[Documents menu] Documents menu

Women Trafficked for U.S. Bases—IOM Report

By Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, December 2003

GENEVA—More than 5,000 women, mostly from the Philippines and Russia, are caught up in a prostitution network in South Korea that targets U.S. soldiers, according to a U.N. agency report in September.

The first concerns about the trafficking of women emerged in South Korea in the mid-1990s, when reports began to circulate about that there were many foreign women, particularly from the Philippines, working in the bars near the U.S. military bases.

The plight of trafficked women in South Korea is quite serious, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in a study released at its headquarters in Geneva.

The report’s author, June Lee, former chief of the IOM mission in Seoul, said the most conservative estimates indicate that hundreds of women arrive in South Korea each month, brought by human traffickers to be used in the local sex industry.

Those who bring these women to South Korea appear to have a good working knowledge of the immigration regulations of all the countries involved, she noted.

Lee said it is the responsibility of the government’s criminal investigators to determine whether major crime rings are behind this phenomenon.

However, the report found that a South Korean organisation as the chief contractor for holders of the E-6 visa, which authorises entry into this Asian country to work in the entertainment industry.

The organisation, the Korea Special Tourism Association, is approved and regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, says the document. The association consists of 189 owners of clubs that operate near the various U.S. military camps throughout South Korea.

Given these facts, clearly there is some linkage between the trafficking of women and the presence of U.S. troops, said Christopher Lom, spokesman for the IOM.

The bars located near the U.S. military bases are the leading employers of Filipino women, who the traffickers apparently prefer for their English-speaking skills, and who are admitted into South Korea with E-6 visas.

According to the IOM report, these foreign entertainers are brought to South Korea because they are considered essential to the survival of the military camp town businesses, which have been suffering from a declining supply of South Korean women.

The IOM report states that some observers have suggested that there was an unwritten or de facto policy of the U.S. military to keep the men happy with the presence of women near the bases.

The foreign women working in the sex industry in South Korea have been predominantly from the Philippines and Russia, says Lee’s study.

But there are also women coming from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Indonesia, though in very small numbers, and very rarely, there are women trafficked from Latin American countries, such as Peru.

In 1999, there were an estimated 1,000 Filipino women working in the U.S. military base areas, according to the Overseas Workers Administration of the Philippine government. The women were young, some under age 20, and the majority came from the central Philippine region of Luzon, and the Pinatubo area in particular.

The Filipino and Russian women alike are well educated, and some %G�%@ particularly the Russians %G�%@ are university graduates, says the IOM report.

The IOM urges the South Korean government to reach official consensus on Korean terminology to describe the trafficking of women into situations where they are exploited as prostitutes or placed in low-paying jobs by abusive employers.

It also cites a report released by the U.S. State Department of in July 2001, which criticises Seoul for its failure to take decisive action to combat this relatively new and worsening problem of trafficking in persons.

The research conducted for the IOM highlights the participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in efforts to raise public awareness about the magnitude of the problem.

Among these groups are the Korea Young Woman’s Christian Association (YWCA), Korean Church Women United, and Saewoomtuh, a local NGO that provides assistance for the Korean prostitutes who work in the U.S. military camp towns.