On a hazy, overcast morning, one day after our arrival in Yanji, our guide drove us two hours away to a logging town along the Chinese-North Korean border. We arrived at a small, dusty village where we met with Mrs. Ahn, a woman who appeared to be in her early fifties. She had fled North Korea in the late nineties at the height of a devastating famine. Estimates vary, but it's believed that anywhere from hundreds of thousands to perhaps three million people died as a result of the famine. Conditions were so dire during that time that many North Koreans attempted to escape to China, where they heard they could get white rice, which had become virtually nonexistent in North Korea. Defectors, including Mrs. Ahn, bribed North Korean border guards to let them cross the river into China. Some hired so-called brokers to guide them across the treacherous waters. But once in China, many found themselves lost, with no way to make a living. The brokers, taking advantage of their vulnerable state, ended up selling these desperate women to Chinese men as wives.
The selling of women as brides is becoming increasingly rampant throughout China. In 1979 the Chinese government, in reaction to its exploding population, began limiting the number of children Chinese couples could have to one. The policy became known as the One Child Policy. What the government did not anticipate was that so many couples would want that one child to be male. As a result, tens of thousands of Chinese baby girls were aborted or abandoned, and today the country has tens of millions more males than females. Already men are having a difficult time finding wives, and women are being trafficked from other parts of the world, including North Korea, to fill this role. The women are sold off like animals to Chinese men, many of whom live in China's impoverished countryside. While these women may receive more sustenance living as purchased brides, they exist without residency certification or identification cards, which means that at any point they can be arrested and sent back to North Korea, where they face certain punishment.
Not only is the reality grim for these women defectors, but the children they bear to Chinese husbands also suffer. The Chinese government does not view the marriages of North Korean defectors to Chinese men as legitimate and therefore does not recognize these children as citizens. If the mothers are repatriated to North Korea or resold to other men, as sometimes happens, the fathers often end up abandoning the children. Some of these children are cast away because their fathers are too old and disabled to care for them. With no identification cards, they are unable to attend school, and they are denied health care; they must live in the shadows as stateless children. At a clandestine foster home run by a missionary in Pastor Chun's network, we met with a half-dozen foster children between the ages of six and ten who were being given clothes, a warm, clean place to live, and an education. It was hard to realize that without the help of Chun's group, these young souls might be roaming the streets without any parents or a government to provide for them. They would be lost and without identities.