North Korean Refugees Face Forced Abortion and Infanticide

By Liz Townsend

North Korean women deported from The People's Republic of China reportedly face not only detention in prison camps but an even more brutal fate: if they are pregnant their babies will be aborted or killed at birth, according to the New York Times.

Thousands of North Koreans have defected from the country and gone into China illegally. In recent years, according to the Times, China has begun to send them back to North Korea, where they are treated as "traitors and counterrevolutionaries" and imprisoned in detention camps.

Women sent to the prison camps are allegedly asked if they are pregnant. If they are, the babies are either aborted or killed, the Times reported, because the fathers are assumed to be Chinese. "This is a systematic procedure carried out by guards, and the people in charge of the prisons - - these are not isolated cases," Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights without Frontiers, told the Times. "The pattern is to identify women who are pregnant, so the camp authorities can get rid of the babies through forced abortion, torture, or very hard labor. If they give birth to a baby alive, the general policy is to let the baby die or to help the baby die with a plastic sheet."

North Korean officials have denied these charges, saying that it is "a whopping lie" and "nothing but a plot deliberately hatched . . . to hurl mud" at North Korea, the Times reported.

However, several escapees from the prison camps, using aliases, spoke directly to the Times and gave firsthand accounts of the atrocities. Mrs. Lee worked in a medical clinic at the Pyongbuk Provincial Police Detention Camp in 2000. She watched one day as a doctor gave labor-inducing drugs to eight pregnant women. "The first time a baby was born, I didn't know there was a wooden box for throwing babies away," she told the Times. "I got the baby and tried to wrap it in clothes. But the security people told me to get rid of it in the wooden box."

Of the eight babies delivered, six were dead at birth and two were alive. Mrs. Less "said she watched a doctor open the box and kill the two live babies by piercing their skulls with surgical scissors," the Times reported.

Guards would also force prisoners to smother babies born in cells. Mr. Kim, who was imprisoned in Chongjin Provincial Police Detention Camp in 2001, said he buried three newborn babies wrapped in "blue-tinted plastic bags. The prisoners were ordered to get the babies coming from the mothers and to kill them," according to the Times.

Another prisoner, referred to as Miss Lee, was detained in four different camps and also witnessed prisoners forced by guards to smother newborn babies. "The oldest woman in the cell did it reluctantly," she told the Times. "The young women were scared. The mothers would just cry in silence."

The motive for the baby killings seems based largely on hatred of foreigners, especially Chinese. "The guards would scream at us, 'You are carrying Chinese sperm, from foreign countries. We Koreans are one people, how dare you bring this foreign sperm here,'" Miss Lee told the Times. "Most of the fathers were Chinese."

Access to the prison camps themselves are tightly controlled by the government, so outside agencies have not been able to confirm the stories firsthand, the Times reported. But experts have said the conditions in the prison camps, which currently hold about 200,000 people, and the nature of the North Korean government make the stories very believable. "Nothing would surprise in accounts of this kind," Selig S. Harrison of the Center for International Policy told the Times.