Joy's Story: Part 3 - A Difficult Decision

December 17, 2019

Read parts one and two of Joy's story that detail her life in North Korea and how she was sold as a bride in China.

When I started living with the Chinese man I was sold to, I thought of escaping after six months. I just did what the Chinese man wanted without thinking about birth-control—I never had proper sex education. Two months later, he and his family took me to a hospital for a pregnancy test. I was pregnant. I am so sorry to my daughter for this, but after I got pregnant was so miserable and I felt like I was stuck in this situation because of the baby. I knew that I couldn’t escape until I gave birth to my daughter and raised her for a while. I was not happy, but the Chinese man and his family were. I am very sorry to my daughter for how I felt about having her back then, but the pregnancy was not what I wanted and I didn’t love the Chinese man. I actually tried to abort the baby by jumping down from a high tree many times but it didn’t happen.

I ended up having a daughter and raised her for two years before I escaped.


When I was still raising my daughter and living with the Chinese man and I was losing hope about my life, the North Korean broker who sold me into marriage got back to me and introduced me to some people who later connected me to LiNK’s network. She told me that she felt really bad for selling me to the Chinese man but she had to do it to survive in China as a North Korean herself. When she told me about going to South Korea and life there, I felt like that was my last chance to have my life back again. At that point, I was no longer breastfeeding and my baby had started to talk, so I thought the Chinese man’s parents could take care of her. I decided to leave for South Korea.

I was so sad to leave my two-year-old daughter in China.

Before I left, I thought of taking her with me, but she was still very young and I was not sure if I was going to make it to South Korea safely so I didn't want to risk her life.

To this day I feel guilty and sorry about having left her so I could have freedom and better life. I know my daughter has been hurt a lot by my leaving.


Before I started moving to get out of China I stayed with some other defectors before I got connected to LiNK's network. At the time, I cried every day thinking of my daughter. Even when I was sleeping in the house, I kept waking up to see if my little daughter was sleeping well on my arm and realized that she was not with me anymore.

I didn't want to cry in front of other defectors, so I cried behind a curtain and I found another North Korean woman crying there because she also left her child. We ended up hugging each other and crying together.

Since I resettled to South Korea a few years ago, I have been talking with my daughter through online video calls as often as possible. She is doing well and is now in elementary school, but I can tell she has been so hurt by my absence in her life. It breaks my heart when she asks me why I am not with her. Whenever there is homework about family or whenever her teacher asks her to bring her mom, she gets so sad and I feel so helpless and remorseful. I plan to visit her in China on one of my summer breaks from college.

It is so ironic because I was so hurt a lot by my mom for leaving me and my family when I was a little kid and I did the same thing to my own daughter.

Now I understand why my mom had to make such a decision...Hopefully there will be a day my daughter can understand and forgive me.

Humans of North Korea: This is freedom

April 29, 2021

I got foreign media from my dad. He was a member of the Korean Workers Party and many of his friends were security agents. They confiscated a lot of foreign media and gave it to my dad and he would bring it home.

Some of my most vivid memories are getting together with my friends at someone’s house, shutting off all the lights, and secretly watching South Korean dramas. It was exhilarating. If you heard anything outside, you’d get startled and think,

“Did they come to arrest us? Are we going to jail now?” It was thrilling doing things we knew we shouldn’t do.

Everything portrayed in the South Korean dramas was so clean and everyone seemed so wealthy. I used to think “Wow, there is such a world out there.” We were taught that South Korea was a poor country but I wondered, “Why can’t we live like that?”

I wanted to wear clothes from the dramas but I couldn’t find them anywhere. We used to get a lot of used clothes from the market down by the harbor. You either find used clothes or fabric and have a tailor make the outfit for you. After three or four days of wearing a new style, everyone would be wearing the same thing because it looked so cool.

My designs were very popular. If I started wearing something new, there was always someone who would wear similarly styled clothes because the number of South Korean dramas that inspired us was so limited. Girls would ask me where I got my clothes and if I wanted to exchange outfits. Bartering was very common and sometimes they’d offer their more expensive clothes in exchange for mine.

But you had to look out for the Inspection Unit. If they caught you wearing jeans and a hoodie, they’d cut the bottom of the jeans with scissors. My sister and brother were older than me so their friends were sometimes in the Inspection Unit. If I knew the person, I would just tell them, “I’ll go change right now” or “I’ll give you these jeans but please don’t cut the bottoms off” and I would go get it back from them later.

The regime doesn’t want people wearing those kinds of clothes. I think it’s because things like jeans symbolize freedom. North Korean society is so restricted that if they allowed jeans there would be no end to what people would want to wear.

Even now in South Korea, every time I put on a pair of jeans I think, “This is freedom.”

- Jihyun Kang
escaped North Korea in 2009. She now works in the fashion industry in Seoul.

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