South Korean Sex Trade: Is It Covering Up A Bigger Human Rights Crisis?

The sex trade is notoriously strong in Asian countries like South Korea.

Although prostitution is illegal, it operates openly throughout all of South Korea. Brothers, clubs, and “health clubs” are all in the public eye.  It has been a severe problem for many decades. Most of the forced sex trafficking occurs domestically although migrant workers and girls in other countries are also at risk. The money made from South Korea’s sex trade is estimated to be around 4% of the country’s GDP. There is no real way to track the number of women subjected to the trade, but sources say it could be close one million.

Although there is pressure to stop the sex trade, and some actions have been taken, the demand for these young women is high. The money to be made in the sex trade outweighs the fears of retribution. South Korea is a prime destination for so-called sexual tourism. Whether domestic or international locations, people flood to South Korea to take advantage of the thriving red light districts. The industry continues to flourish without being unchecked. Could the reason for this be to cover up even bigger Human Rights violations?

The violation of women’s rights is strong in South Korea. Asian societies are traditionally patriarchal. Although women are gaining ground in business and politics in South Korea, there is still resistance to women having top positions in society. The strong sex trade is prevalent of attitudes that are negative towards women. The sex trade is a way to exploit and control women in the sex trade. South Korea’s society is very consumerist. A society of exorbitant spending and high debts to maintain a luxurious lifestyle has driven many women into prostitution. They are promised by pimps that they can pay their debts off. Most women are trapped into the sex trade because their pimps ensure that the woman never pay off their debts. Human trafficking doesn’t only keep women in degrading conditions, but children and migrant workers as well. Many women from less developed countries are lured into false marriages. When they arrived in South Korea, they are forced into prostitution. Children are sold to cover the debts of their parents, who are too ashamed to admit they sold their children. The sex trade is an industry made of innocent victims.

The sex trade is a cover for greater human rights violations. Child pornography, prostitution, and abuse are hidden within the confines of the sex trade. Child sex tourism draws pedophiles to South Korea every year. These actions go unnoticed within the large scale of the sex trade. Brothels and pornography companies can easily lie to authorities about the ages of their workers. A majority of young children, boys, and girls are runaways. Many of these young children are never heard from again. Makers of pornography can make films with underage youth and can escape under the radar. The ages of sex workers are usually only known after law enforcement agency breaks up a sex operation.

Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to catch these traffickers and johns. According to statistics, “95 percent of commercial sexual exploitation of children in the ROK is arranged over the Internet”. This makes it difficult to catch those buying children for sexual acts and those pimping them out. The internet makes these transactions anonymous and hard to trace. That is why it easy to hide the exploitation of children in the sex trade. The same can also be said of the exploitation of migrant workers that come to South Korea.

In South Korea, there are around 500,000 migrant workers from other Asian countries. These workers come to South Korea to take on low-skilled labor jobs. The workers come to South Korea on an Employee Permit System. The strictures on mobility and access to migrant workers  make them easy to exploit for the sex trade. These workers come to South Korea to earn money for themselves and their families. They have chosen to be migrant workers because there is little opportunity to earn money back home. The workers have the right be kept safe during their time in South Korea. However, many of them fall victim to human trafficking. Their rights to earn a wage and be safe when they are abroad are violated. South Korea has an obligation to protect these workers. Instead, rampant exploitation occurs.The workers are taken or persuaded into the sex trade. Sex trade operators convince the workers they can earn money faster by engaging in prostitution. They are lured by false promises that they can get out of the trade as soon as they make enough money. Most of them never escape the sex trade. Migrant workers are vulnerable due to their uncertain status in South Korea. It easy for them go missing and never be seen again.

The sex trade covers up the underlying problems of exploitation of migrant workers, women, and children. A new society of consumerism combined with old-fashioned attitudes towards women and minorities have helped fuel the sex trade. Human rights violations are secured within the fold of the sex trade. Women who are in debt or starving disappear into the red light districts because they can’t find a higher paying job. Marriage traps for girls with no other choice cause thousands of women to be forced into prostitution. Children are use for sex tourism and pornography, suffering abuse daily at the hands of men and women. These children are often never found except when police finally catch raid a brothel or film studio. Migrant workers are forced into the sex trade with little protection for their rights.

A human rights crisis is happening that is bigger than just the sex trade. Women, children, and migrant workers are falling through the cracks in South Korea. Human trafficking and the sex trade are only the surfaces of a systematic abuse of human rights. Although the government is taking action, only a complete change in the way society views these groups of people can enact real change.

Author bio:

Mandi Bowerman is a writer from Georgia who spent several years traveling and studying in Asia. She currently writes on humanitarian topics in the Asia Pacific region as well as reviewing books on her own personal blog.

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