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N.K. ranked at bottom of human trafficking report

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) ― North Korea still has one of the world’s worst records in human trafficking, while China has improved its situation, according to a U.S. government report issued Friday.

In the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department kept North Korea at Tier 3, which groups countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” it said.

Part of the problem is that North Korea holds an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in political prison camps in remote areas without formally charging them with a crime through a fair legal process, it pointed out.

The report said the communist nation’s system of harsh punishment through forced labor camps or the death penalty can fuel trafficking in neighboring China.

North Korean defectors are especially vulnerable to trafficking, with some women kidnapped upon their arrival and others subjected to sexual slavery, it added.

“If found by Chinese authorities, victims are forcibly repatriated to North Korea where they are subject to harsh punishment, including forced labor in DPRK labor camps or the death penalty,” the department said.

Twenty-two other countries, including Iran, Russia and Zimbabwe, were placed on the Tier 3 blacklist.

China’s status was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 3.

Although China still has many problems, it is making “significant efforts” to address them, the department said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said it is a vital and challenging time for the world in tackling human trafficking.

“The United States is engaged on countless active fronts on every continent across the globe ― big, simultaneous confrontations and efforts,” he said in a statement. “This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report offers a roadmap for the road ahead.”

But Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disapproved of China’s upgrade.

“We know that the system of state-sponsored forced labor continues unchanged and that victims of trafficking from North Korea are routinely sent back to face further abuses,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Korea stayed at Tier 1 for the 12th consecutive year.