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1 in 9 female migrant workers subject to sexual abuse: report

One in 9 female migrant workers in the manufacturing sector in South Korea experience sexual abuse, a report showed Tuesday.

According to a survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on 385 female migrants, 11.7 percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed or assaulted by their coworkers or managers while working in Korea.

In the poll, which allowed multiple responses, they said they had been exposed to vulgar jokes, forced to pour drinks for coworkers at office meals, subjected to unwanted physical contact, offered to sell sex and even raped.


Among 45 individuals, seven people said they had put up with the abuse without telling anyone. Some 11 people verbally protested, while three people sought consultation from religious groups and civic organizations. Only one person filed a complaint with the Labor Ministry. Others did not give an answer.

Only seven of the sexual abuse victims said that they had received an apology. For six migrants, there were no actions taken. Three people chose to change their workplaces and two quit their jobs, becoming unregistered workers.

Human rights activists supporting female migrant workers had a dramatically different perception of the sexual abuse faced by female migrants. Among 50 activists polled by the human rights watchdog, 74 percent of them said the level of sexual harassment or violence facing female workers was “severe.”

Under the current employment system, migrant workers are banned from changing their workplaces without their employers’ agreement, which activists say puts them at a disadvantage and at risk of rights abuses.

Female migrant workers also experienced gender-based discrimination, with 23.6 percent saying so. Among them, 76.7 percent said they were discriminated against in terms of income, followed by job assignments and employment opportunities (61.5 percent each). Nearly 40 percent of them said they had been disadvantaged because of their appearance.

Female migrants were also paid less than male counterparts, the report showed. Most of the woman (69.3 percent) were paid between 1 million won ($880) and 2 million won, while 52.7 percent of their male counterparts received more than 2 million won.

“In general, the working conditions for female migrant workers are worse than those for men. They are subject to comprehensive discrimination as they are women, foreigner and worker, there needs to be more in-depth discussion on human rights violations facing them,” the report said.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of foreign residents aged 15 or over stood at 1.42 million as of 2016. Among them, 962,000 have a job here and 33.7 percent of them are women. Of the female migrant workers, 45.4 percent, or 437,000, are working in the manufacturing or mining industry.

Led by the Gender Law Center at Ewha Womans University, the research studied 385 female migrant workers in the manufacturing sector across the nation to look into their working conditions -- pay, housing, level of sexual harassment, among other factors -- to improve the law and system to better protect their human rights.

By Ock Hyun-ju (