Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What North Korea doesn't want the world to know

On Monday, journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison. This morning, Blaine Harden in the Washington Post tells the probable reason: they were researching an article on the plight of women who, fleeing famine and poverty in North Korea, crossed the border into China. (You may have to create an account to read the Post article, but the account is free and takes only a minute to set up. It's worth the effort.)

Many of these refugee women ended up “being sold like livestock in China,” according to one refugee who was sold in marriage to three men, sent back to North Korea, permanently maimed from a police beating, and then sent to a labor camp which she characterized as “hell on earth.”

Actually, says a South Korean human-rights researcher, most of the women are much better off in China than they were in North Korea. If they stay with the men who buy them, they are given adequate food and housing. However, they and most of their children have no legal status. Without residency papers, the women can be deported at any moment—back to North Korea, where they will be treated as criminals. Their undocumented children, who will remain with their Chinese fathers, may not be able to go to school.

(A disgression: if you Google “religion and women’s rights,” you’ll find plenty of evidence for serious shortcomings in this area on the part of all major religions. But note that North Korea and China are both officially atheistic countries, so apparently the absence of religion is not the answer. When I get impatient with the church’s slowness in treating women and men equally, I should probably remind myself of that.)

Let’s all pray, light a candle, march, or do whatever we do best on behalf of Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee.

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