For well over a decade, hundreds of thousands have fled North Korea seeking basic necessities such as food and medicine or even freedom. It is estimated that up to 300,000 are hiding in the underground today. Similar to the Underground Railroad of 19th-century America that saved more than 30,000 slaves, the modern-day underground railroad comprises a network of safe houses and escape routes from North Korea to China, Mongolia, Russia and Southeast Asia. Refugees must traverse over mountains, deserts and other unfriendly terrains, and families are frequently separated during the journey in the underground. No outcome is ever certain.
Of the North Korean refugees who are hiding or have come through China, the majority are women, and more than 80 percent are trafficked or voluntarily marry Chinese men. Some of these women, however, leave their families for fear of being caught and sent back to North Korea or to escape abuse. Once the North Korean mothers leave, the Chinese fathers often find themselves struggling or unable to provide for their children, altogether abandoning these "stateless" children or leaving them to be cared for by relatives. Stateless children lack documentation that prove their citizenship and allow them to receive education, work legally or have basic rights, which leaves them at high risk of exploitation or abuse.