This week’s North Korea peace summit ended on an anticlimactic note when President Trump and Kim Jong-un abruptly walked out after failing to reach an agreement.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump told reporters at a press conference before leaving Vietnam, where the summit was held. The two leaders did not see eye to eye on each other’s terms for denuclearization and the lifting of economic sanctions on North Korea. Now, the U.S. and North Korea will have to restart the rapprochement process and hopefully agree to a third round of talks while avoiding any actions that might escalate tensions.
I hope I speak for everyone when I say we all want a peaceful resolution to come out of this, but we cannot forget that there’s more at stake here than nuclear confrontation.
As I write this, millions of North Koreans suffer hunger and repression under the Kim regime, and none suffer worse than North Korean women. Some of them have resorted to the extreme measure of selling themselves into slavery to escape the hermit kingdom.
That’s the story our team heard from Eun-Ju Kim, a defector we met recently. I have changed her name to protect her identity.
Like many North Koreans during the brutal famine that swept over the country in the mid-90s, Kim had a decision to make: escape or starve to death. She already had seen her nephew waste away and die of malnutrition in front of her eyes. With that prospect before her, she decided to make the risky journey to China. But she could never have guessed what she was going to endure.
If you are a woman in North Korea and you don’t have money, there’s only one thing of value you can offer smugglers to help you cross the border: your body. That’s what Kim did. She was smuggled with a group of women across the border, but as soon as they reached China, they were taken into what can only be described as a human auction house. There, they were assigned prices, with the younger having the highest price tags, for men to bid on them.
Kim was bought by a Chinese man who abused her severely. As she was undocumented, she had no rights and ran the risk of being caught by Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea. It would take years, a seven-month trek across three countries, and imprisonment in a Thai jail before she was able to reach South Korea, where she obtained citizenship.
As incredible as Kim’s story may sound, it’s not uncommon. Just recently, I read the story of two North Korean women who were tricked by so-called brokers into an online prostitution ring. Combined, the two spent 13 years trapped in a house in China, performing pornographic acts in front of a webcam for customers. They were finally able to escape through the courageous help of a pastor.
While articles about defectors and their dramatic escape stories abound, few emphasize the fact that 7 in 10 of all North Korean defectors are women. It’s believed that sex trafficking is one of the reasons for the lopsided gender ratio.
For the women who remain in North Korea, their fates are no better. The U.N. Human Rights Council and Human Rights Watch also have found sexual abuse is prevalent in civil society and in North Korea’s notorious political prison camps.
“Unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life: sexual abuse by officials, and the impunity they enjoy, is linked to larger patterns of sexual abuse and impunity in the country,” says a Human Rights Watch report published last November.
In 2013, the U.N. set up a commission to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea, including in its political prison camps where 80,000 to 120,000 people are believed to be held. The commission found that women in prison often face beatings and sexual violence. But those who try to defect and are caught, suffer unspeakable horrors. “Repatriated women who are pregnant are regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born to repatriated women are often killed,” the commission’s report says.
As a woman, just reading this fills me with anguish. I cannot begin to fathom the kind of strength these women posses to endure such suffering and still press on. But the most astonishing thing I have learned about North Korean women is that many of them risk suffering all of the above just for a chance to hold a Bible.
Yes, you heard me right: a Bible.
Last year, a woman came to our partners in the Korean Peninsula and asked them for 100 Bibles. If she were caught with one Bible — let alone 100! — she could face up to 15 years of hard labor in a prison camp. But she explained that the Christians who meet secretly in her home have only one Bible, which was handwritten with carbon paper.
“When we began, we earnestly and diligently took whatever paper we could find, placed them under the few sheets of carbon paper we have, and carefully wrote out the Bible from an old copy,” she told our partners.
Despite the consequences they may face, the number one request Christians in North Korea have for us is Bibles. Our organization, World Help, has committed to honor their request.
Why Bibles over food, clothes or other essentials? Because a Bible gives Christians hope in the darkest dungeons and has the power to transform hearts — even the hearts of those who torture them.
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.” Follow her on Instagram (@NoelYeatts) and on Twitter (@NoelYeatts). To learn more about World Help visit www.WorldHelp.net. For speaking engagements, visit www.NoelYeatts.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.