Slavery in Korea
Slavery in Korea existed for thousands of years. The practice of slavery in modern-day South Korea is now illegal, though forms of slavery such as human trafficking still exist in the country, with thousands thought to be enslaved. In North Korea, slavery is still practiced by the country's regime.
History of slavery in Korea
Slavery in Korea has existed since before the Silla period (approximately 2,000 years ago). Slavery went into decline around the 10th century, but came back in the late Koryo period (when Korea also experienced a number of slave rebellions). The slave caste, known as nobi (also described as serfs), was quite large. In 1690 nobi were estimated to account for over a third (37%) of the Korean society, (though in those centuries it might have varied widely between that number and as low as 10%) and slavery has been described as "very important in medieval Korea, probably more important than in any other East Asian country". Population growth, numerous escaped slaves, and changes to the agricultural economy led to the decline in the number of nobi to about 1.5% by 1858. A policy of gradual emancipation was put in place in 1775, and starting in 1801, the government begun freeing its own slaves. The hereditary nobi system was abolished around 1886 or 1887, (sources vary on specific date) and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894 or in 1895 (again, sources vary). However, slavery did not completely disappear in Korea until 1930, during Imperial Japanese rule.
During the Imperial Japanese occupation of Korea around World War II, some Koreans were used in forced labor by the Imperial Japanese, in conditions which have been compared to slavery. These included women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II, known as "comfort women".
In South Korea, slavery remains such a controversial topic that it is North Korean historians who have accounted for it more fairly. For instance, the Koryo Museum in the North Korean city of Kaesong is the only museum in Korea that covers the topic of Medieval slavery.
Modern slavery in Korea
Slavery in South Korea
Instances of labor abuse have been compared in recent media reports to slavery, particularly with regards to employment of people with disabilities on South Korean salt farms.
Slavery in North Korea
With 1,100,000 people in modern slavery, North Korea is ranked world number one in terms of the percentage of population in modern slavery, 4.373 percent, in The Walk Free Foundation's 2016 Global Slavery Index. North Korea is the only country in the world that has not explicitly criminalized any form of modern slavery. A United Nations report listed slavery among the crimes against humanity occurring in North Korea.
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