Thousands of North Korean orphans are adrift in South Korea or overseas, separated from their parents during their escape or born to fathers in third countries like China and abandoned there.
Kim Yun-tae of activist group Network for North Korean Democracy, said, "Each organization produces different estimates because it's difficult to conduct an accurate census, but there are thought to be between 10,000 and 35,000 of such children in China and other foreign countries or living in South Korea."
There is little help for these orphans. Those who were separated from their parents during their escape or lost them in North Korea and escaped on their own are in a slightly better situation. If they are recognized by South Korea as North Korean orphans they are entitled to settlement subsidies, free education and free healthcare. Once they turn 20, they are given a permanent lease on a home and can hope to enter college as they are given special entrance privileges.
But those born in third countries and abandoned are not entitled to these benefits. "Children born in third countries such as China could obtain citizenship there if they were taken care of by their fathers," a Unification Ministry official said. "But they can't get any support as defectors in Korea because they cannot be seen as defectors in a strict sense."
Women account for 70 percent of all defectors, and they often fall prey to human traffickers. Civic groups estimate that up to 10,000 children were born and abandoned in China alone.
Yoon Yeo-sang of the NGO North Korean Human Rights Archives, said, "It's possible for Chinese fathers to spend some money to help such children get Chinese citizenship, but Chinese men who buy North Korean women for marriage are usually not well off, so their children usually can't get legal status or are simply abandoned."