The U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 published on Monday depicts South Korea as a "source, transit, and destination country for men and women subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor." But the report mostly repeats what the U.S. government has been saying in previous editions, and experts say some of the allegations are unfounded.
South Korea is in Tier 1, which groups countries that fully comply with the international minimum standards. Japan is in Tier 2 for countries whose governments do not fully comply with international minimum standards but are making efforts to do so, on the grounds that the number of foreign women in prostitution is increasing through organized sham marriages.
The annual report compiled since 2001 groups countries into four grades -- Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch, and Tier 3 -- based on interviews and data provided by each country, U.S. embassies, nonprofit civic groups, and international organizations.
This year, 32 of the 184 countries surveyed were listed in Tier 1. South Korea has been in Tier 1 since 2002.
◆ 'Forced' Prostitution
Many foreigners who come to South Korea for jobs or marriage, are actually forced into prostitution or labor, the report says. Mostly from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Colombia, Mongolia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia, they arrive with debts because the brokers who arrange their travels take up to US$20,000 from their employers or husbands.
It says South Korean women are also forced into prostitution in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Australia, as well as at home.
The report claims an increasing number of teenagers in South Korea suffer sexual exploitation, more than 95 percent of which is arranged online. South Korean men are still clients of child prostitutes in Southeast Asia or on Pacific islands, it adds.
But an official with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said, "The number of brothels has dropped as a result of consistent crackdowns in red-light districts under a special law in 2004. We protect sex trafficking victims through nationwide counseling centers and other support facilities."
He said the U.S. report is published to warn of human trafficking and evaluates advanced countries like the U.K. and the U.S. itself "in equally harsh tones." "Although there's still room for improvement, Korea has no serious problem since it is in Tier 1," he added.
◆ Lenient Punishment
The report recognizes the South Korean government's anti-trafficking efforts but accuses it of failing to enforce laws strictly or mete out stern punishment.
For example, Seoul investigated 40 cases last year under laws against the sex trade, but only six cases produced convictions, and two of those resulted only in fines. No South Koreans were punished for child sex tourism overseas last year, the report adds.
The report urges the South Korean government to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, step up investigation and prosecution of human traffickers and protect the vulnerable.
North Korea is among 22 countries such as Burma, Iran, Libya, and Cuba in Tier 3, which groups countries that fail to meet minimum anti-trafficking standards and make significant efforts to do so.