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

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Korean 'Comfort Women' Still Protesting Decades Later

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:36 p.m. DST, 25 June 2014

Photo by: Melissa Wall "Unveiling of Comfort Women Memorial"SEOUL, South Korea -- Elderly Korean women (euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”) who were forced into prostitution as teenagers during WWII, have gathered every Wednesday since 8 January, 1992, outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest the atrocities they faced. These demonstrations are now lauded by guidebooks and travel websites as a must-see for tourists to Seoul.

Though groups of Japanese tourists come to apologize to these determined women, the Japanese government has refused to apologize. The women are hoping the Japanese government will issue an official apology and provide reparations to those forced into sexual slavery. Japan’s response is that this compensation was settled with the 1994 “Asian Women’s Fund.” South Korea rejected the fund because it is a semi-private organization run by volunteers, and not under the authority of the government.

In 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives, passed a non-binding resolution that called on Japan to apologize for forcing these women into prostitution. In April, President Obama called on Japan to acknowledge their past wrong-doings, saying, "This was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights. Those women were violated in ways that, even in the midst of war, were shocking.” Obama also called on Seoul to look to the future and be more flexible in its relations with Japan to ensure better cooperation between the two countries.

Japan responded that the issue of wartime sex slavery is not a political or diplomatic subject. The issue is a hindrance to Tokyo’s relations with East Asia, and South Korea in particular.

Despite their dwindling numbers, with fewer than 100 Korean comfort women still alive, one survivor, Hwang Geum-joo says, ”Our numbers are dwindling every year, but we are still full of anger and they should apologize for what they did to us!” Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, but also from China, Taiwan, and Indonesia, were forced into brothels to serve Japanese imperial troops. Many were abducted from their homes or duped into forced prostitution after responding to calls to work as nurses and factory workers. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other members of the political right continue to doubt these women, instead, claiming professional prostitutes staffed the brothels.

Monday, June 23, 2014, South Korea protested an appearance by Japan’s ambassador, condemning Tokyo’s review of a noteworthy 1993 apology for the wartime sex slavery. The review made the claim that there was no evidence to confirm the forced sexual misconduct.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying is also urging Japan to address the problematic history of sexual exploitation. Japan invaded China in 1937 and held an authoritarian rule for eight years.

In 2011 on the occasion of the 1,000th demonstration, the organizers erected the Pyeonghwa-bu Peace Monument, a statue of a barefooted-teenage Korean girl, with her hands in her lap, and a small bird on her left shoulder representing peace and freedom. The women offer monthly tours of the 'House of Sharing,' a benefit center for survivors of Japanese sex slavery, where many of the ladies now live.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

Punjab Immigrants Stuck in Iraq | How to Avoid Fraudulent Job Offers

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Vinita Tiwari, Middle East CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:50 p.m. DST, 24 June 2014

Self portrait – All about the Sandy’s, Photo by: MattysFlicksPUNJAB, India & Dubai -- When dreams get wings, they fly high. But when dreams are met with deceit, often disappointment and broken aspirations are the residue left behind.

The metaphor is evident in a recent tragedy that has stirred the whole world and has discredited the developing economies involved in Dubai.

Let us unfold the chapters of this very dark story......

A Shameless Tale of Innocent Job Seekers & Fraud Predators

More than 40 young job aspirants from Punjab were lured west by proposals offered by travel agents who promised them high-paying job opportunities in Dubai. The worst part here was that these travel agents were in direct connections with illegal recruitment organizations operating from the Gulf countries.

The travel agents (as per their promise) sent these youth to Dubai, but there the job seekers were told to wait for many weeks. Later, they were informed that Dubai has dearth of ideal jobs, and currently Iraq would be a better fit for them.

In need of money and a better career, the aspirants agreed and moved on, not knowing that Iraq has been the epicenter of political and social unrests for the past decade.

Subsequent to the arrival, several of the hopeful employees disappeared and are still unaccounted for, and the families of these individuals are heartbroken. They are imploring Dubai to deliver justice and proper punishment for the fraudsters. Those immigrants who have been located in Iraq are trying to return home, but the cost of travel has been a barrier for many of these individuals. Other reports claim that ISIS terror group are holding the Indian workers.

Be Aware

While this seems like an extraordinary occurrence, many similar cases have been reported in recent years. The best antidote is to be aware and cautious when applying to jobs in Dubai or elsewhere. Whether you are promised a job in a large metropolis or rural area, the same risks apply.

Here is a plan to avoid becoming the next victim of such fraud:

  1. “Deposit Money & Get Your Dream Job In-Hand”

This is the first red flag that the there is something suspicious about the job offer. As the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Well, if the opportunity is genuine, potential employees will never ask for money, but rather they will ask you your expected salary range. In these cases, the best advice is to avoid such opportunities and not fall prey to fraudulent career-furthering options. The statement is generally mentioned in the ‘terms & conditions’ part of the intent letter.

  1. Remuneration Amount Beyond Experience & Expectations

This is another technique used by the conmen to raise hopeful employee's hopes and encourage a flood of applicants. It is understandable that if you get an opportunity to go for a high-paying job in Dubai or EU, as these are some of the flourishing economies of late, you might have a hard time saying 'no.' However, it is advisable to study the current global market salary trends in advance, so you can find work that pays well, and avoid fraudulent job offers.

  1. Use the Power of Internet

Make use of the power of the internet by searching buzzwords and hashtags related to your job. There are cyber cafes that offer access to the world wide web in small towns and big cities of every globalized country. To know the authenticity of the job offer, enter the company’s name, the agency’s name, and even the address of the company. You can find this information in prior corporate mailings and brochures.

  1. Job Search Sites

If you are eyeing opportunities in Dubai or other flourishing economies, you should access famous Dubai job portals like Naukrigulf.com. You just have to create a profile, and then you can access several legitimate job options at your convenience.

  1. No Personal Information Please!

There have been incidents of hacking and identity theft; therefore save yourself from this trap. There are mailers containing job opportunities that may ask you for your birth date, social security number or your mother’s maiden name. It is safe to assume that the intention of these mailings is to steal your identity or access your financial accounts.

Last Word of Advice

Be aware as you conduct your international job search. However if you find yourself a victim of a fake job offer, immediately report it to the job board, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The commission or the establishment will vary from country to country, but by reporting the offense, you can actively end the fraudulent and exploitative practices perpetrated by these recruiters.

Follow Vinita on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Middle East Correspondent: @vinita1204

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

Posing as Nigerian Soldiers, Boko Haram Slaughters Hundreds

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BORNO, Nigeria -- Boko Haram militants continue to spill blood throughout Nigeria. Reports are now surfacing that on Monday, 2 June 2014, the terror group carried out their latest attack in three small villages in Borno State, located in northeast Nigeria.

The rural nature of northeast Nigeria coupled with changing numbers of displaced and missing persons makes an exact body count hard to tally. But officials estimate that as many as 500 Nigerians were murdered during the attacks.

The militants targeted Danjara, Agalpawa and Antagara villages on Monday, dressed as Nigerian military members. Their appearance provided residents with momentary relief. Village leaders had asked for help from the Nigerian military amidst rumors of an impending attack, and when armed men dressed in Nigerian fatigues entered the three communities, many mistakenly felt that their concerns had finally been heard and validated by President Goodluck Johnathan.

At least 200 Nigerians are dead according to conservative estimates, while other sources claim as many as 500 men, women and children were killed during Monday's attack.

The terrorist organization is a collection of unapologetic murderers that toggle between kidnapping and outright mass murder. Since the abduction of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, Boko Haram has targeted Christian and Muslim communities alike, pretending to be clergy members or Nigerian military service members.

After fraudulently gaining the trust of local Nigerians, Boko Haram offensives follow a similar pattern. The terrorists assemble Nigerians together for a public service announcement or a religious sermon, and outside of the mosque, church or community building, Boko Haram members open fire.

President Goodluck Johnathan has pledged to put an end to the mounting violence, but that promise has proved difficult for the Johnathan administration and security forces. Allegations of corruption and negligence have poured out after last month's kidnapping of the young female students. The families of the missing girls have blamed the government for their non-interventionist response. When Boko Haram strikes, there is little to no return fire coming from military squads.

Often, locals are left to their own devices to ward off their attackers. When Boko Haram assailed a Christian church in Antagara last month, four insurgents were killed. Across the country, community members are learning that they themselves are the last, and often only, line of defense against the antagonistic terrorists. But the episode outside of the church in Antagara did not discourage Boko Haram extremism.

In fact, it appears that the opposite is true. The militants have increased the number and scale of assaults in the weeks since they stormed Christians in Antagara, as retaliation against the vigilantes. It seems that Nigerians are caught in a dangerous double jeopardy, where inaction enables the terror group to kill without repercussion, and defensive efforts only increase future Boko Haram strikes.

While Nigeria is the most powerful economy on the African continent, northern Nigeria is less oil-rich and more rural. Residents face a significantly higher incidence of poverty. Great distances separate many of the village communities, and as a result, the Nigerian military has been powerless against the premeditated and nefarious activities of Boko Haram. Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, is separated from the northeast targets both culturally and geographically, and this disconnect is exploited by the terrorists.

Operating under a deranged understanding of Islam, the Boko Haram militia has strengthened their available firepower in recent months, and continue to build media notoriety through suicide bombings.

As the wealth of Nigeria continues to grow, the understaffed and underfunded military programs become less and less excusable.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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Enough Already. Where are Nigeria's Stolen Daughters?

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:30 p.m. DST, 29 May 2014

"Female faces" Photo by: DFID - UK Department For International Development

BORNO, Nigeria -- Six very long weeks ago, Boko Haram militants stormed a school in northern Nigeria and abducted over 200 girls in the night. This terrifying incident, that lead a Boko Haram leader to announce they would “sell them [the girls] in the market,” sparked a massive social media campaign with the trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Thousands of social media posts and hundreds of minutes of news coverage later, almost the entirety of the group of these young, innocent girls is still being held captive without rescue or hope.

What’s the most frustrating aspect of this? The lack of willpower and resolve from Nigerian politicians.

Nigeria, a country with a booming economy (recently surpassing South Africa), recently hosted a World Economic Forum meeting, bringing together high-profile businessmen and political figureheads from across the world to showcase Nigeria’s newfound economic success. But wait. What does economic growth matter if a country is not even willing to defend itself from terrorists and humanitarian crises?

This miscalculation essentially equates to Nigerian politicians taking home big, fat checks while they wait weeks to fulfill their duties to even just respond to this abduction. Visiting the site of the attack and speaking with families there? That took even longer for President Goodluck Jonathan to do.

What good are democratic elections if the elected officials feel no responsibility to protect their own citizens and defend those who can’t defend themselves? A key factor that people are forgetting to talk about here is that Nigeria actually has an incredibly powerful, i.e. capable, military arm, ranked 47th in the world in Global Firepower’s Power Index score. The organization uses 50 factors to determine a nation's potential conventional military strength. Nigeria’s ranking puts it ahead of many developed or developing, stable nations, including Finland, Azerbaijan, Romania, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Hungary, Kenya, Kuwait, Jordan and Lithuania.

In summary, Nigeria’s leaders are not sitting there with their hands completely tied. Yes, now that they claim to have found the location of the girls (with international help, I might add), they want to avoid firefights and risk harming the girls, which is sensible. However, why did the issue ever get this far? Nigeria has several hundred thousand personnel in its armed forces, yet they are doing an atrociously feeble job of defending the nation against Boko Haram, which according to Borno governor, Kashim Shettima, makes up a “minuscule” proportion of the population.

Why did this internal mess get this far? If Nigeria has a robust, proficient military arm, coupled with a growing economy, how is a group of terrorists still wreaking such effective havoc across the nation?

The matter truly comes down to a matter of resolve, because while Boko Haram is well organized and has been successful in carrying out suicide bombings, they are not using high-tech, profound strategies that Nigeria is helpless against. Diverting some of this newfound economic wealth to the underdeveloped portions of the country, along with military postings and increased surveillance, could cripple Boko Haram’s capabilities and weaken them to a point where abductions and weekly bombings would be impossible.

Alternatively, if President Jonathan truly felt helpless in leading this terrorist situation, he could have also asked for international help a long time ago, considering most Western countries are committed to fighting terrorism. His qualms about doing so, though, are likely influenced by the upcoming presidential election where he doesn’t want to look weak. Who’s paying the price for his political battles? These hundreds of abducted girls and their families, who are left to live under a government that sits in Abuja while a terrorist network continues to wreak havoc throughout the country.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

Lawmakers in the U.S. Work to End Underground Sex Trafficking

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 1:06 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

"For Sale" Photo by: Spring Tripp-Reilly

WASHINGTON, D.C.  -  The FBI estimates that 293,000 American youth are at risk of being trafficked in the underground sex trade. Lawmakers in the House are proposing a bill package aimed at shutting down the nation’s multimillion dollar sex trafficking industry, up for vote on Tuesday.

The measures include exploitation close to home as well as resolutions condemning the kidnapping in Nigeria of 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, an armed terrorist group that has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri sponsored a bill that would make it a federal crime for advertisers to display child and adult trafficking victims on their websites.  Another bill urges states to enact laws that treat minors who have been sold for sex as victims rather than criminals when they are arrested.

The legislation includes a formal condemnation of the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping on 14 April, a requirement for states to identify and address sex trafficking of children in foster care, and a request of the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” for sex offenders convicted of child abuse.

Additionally it would impose additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and increase restitution to victims.  It offers employment assistance through Jobs Corps to the victims, and provides more resources to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It would require convicted sex traffickers to report to authorities every three months and appear on the National Sex Offender Registry for life.

Cindy McCain, co-chair of Arizona governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, and wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said, "This is beginning to reach critical mass in the U.S. and people are paying attention to it.” McCain, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, met with Mexican government officials to discuss ways to end sex trafficking across the border.

“We can’t lead worldwide unless we clean up our own house first,” McCain told CNN. Human trafficking is the third-largest international crime behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Of the estimated $32 billion profits from human trafficking, it is estimated that $15.5 billion comes from industrialized nations.

In Portland, a pimp and his coworker approached Katie Rhoades, a 19-year-old homeless, drug-addicted stripper. Offering a better life as their recording studio production assistant, they lured in the teen. 72 hours after Rhoades moved from Portland to San Francisco she was held captive by the pair and forced to have sex for money. She was held hostage with other women in a building surrounded by a 6-foot fence topped with barbed wire and cameras, and guarded by pit bulls and an alarm system. When she finally escaped, she enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program, got clean, and earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.

Rhoades now runs a victim advocacy group and helps to train hotel staff on recognizing sex trafficking. "We need stronger laws penalizing folks who facilitate the sex trade," Rhoades said. "If a hotel manager consciously turns a blind eye to allow this to occur in his hotel then he needs to be penalized."

There needs to be more resources for victims once they’re rescued, according to Dedee Lhamon. She is the executive director of The Covering House, a St. Louis shelter for children rescued from the sex trade. Children in her shelter are usually from suburbs or small towns, where they are conned into the sex trade under the guise of things such as a study-abroad program or “girls who are going to school or church and being rented out by a parent or someone who needs to get their drug supply.”

29 people in Minneapolis have been indicted in a significant sex trafficking case where the victims (some under the age of 14) were repeatedly victimized over several years and transported several places.

"As a parent, I can sympathize and only imagine how horrible it is as a parent to have a child that has been subjected to this horrific crime," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

This coming Wednesday, National Missing Children’s Day, the Department of Justice will honor seven people who helped to rescue missing or abused children. Holly Smith, author of “Walking Prey,” a book written about her experiences when she was sex trafficked at 14, will speak at the event.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick