The Korea Herald


Korea to launch new bureau in fight against human trafficking

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : July 2, 2023 - 14:36

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Cover of the US 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report (Screen captured from the report) Cover of the US 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report (Screen captured from the report)

South Korea is set to establish a dedicated anti-human trafficking bureau in a bid to address international criticism over its handling of the issue, according to sources and news reports on Sunday.

According to reports, the anti-human trafficking bureau, which will be known as the Department of Rights and Rescue, will operate with a total of seven temporary employees within the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The new bureau will be in charge of supporting human trafficking victims and female North Korean defectors, as well as establishing a comprehensive plan to prevent human trafficking.

The bureau plans to provide educational support for victims of human trafficking, including underage children. It also aims to assist victims with reintegration into society through vocational training, legal counseling and coverage of medical expenses. Additionally, it will aid foreign victims in returning to their home countries.

The bureau will be established on a temporary basis for six months until the end of the year, but its operations may be extended until June 2024 if necessary.

The South Korean government has faced consistent criticism over its management of human trafficking crimes. The United Nations has advised the Korean government to come up with more practical human trafficking prevention systems, pointing out that sexual and labor exploitation of foreign workers is a serious issue.

In response, the Korean government in January implemented the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, which defines and prohibits both sexual exploitation and labor exploitation as human trafficking, and requires the Gender Ministry to establish a comprehensive plan to prevent human trafficking every five years.

Despite these measures, South Korea was downgraded for the first time in 20 years to a Tier 2 country in July 2022 in the annual human trafficking report published by the US State Department -- a document that divides human trafficking surveillance and crackdown levels in three tiers. This year's report released on June 15 also ranked Korea in the Tier 2.

"Despite reports of rampant human trafficking targeting foreign workers, the South Korean government has not made any reports identifying foreign victims of forced labor. Officials continue to confuse human trafficking with other crimes, and the court has sentenced related criminals to less than a year in prison, fines or probation,” the US State Department said.

Following the release of the report, the Foreign Ministry pledged to enhance its response in alignment with the Human Trafficking Prevention Act.

Since 2001, the US State Department has published these reports in compliance with its own laws, categorizing countries based on their human trafficking surveillance and enforcement efforts.

In this year's report, the US, Britain, France, Taiwan and the Philippines were classified as Tier 1 countries. Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand, along with South Korea, were classified as Tier 2, while North Korea, China and Russia were placed in Tier 3.