was aimed at university students and the general younger generation to provide early-awareness of the nascent issues arising from this generation of stateless children.
Sponsored by, among others, the U.S. State Department, the conference was organized by People for Successful Corean Reunification, or PSCORE, a non-profit, non-religious and non-partisan NGO based in Seoul and Washington, striving for mutual understanding and harmony between the two Koreas and the international community. As well as organizing conferences, PSCORE also offers educational lessons in English, mathematics, computer skills, to name a few, for North Korean defectors and refugees in Seoul.
By An Ji-yoon