The Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) is a source, transit, and destination country for men and women subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, and women and girls in forced commercial sexual exploitation. Some men and women from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Morocco, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries are recruited for employment in the ROK, and subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Some foreign women from Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, China, and other Southeast Asian countries who enter the country on entertainment visas, including those recruited to be singers and bar workers near U.S. military facilities, were trafficked for forced prostitution. Most sex and labor trafficking victims had their passports confiscated and wages withheld by their employers, and some victims had their movements restricted. Migrant workers who travel to the ROK for employment may incur thousands of dollars in debts, contributing to their vulnerability to debt bondage. The use of debt bondage was common among sex trafficking victims, and employers and brokers often found ways to compound victims’ debt. 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 upon arrival in the ROK; some brokers reportedly charge on average $10,000-$13,000 from Korean clients. There are approximately 500,000 low-skilled migrant workers in the ROK from elsewhere in Asia, many of whom were working under the Employment Permit System (EPS). While new protections were implemented for EPS workers, observers claimed the EPS assigns excessive power to employers over workers’ mobility and legal status, making them vulnerable to trafficking. South Korean women were subjected to forced prostitution domestically and abroad in destinations including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. According to observers in destination countries, South Korean men continue to be a major source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The growing use of the Internet aided the brokering of the sex trade in the ROK, and in some cases South Korean nationals also used online brokers to arrange for prostitution overseas, particularly in the Philippines, Thailand, and China.
The Government of the Republic of Korea fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government’s framework for addressing human trafficking is confined to the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, and often conflates prostitution and trafficking. The government did report efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict offenders of trafficking violations. Authorities reported that trafficking related crimes against foreigners were investigated and prosecuted as human rights abuses. The government does not have procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking, and did not identify any trafficking victims during the year. Additionally, the government has never prosecuted a South Korean citizen for engaging in child sex tourism abroad.
Recommendations for the Republic of Korea: Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders involved in both sex and labor trafficking in the ROK; ensure immigration and police officials are trained to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking; develop and implement proactive victim identification procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including foreign women arrested for prostitution and foreign workers; develop and implement a formal trafficking-specific referral process for law enforcement officials to direct trafficking victims to short- and long-term care; increase the availability of protection and assistance to victims of labor trafficking; make greater efforts to inform migrant workers of their rights in the ROK; as a preventative measure, take steps to ensure foreign workers have judicial recourse to hold employers accountable for abuses including nonpayment of wages and the withholding of passports; ensure labor offices have adequate interpretation services to serve foreign workers; take steps to reduce the demand for child sex tourism by increasing law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute South Korean child sex tourists; and improve the available statistical data on trafficking in the ROK.
The ROK government made some anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. The ROK prohibits trafficking through its 2004 “Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic” and its Labor Standards Act, which prescribes up to 10 years’ and five years’ imprisonment, respectively – penalties that are sufficiently stringent. Authorities reported prosecuting 27 offenders, of which 17 were convicted and the remaining 10 are still in trial; however, the government was unable to report details of these cases, including the sentences prescribed to convicted trafficking offenders. An additional six sex trafficking offenders were fined under Article 18 of the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic; two of them received fines of $1,700. There were 65 prosecutions under Article 11, which can be used to prosecute trafficking offenses. However, the Government of the ROK was not able to provide more information regarding the underlying facts of these cases; therefore, it is unclear how many of these prosecutions involved trafficking offenses. The government convicted one South Korean national under the Immigration Control Act for withholding a foreign worker’s passport to secure payment of debts, and sentenced the offender to 10 months’ imprisonment. Over 10,000 migrant workers reported violations of the labor law in 2009, most of which involved unpaid wages. The government did not identify trafficking cases among complaints filed against the EPS. The Ministry of Labor reported employers withheld $20.5 million in unpaid wages to 9,452 workers, and authorities assisted workers in getting employers to pay about 55 percent of these unpaid wages. While more than 2,000 cases were referred to prosecutors, it was unclear how many of these cases were prosecuted. Restrictions on the ability of foreign workers to change jobs were improved by 2009 revisions to the EPS, but continued to make it difficult for migrant workers to seek legal redress. The government began to enforce new laws restricting the actions of international marriage brokers. In December 2009 the government investigated the some 2,000 brokers registered in the ROK and found 422 violations, though none of these violations led to criminal trafficking prosecutions. Foreign officials expressed concern local police were not motivated to investigate some sex trafficking leads that had been provided to South Korean authorities. There were some reports police officers took bribes from brothel owners in exchange for prior notice about police raids. In May 2009, the ROK government sentenced one police officer to one year in prison for accepting bribes from a brothel. Another six officers were subjected to disciplinary measures for taking smaller bribes from brothel owners.
The Government of the Republic of Korea exhibited some efforts to protect trafficking victims, but its lack of a system to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups limited its ability to assist and protect victims. Authorities did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the year, including among the 20,000 foreigners deported from the country in 2009 for immigration violation. The government reported it referred foreign victims of sexual or labor exploitation to institutions providing victim care, though the government lacks an institutionalized referral process. Some undocumented workers who may have been trafficking victims were rounded up in police raids and deported. In 2009, the government spent $15 million on shelters and victim care facilities to support victims of abuse, including trafficking victims; these shelters were accessible to trafficking victims, though the government was unable to provide data on the number of trafficking victims who used these shelters. Most of the victim shelters and counseling centers accessible to trafficking victims are run by NGOs funded either wholly or in part by the government. In December 2009, the government began requiring counselors and social workers who deal with women formerly in the sex industry to take four weeks of sex trafficking training. The government also established during the year 14 additional shelters for foreign women who were victims of violence, including trafficking, bringing the total to 18 shelters. The Ministry of Labor operated eight Migrant Workers’ Centers nationwide to help foreign workers in the country. However, according to one NGO observer, some staff members at labor offices charged with assisting migrant workers were unwilling to assist some migrant workers with their labor complaints. The government can provide “G-1 visas” to trafficking victims who assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, but did not provide any trafficking victims a G-1 visa during the reporting period. The government ran telephone hotlines accessible to victims of sex trafficking and to victims of labor trafficking.
The ROK government continued anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period, though these efforts were focused on sex trafficking and did not address labor trafficking. In 2009, the government distributed brochures on preventing the sex trade and trafficking to public agencies and counseling centers and ran advertisements to raise awareness about sex trafficking on subways and electronic billboards. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Gender Equality created a compulsory training program on sex trafficking prevention and disseminated the material to public agencies. 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 attend these one-day seminars – in lieu of criminal punishment. According to observers, South Korean men continue to be a major source of demand for child sex tourism throughout Asia. During the reporting period, the government did not prosecute any Korean nationals for engaging in child sex tourism abroad. The ROK government conducted training for the fisheries industry on the Child and Youth Protection Act, but did not make any other efforts to reduce the overall demand for child sex tourism. The ROK government provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The Republic of Korea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.