Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Korea, Republic of


The Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) is a source, transit, and destination country for men and women subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor. Some men and women from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Colombia, Mongolia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries are subjected to forced labor, and some women are subjected to forced prostitution. Some foreign women who entered the country on E-6 entertainment visas were forced into prostitution. Some women from less developed countries recruited for marriage with South Korean men through international marriage brokers are subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor subsequent to their arrival in the ROK, or when running away from abusive spouses. South Korean women were subjected to forced prostitution domestically and abroad in destinations including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia, many coerced by traffickers to whom they owed debts. Commercial sexual exploitation of South Korean teenagers within the country remains a problem. Migrant workers who travel to the ROK for employment may incur thousands of dollars in debts, contributing to their vulnerability to debt bondage. There are approximately 500,000 low-skilled migrant workers in the ROK from elsewhere in Asia, many of whom were working under the government’s Employment Permit System (EPS). Migrant workers sometimes face conditions indicative of forced labor, including nonpayment of wages, withholding of passports, and work upon arrival in the ROK that differs from the job description offered to them in their country of origin.

The Government of the Republic of Korea fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government reported an increased number of sex trafficking convictions during the reporting period and sustained services for sex trafficking victims. Labor trafficking prosecutions may have occurred; such cases have not been reported in several prior reporting periods. The government did not institute formal procedures to identify proactively trafficking victims and refer them to available services. More centers provide services for female than for male trafficking victims.

Recommendations for the Republic of Korea: Enact drafted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that defines and prohibits trafficking in persons; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders, including those involved in labor trafficking; develop and implement formal victim identification procedures to identify proactively trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including women arrested for prostitution, migrants in the EPS, and illegal immigrants; make greater efforts to identify victims of forced labor among migrant workers, such as those who file complaints of unpaid wages; conduct a study or regular surveys to explore the scope and manifestations of labor trafficking in South Korea, similar to the triennial survey on sex trafficking; proactively grant victims permission to work pending investigations and prosecutions against their traffickers; and take steps to increase awareness of child sex tourism and enforce laws against South Koreans engaging in such acts.


The ROK government took adequate steps to prosecute trafficking offenses during the reporting period, but its efforts continued to be hampered by the lack of a clear law prohibiting all forms of trafficking. South Korea prohibits most aspects of trafficking through its 2004 Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic and its Labor Standards Act, which prescribe up to 10 years’ and five years’ imprisonment, respectively; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reports using other criminal statutes related to kidnapping and juvenile protection to prosecute and punish trafficking offenses. The Republic of Korea does not have a comprehensive trafficking law that fully complies with international norms. During the reporting period, government authorities reported investigating 53 sex-trafficking cases, compared with 40 during the previous reporting period, under the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic. These investigations resulted in a total of 11 convictions, an increase from six convictions under this statute during the previous reporting period. Sentences for sex trafficking offenders ranged from 16 months to five years. Because there is no comprehensive anti-trafficking law in South Korea, disaggregating data as to whether the convictions were, in fact, trafficking convictions is difficult. Since April 2011, there were allegations of forced labor abuses and unpaid and underpayment of wages on South Korean-flagged fishing vessels in New Zealand waters. At the end of the reporting period, these allegations remained under investigation. The government’s National Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into allegations of forced labor on these South Korean flagged fishing vessels. Despite conducting 34 labor trafficking investigations and obtaining eight indictments in the past year, the government did not report any labor trafficking convictions under the Labor Standards Act or any other statutes for several years, raising concerns that the current legal structure for addressing labor trafficking is insufficient. In June 2012, Korean authorities asserted that a number of labor trafficking offenders were prosecuted during the reporting period; these claims could not be confirmed. In addition, there have been no convictions of Korean child sex tourists or labor trafficking offenders in the past five years.

In April 2011, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency announced that they had arrested a 40-year-old North Korean female refugee and three additional individuals for forcing 70 North Korean women into prostitution. The perpetrators paid the equivalent of $32,139 to Chinese brokers to bring the women to South Korea and investigators believe Chinese brothels may have been involved in trafficking the victims. The victims received shelter, counseling, education services, and South Korean citizenship. The 40-year-old North Korean female refugee pleaded guilty to lesser charges related to the commercial sex trade and paid an the equivalent of $1,800 fine; as of the end of the reporting period, the case against the three other defendants remained pending. During the reporting period, the government funded training on investigating sex trafficking crimes against women and children for 274 newly appointed prosecutors and prosecutors designated to handle sex trafficking cases.


The ROK government sustained strong efforts to protect trafficking victims during the reporting period, but it lacks formal proactive victim identification procedures. There were fewer services available for labor trafficking victims than sex trafficking victims. The government identified 15 forced prostitution victims; it is unclear how many labor trafficking victims were identified. The government did not have a formal mechanism to guide front-line responders, such as police, social workers, and labor and health officials, in how to identify human trafficking and refer potential victims to available services. In 2011, the government spent the equivalent of approximately $16.9 million, mainly by providing financial support to NGOs offering shelter, counseling, medical and legal assistance, vocational training, educational programs, and rehabilitation services to a variety of persons in need, including sex trafficking victims. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) operated 18 shelters for Korean victims of sex trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence, offering medical and legal services. The government also sustained its operation of one specialized shelter for foreign victims of sex trafficking, but it did not report the number of victims assisted at this facility during the reporting period. The government continued to fund an extensive network of support centers for foreign wives and runaway teenagers, two groups vulnerable to trafficking in South Korea. These support centers offer services such as counseling in a number of languages, legal advice, and referrals to medical services and shelters. The government did not operate specific programs for forced labor victims or shelters for male trafficking victims. Observers claimed that the EPS continued to assign excessive power to employers over workers’ mobility and legal status, making them vulnerable to trafficking. The government offered foreign victims of trafficking legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. The government’s G-1 visa system allowed for foreign trafficking victims to remain in South Korea for up to one year to participate in investigations against their traffickers, and three G-1 visa holders that were trafficking victims were working. Victims of trafficking are not punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being in a trafficking situation.


The ROK government took steps to prevent trafficking during the reporting period, though similar to the year before, these efforts focused almost exclusively on sex trafficking. The government continued to conduct a wide variety of campaigns to raise awareness of sex trafficking in South Korea, targeting particularly vulnerable groups such as teenagers and foreign wives. In an effort to add safeguards to the marriage broker process, South Korea passed legislation last year compelling men marrying foreign brides to take classes prior to marriage. During the reporting period, MOGEF publicized on buses, electronic billboards, subways, and in foreign language publications the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women hotline, which had operators trained to assist trafficking victims. In an effort to educate potential clients of the sex trade, MOGEF produced and distributed guidelines on preventing trafficking to 1,500 public institutions, and conducted Internet campaigns to prevent involvement of juveniles in the sex trade. In an effort to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, the Ministry of Justice continued to run 39 “Johns Schools,” requiring convicted male clients of prostitution to attend one-day seminars on the risks of prostitution and sex trafficking in lieu of criminal punishment. As part of the 2008 revisions to the anti-sex trafficking legislation, the government is required to conduct research every three years on the status of sex trafficking in South Korea. The MOGEF conducted a triennial nationwide survey on prostitution in 2010 and published the results of the survey in early 2011. Korean authorities continued to train law enforcement and other government officials on trafficking and used a standardized training program on preventing forced prostitution. Korean men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The South Korean government aired television commercials to discourage participation in child sex tourism, and Korean embassies abroad posted child sex tourism warnings and information on their homepages and provided pamphlets at airports and travel agencies. The government has not reported any prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists in the past five years. The ROK government continued to provide anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

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