South Korea's Abysmal Record of Disability Rights Despite Economic Prosperity

Salt works on the west coast, Jeollabuk-do Province, Korea, Photo by Bruce Stainsby

Salt works on the west coast, Jeollabuk-do Province, Korea, Photo by Bruce Stainsby

SINAN COUNTY, South Korea – Though South Korea’s record of human rights abuse is not as heinous as its neighbor North Korea, it still grapples with abuse of the weakest members of its society. Prior to the latest exposé, there have been several studies and reports on the targeting of poor women and runaways who are approached by brokers with offers of domestic work, only to find themselves forced to work in the commercial sex trade.

Recently, it was reported by a number of news outlets that salt farmers have been using disabled men to perform the arduous work in the salt farming industry. These men are treated inhumanly and most are physically abused by their ‘employers.’ These men work to produce an estimated "two-thirds of South Korea’s sea salt on more than 850 salt farms on dozens of islands in Sinan County, including Sinui island, where half the 2,200 residents work in the industry. (Source: National Post)

According to The U.S. National Library of Medicine, the “latest National Survey on Persons with Disabilities estimated 2,683,400 persons with disabilities in South Korea, of whom 58% were men and 42% were women. People with physical disability represent approximately 50% of the entire population with disability. Disability-related policies and services to improve the participation of persons with disabilities have been expanded in the last decades, guided by 5-yr plans.” (Source: Pubmed.gov)

In 2009, the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) published a report that stated that The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (‘NHRCK’) issued a number of “key decisions on protecting the rights of people with disabilities.” (Source: APF) Yet, 5-years later the issue of wage inequality and equal protection under the law is still problematic. Until the 2014 expose by the Associated Press (AP) the issue of enslavement of the disabled on salt farms, which had previously been reported on, had slipped quietly from the public’s eye.

Though South Koreans and the rest of the world were outraged by these abuses, like many atrocities that don’t directly affect us, these concerns became “those peoples’ problems,” and we assuaged our conscience with the belief that some organization has now intervened to correct the problem. However, as with many human rights abuses in the Asian manufacturing sector, we as beneficiaries turn a blind eye because of the affordability of the items that are produced. Many of us cannot afford to boycott low cost items sold by Walmart and other megastores because it has a direct impact on our budgets. But, these savings come at the cost of enslavement or barely subsistence level wages paid to the people who spend long, back-breaking days producing the products we use.

With a population of 50.22 million, of which 632,000 are international residents, and the ubiquity with which salt is used in cooking and other processes, a great number of people are benefiting from the enslavement of disabled South Koreans who unfortunately find themselves caught up in this industry. AP and other news outlets published extensive interviews with people who were beaten, tortured, starved, and otherwise abused but knew there were no viable alternatives available to them.

Those who were brave enough to report the abuse by the salt farmers routinely discovered that their complaints were not taken seriously, and in fact, the legal system (police and courts) routinely disregarded or dismissed these allegations. When a plaintiff was successful in getting their case to court, most salt farmers were given a small fine which they quickly paid. This tacit approval of these human rights abuses only serves to reinforce the farmer’s heinous behavior, while demonstrating to the ‘salt farm slaves’ that their plight will go unchanged.

Thus, many of the enslaved disabled eventually returned to the salt farms and greater abuse because they were unable to support themselves otherwise. Salt farm owners refuted the claims of abuse and slavery with the assertion that able bodied people don’t want these jobs and if they didn’t provide employment to people with disabilities then these individuals would become a burden on society and would likely die from starvation. This argument is specious and self-serving, our outrage then complacency is deplorable, but the real culprit is the South Korean government.

Many reported on this story at the beginning of this month, and just as many have claimed that the government has investigated and brought the slavers to justice. The arrest of a few or the scapegoating of more does not address a systemic problem of the abuse of the disabled. South Korea must face the fact that it benefits from its position as a rising global economy and the political echelon would do well to remember that “...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped." ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
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FIFA Fans & Sex Tourism

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Jessamy Nichols, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 17:40 p.m. DST, 09 June 2014

Brazilian Sexy Fan Girl, Photo by Fotowolf70

Eyes all over the globe are turning to Brazil, where the 2014 World Cup begins on June 12th. Hundreds of thousands of people will travel to the South American country in hopes of watching exhilarating games, tense overtime moments and emotional victories for their team of choice. For many, the tournament serves as a bonding thread that brings people of all races and nationalities together over the love of the sport and its history.

However, off the soccer field, there are illegal and horrifying trends that follow such global tournaments such as these. Sports events like World Cups and Olympics bring in an influx of tourists, construction workers, event staffers, and others, which creates a disorderly balance that host cities are commonly unprepared for.

In recent weeks, there has been international concern over men coming to Brazil to engage in sex with underage children, which is especially alarming because Brazil has long been seen as a prime getaway for men who want to engage in carefree sexual exploits.

In an article published May 24th, The Independent stated that girls as young as 11 are being targeted by human traffickers in advance of the World Cup to work as prostitutes and bring in money for pimps and gangs. To make matters worse, there is currently a "culture of silence" around the issue, where families and even law enforcement keep quiet on the growing issue.

Many human rights groups around the globe have been trying to bring awareness to this compounding issue by speaking out and producing documentaries. However, it seems like this widespread and deeply engrained problem in Brazil requires much more action and vocality before there would even be a possibility of it being resolved.

To keep these innocent children out of harm's way, there will need to be a full-fledged effort from local and international law enforcement, human rights groups, internet monitoring groups to monitor the deep parts of the web where these transactions can take place, and an aware audience. At the end of the day, is a soccer match worth sacrificing any child's innocence and sense of safety?

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @JessamyNichols

Plight of Sex Slaves From Moldova to Dubai

Sex for sale from Moldova to Dubai. Mimi Chakarova tells a powerful story through photos and in the words of the victims of this heinous crime. The booming "Sex Tourism" industry is no longer a threat to women and children in remote, impoverished countries, it is a plague that is infecting all countries. The men and women who abuse and use other human beings for their own sexual gratification do not live in isolation. They could be and probably are someone to whom you are married and sleep with, or with whom you work or attend religious functions, or who educates your children. We must be more vigilant in trying to stem the tide of this worldwide crisis.

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Thailand's Human Trafficking Record

Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 14:48 p.m. EDT, 7 March 2013

Crying Girl, Photo by London Street ArtBANGKOK - Thailand and America are bracing for an awkward situation. In June, the US State Department will release its annual human trafficking report. In this year's release it is widely believed that Thailand may be relegated to the 3rd tier watch list. In other words, the worst of the worst.

Thailand's economy and civil society is a leader in the region. It is the United States' strongest ally in mainland Southeast Asia and in many ways does not deserve to be on the same list as Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, or Zimbabwe.

But there are two Thailands. One: the shimmering lights of Bangkok and the beautiful beaches and rice fields. The other: where two million legal immigrants and another few million illegal ones toil away in harsh labor conditions; keeping the Thai export economy afloat.

A report from The Economist looked at the Thai shrimp industry, worth roughly $1 billion a year. In the Samut Sakhon province, shrimp-peeling outfits have been observed physically abusing workers, denying pay, and confiscating workers' international paperwork. The State Department asserts that in Samut Sakhon, "nearly three-fifths of workers experience conditions of forced labor."

Relegation with respect to Thailand's standing in the State Department report would bring about automatic sanctions from the United States. However there are several ways Thailand and America can reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement for the current year to avoid such a measure.

Despite current conditions, there are vast incentives for the Thai and American governments to avoid the public loss of face such a downgrade would bring. After all, both governments want to have friendly relations.

Thailand is currently trying to attack the enabling environment it hosts by enforcing a 2008 law against human trafficking. Instituting penalties for police who tip off shrimp boat owners prior to inspection for instance would be a good start. Also the Thai government is encouraging illegal immigrants to now get temporary papers and be properly registered - without the immediate fear of deportation (a quasi-guest worker program). Laborers who are properly registered are then entitled to a daily minimum wage of $10/day, a strong incentive to self-register.

Only June will tell which way the report will go. However it is unlikely either party, America or Thailand, will let this impasse continue. Perhaps though, for as long as real improvements come for Thailand's most vulnerable, that is a welcome result.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributor: @SamHargadine

Dutch-Moroccan 'Lover Boy' Pimps

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 15:46 p.m. EDT, 17 May 2012

Anti-Sex-Slavery Campaign, Photo by Stevens James Collins PhotographyNETHERLANDS - Al Jazeera reported on the release of a film about the explosive increase in the Netherlands of forced prostitution of girls as young as 12 by their Dutch-Moroccan ‘boyfriends.’

The film by Julia Rooke and Caroline Pare features Ibrahim, a Dutch-Moroccan social worker who made the brave decision to speak about this troubling phenomena.

He starts by telling viewers that he is proud of his heritage as a Moroccan of biracial descent; however, this growing problem of ‘Lover Boys,’ who are also often also of Dutch-Moroccan descent, is one that needs to be publicized and eradicated. The term ‘Lover Boys’ refers to young boys and men who woo young women with promises of love and acceptance, lavish attention, and expensive gifts before turning them out into the street as prostitutes.

This new brand of pimping is subtle at first but later turns violent. Both the pimps and the prostitutes have a difficult time escaping the lifestyle. Many of the young men are vulnerable, at risks kids who are just trying to survive, and when they are introduced to this method of making money by seducing young girls, they choose this form of crime rather than other more risky ventures such as selling drugs.

In the Netherlands prostitution is a legal and well-regulated industry for women 18 years or older. However, the problem with prostitutes pimped out by ‘Lover Boys’ is that fact these girls are often under-aged and can eventually become so ensnared that they can be sold into sexual slavery after enduring incredible abuse at the hands of their ‘lovers.’

Ultimately, Ibrahim chose to work with the film’s producers, Julia Rooke and Caroline Pare because he felt that the risks outweighed the potential of reducing human suffering. Exposing the problem of ‘Lover Boys’ has the potential of further polarizing the Dutch population, which like other European nations, struggles to assimilate different immigrant populations including Muslims. Anders Brievik of Norway is an extreme representative of a group of Europeans who would prefer to deport all Arabs, even those who were born in Europe.

The silence that masks the problem of 'Lover Boys' is similar to hidden plight of the Bacha Bazi. These unfortunate Muslim boys are used as sex slaves by Afghanis men, but this aberrant practice is relatively unknown outside of the country because the subject of sex and prostitution in Muslim communities is taboo and contrary to the teachings of the Qu’ran.

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Published: 17 May 2012 (Page 2 of 2)

Also, the demarcation in Islamic culture between what happens 'inside' and 'outside' the house belies the fact that Islamic nations struggle against many of the same ills that beset every nation - prostitution, pedophilia, rape, etc.

Because of the generally monolithic perception Western cultures have about Islamic culture, hidden human right's abuses continue to exist and flourish unabated. The problem is further compounded by many Muslims refusal to speak out and expose not only the hypocrisy but also the immorality that exists in their communities.

Growing up in Africa I was acutely aware of the diminished status of a woman who is perceived by the community to have ‘compromised’ her virtue. When African and Arab immigrants arrive in America, it has been my experience that they view American and European women as ‘loose,’ and thus can be treated poorly without fear of retribution since they have no men to protect them.

For men from patriarchal cultures where the women are sequestered and their every action determined, ‘outside women’ are viewed as fair game and willing accomplices. When they encounter women who are free to make decisions about with whom they will have sex, when and what venues they will frequent, and make the choice to drink and get drunk, in some (NOT ALL) African and Arab men’s minds these women deserve whatever happens to them.

What is also disturbing is the fact that most of these men are usually married to women in their home country or even in the city to which they have immigrated, but unlike the ‘outside women,’ their wives conform to the strict rules of decorum as determined by their community and are never allowed to venture forth unescorted. By contrast their husbands can and do present themselves as free agents and engage in extramarital affairs.

Some of the men and boys who agreed to be interviewed for the film with the condition of anonymity, gave chilling accounts of their disdain for the girls they pimped, and the callousness they demonstrated toward their former 'girlfriends' was chilling.

The film also interviews some of the girls who were forced into a life of prostitution by their ‘boyfriends,’ but have subsequently escaped. After watching the film I encourage you to visit Al Jazeera to read the entire interview with Ibrahim. (Source: Al Jazeera | Film by Julia Rooke and Caroline Pare)

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Want Sex with Children? Contact Craigslist

This morning Americans were greeted with recaps of CNN's sobering and scathing report about child sex trafficking on Craigslist. This is not the first time that this allegation has made headlines, however, last night's exposé signaled the beginning of a frontal assault on a long smoldering problem of Craigslist facilitating the trafficking and sale of children for sex. Last month, two young girls sold for sex on Craigslist wrote letters to CEO Jim Buckmaster and Craig Newmark. One of them, M.C. who was first forced into prostitution at 11, told them she was forced to post her own ads to Craigslist during the day, and then answer them at night. Her pimp drove her around the country for years, using Craigslist as the primary means to advertise her. If she didn't post on Craigslist, M.C.'s pimp would beat her and dunk her in ice water baths. The website was a central figure in the years of slavery and abuse she suffered.

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