As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Korea, and traffickers exploit victims from South Korea abroad. Traffickers exploit South Korean women and children, including runaway youth and victims of domestic violence, in commercial sex including in bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments. Traffickers increasingly utilized smartphone and chat applications to recruit and coerce victims to engage in commercial sex acts and to facilitate trafficking by communicating with purchasers of commercial sex. Chat room operators recruit Korean women and children, including child sex trafficking victims, and threaten them with the release of compromising photographs to coerce them to participate in the production of pornographic materials. Some South Korean women enter destination countries on tourist, work, or student visas and are exploited in sex trafficking in massage parlors, salons, bars, and restaurants, or through internet-advertised escort services. Traffickers subject men and women from China, Thailand, Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and South America to forced labor and sex trafficking in South Korea. Traffickers force victims who owe debts to entertainment establishment owners or loan sharks into commercial sex. Sex traffickers exploit some foreign women on E6-2 entertainment visas—many from the Philippines and Thailand—in bars and clubs, including “foreigners only” bars near ports and U.S. military bases. Job brokers, unscrupulous recruitment agencies, and managers of bars and clubs recruit foreign women under false promises of jobs as singers or performers but instead coerce victims to work excessive hours selling juice and alcohol, and to engage in commercial sex acts in clubs. Some victims are not provided an adequate number of days off, face harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and are paid below the minimum wage or have their wages withheld to discourage them from leaving Korea or seeking new employment. Some bar managers reportedly confiscated victims’ passports or alien registration cards and restrict their ability to go outside their workplace. Women from the Philippines and other countries in Asia enter Korea on tourist visas after receiving false promises of short-term work in factories or other industries but then have their passports confiscated by traffickers who force them to work in clubs and engage in commercial sex acts. Some women from China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Cambodia, who are recruited for marriages to South Korean men through international marriage brokers, are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor after their arrival. Some South Korean men reportedly engage in child sex tourism in other Asian countries.
Traffickers have forced some physically or intellectually disabled South Korean men to work on fishing vessels and salt and cattle farms. Unscrupulous labor recruiters contribute to the forced labor of migrant workers, especially those from Vietnam, Pakistan, China, and Indonesia, through debt-based coercion by charging workers excessive fees, sometimes leading to thousands of dollars in debt. Approximately 400,000 migrant workers, many employed under the government’s Employment Permit System, work in fishing, agriculture, livestock, restaurants, and manufacturing; some of these workers face conditions indicative of forced labor. Boat owners, captains, and job brokers exploit foreign workers on fishing vessels registered and operated by South Koreans. South Korea is a transit point for Southeast Asian fishermen subjected to forced labor on fishing ships bound for Fiji and other ports in the Pacific. Foreign fishermen aboard small fishing vessels operating beyond the purview of the government or owners’ cooperatives face exploitation, including forced labor, often through debt-based coercion. Anecdotal reports indicate government officials are complicit in trafficking and related crimes. Traffickers reportedly utilize partnerships with some law enforcement authorities to threaten victims with penalization and deportation and receive information from corrupt police and immigration officials ahead of raids or immigration checks. NGOs reported some government employees, including police, sexually exploit children and solicited individuals in commercial sex, some of whom may have been sex trafficking victims. Local governments reportedly encouraged and provided financial assistance to South Korean farmers to pursue marriages to foreign women through brokers; these women may have been exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude.