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I think we can’t stop sex slavery: Author Hyeon-seo Lee

Jul 31, 2017

My book revealed the truth about North Korean women being sold like sex objects in China, says Hyeon-seo Lee, a North Korean defector, and human rights activist.

Hyeon-seo Lee

Jaipur: Hyeon-seo Lee, a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea, is the author of The Girl with Seven Names. Lee has testified about North Korean human rights in front of a special panel of the UN Security Council in 2014 and at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2016.

In an exclusive interview to Ashok Kumar of OneWorld South Asia at the Jaipur Literature Festival- 2017, Lee said that no human rights existed in North Korea with women being the worst sufferers of all. Excerpts from the interview:

OneWorld South Asia: What are some of the daily challenges for the people in the communist regime of North Korea?

Hyeonseo: As humans beings, we don’t have any human rights. I had never heard of what is human rights until eight years ago, until I sought asylum to South Korea.

We don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of movement, press, and religion. If you are trying to listen outside to the world’s contents or try to listen to other media, you will be sent to prison.

North Korea is isolated from the whole world. Many people don’t know what is happening inside North Korea. The dictator is doing whatever he wants to until right now for seven decades.

The state of women’s rights is worse than that and in that society man is superior to women which means domestic violence is a very crazy.

OWSA: Your much lauded The Girl With Seven Names is a true story of a girl who escapes from North Korea into China. Tell us more about your book.

Hyeonseo Lee: I was born in North Korea and raised until I finished my high school there. North Korea is not a normal country. I want to say it is a massive, huge prison, or more than a prison.

As you can see, the title, The Girl with Seven Names, means that I had seven different lives to protect my identity, to escape repatriation to North Korea, to not end up being in prison in North Korea.

Therefore, I had to struggle and do my best to keep my identity in China in safety. The Chinese government, even until today keep repatriating North Korean defectors back to North Korea.

That is why I had to avoid and keep escaping Chinese authorities all the time. And yes, North Korean defectors like me are suffering. Like most issues in China, my book deals with issues of sex slavery, issues or trafficked brides sold to Chinese men.

OWSA: So how do you think sex slavery and human trafficking is a challenge for women across the world?

Hyeonseo Lee: These kinds of issues have always been there, they exist even today and will happen in the future too. I don’t think we as women we can be free of these kinds of issues.

Women are always in a vulnerable position. I think we can’t stop sex slavery or trafficked bride issues.

I can’t stop it but I can help to raise awareness about these issues to reduce these problems. I hope when I leave the world there is no sex slavery.

OWSA: How do you think your book will help women who have been sex slaves earlier or who are sex slaves today?

Hyeonseo: Yes, I am helping them directly because certainly my goal is to stop the sex slaveries in China for the North Korean female defectors.

A woman can’t SOS to the government or the police because in North Korea it is considered a man’s family. It is not a matter of government or law. That’s why the victim are always a women and then they are the breadwinners who have to support as mother, as sister and feed the families, to support their families.

They are doing all the hard work in North Korea even today. That’s women, and for us as North Koreans- that’s normal life because there is no comparison.

OWSA: What is the state of refugee women in China?

Hyeonseo: Women from North Korea are being sold as sex slaves and trafficked brides to Chinese men, even until today its happening.

North Korean women in China are being sold as sex objects because they don’t know how to speak Chinese and they don’t know where to go.

They don’t have a house or they don’t have relatives. They don’t have anyone to help them out and that’s why they end up in a very vulnerable situation.

OWSA: How do you think books can help in spreading the issue of human rights across the world?

Hyeonseo: If my book gets a lot of attention and many people read this book then they would be aware of what’s going on in China. Even local Chinese people got to know about it as this issues never surfaces in media.

And after reading this book Chinese people were very shocked, surprised and were ashamed of their government. Many people apologised to me about what their government was doing and are trying to spread this issue to people around in China.

I have a lot of things to learn about the outside world, including India. India has a massive population after China, and I just hope people in India also care about North Korean issues.

Transcription: Venika Menon

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