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South Korea

The Situation
The Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking of men and women subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor.

South Korean women and girls are trafficked for forced prostitution abroad in destinations including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Many of these victims are coerced by traffickers to whom they owe debts.1 

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 recruited for employment or marriage in the ROK, and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Some victims are recruited by false promises of employment in the entertainment industry and are later coerced into exploitative conditions. Some women from less developed countries are recruited for marriage to South Korean men through international marriage brokers, but are then subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor upon arrival in South Korea.2  

Migrant workers who travel to the ROK for employment may incur thousands of dollars in debts, contributing to their vulnerability to debt bondage and commonly face conditions indicative of forced labor. There are approximately 500,000 low-skilled migrant workers in the ROK from elsewhere in Asia, many of whom are working under the Employment Permit System (EPS). While protections are implemented for EPS workers, observers claim the EPS assigns excessive power to employers over workers’ mobility and legal status, making them vulnerable to trafficking.3 

Internal Trafficking
South Korean women and girls are trafficked for forced prostitution domestically. According to government authorities, South Korean teenagers are increasingly exploited in prostitution; particularly runaways, and more than 95 percent of commercial sexual exploitation of children in the ROK is arranged over the Internet. Child sex tourism remains a problem in South Korea and Korean men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.4

The Republic of Korea Government
The Republic of Korea Government was placed in Tier 1 in the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination 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. The government also reports using other criminal statutes related to kidnapping and juvenile protection to prosecute and punish trafficking offenses; such as the Juvenile Protection Act which criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. However, South Korea lacks a clear law prohibiting all forms of trafficking.5

During 2010, government authorities reported investigating 40 cases under the Act on the Punishment of Acts of Arranging Sexual Traffic; however, this resulted in only six convictions –with only four traffickers serving prison sentences ranging from 18 months to two years; two trafficking offenders received only fines as punishment. Additionally, authorities investigated 43 cases under the Labor Standards Act, but reported only one indictment and no convictions or sentences for forced labor. The government reported 338 investigations under other statutes related to trafficking, resulting in 110 indictments, 68 convictions, and 37 prison sentences.6 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) received over 9,000 complaints from migrant workers of $19 million in unpaid wages and reported helping resolve 96 percent of these cases in 2010; the ROK did not, however, report investigating any of these complaints for forced labor. During July and August 2010, ROK police authorities conducted a special crackdown on illegal international marriage brokers, arresting 761 and indicting 399 of them.7 

Korean authorities also continue to train law enforcement and other government officials on trafficking and have created a standardized training program on sex trafficking prevention. During 2010, the government upgraded its data collection system to provide more detailed information on human trafficking prosecutions.8

In 2010, the government spent approximately $16.8 million to protect sex trafficking victims, mainly by providing financial support to NGOs offering shelter, counseling, medical and legal assistance, and rehabilitation services. The government also operates one shelter for foreign victims of sex trafficking and maintains an extensive network of support centers for foreign wives and runaway teenagers. MOEL operates seven Migrant Workers’ Centers nationwide to assist foreign workers and the Seoul Metropolitan City Government maintains six similar centers. Foreign sex trafficking victims may receive temporary relief from deportation under the G-1 visa system, but the government did not report issuing a G-1 visa to any victim during 2010.9 

Although the government continues to lack a formal system to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, 76 victims were identified in 2010, 26 of whom were identified by government authorities and all of whom were victims of sex trafficking. Authorities are relatively less awareness of labor trafficking than of sex trafficking, and victims of forced labor may be arrested and deported for crimes including illegal immigration without receiving any protection services.10

The government continues to conduct a wide variety of campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking in South Korea, targeting particularly vulnerable groups such as teenagers and foreign wives. In December 2010, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) developed training materials on sex trafficking for juveniles for distribution in schools and to public officials and continues to operate 77 shelters for runaway teenagers to reduce their vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation.11

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) conducts pre-departure trainings for Koreans participating in working-holiday programs in Australia on their vulnerability to sex trafficking.  The ROK government provides anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.12

In an effort to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, the Ministry of Justice runs 39 “Johns Schools,” requiring convicted male “clients” of prostitution to attend one-day seminars on the risks of prostitution and sex trafficking. In response to reports in recent years that South Korean men engage in sex tourism, MOFAT continues to run public awareness campaigns against prostitution overseas, but during 2010, the government did not prosecute any Korean nationals for engaging in child sex tourism abroad.13 

The U.S. Department of State recommends that the South Korean government enact the following measures in its 2011 TIP Report:

  • 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; 
  • Ensure that convicted traffickers receive jail sentences for trafficking offenses; 
  • Develop and implement formal victim identification procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including women arrested for prostitution and illegal immigrants; make greater efforts to identify victims of forced labor among migrant workers, such as those who file complaints of unpaid wages; 
  • 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.14



2 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
3 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
4 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
5 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
6 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
7 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
8 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
9 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
10 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
11 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
12 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
13 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
14 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report

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