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.[1] In North Korea, slavery is still practiced by the country's regime.[2][3]

History of slavery in Korea

See also: Nobi

Slavery in Korea has existed since before the Silla period (approximately 2,000 years ago).[4][5][6] 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).[4] The slave caste, known as nobi (also described as serfs[7]), was quite large. In 1690 nobi were estimated to account for over a third (37%) of the Korean society,[8] (though in those centuries it might have varied widely between that number and as low as 10%[4]) and slavery has been described as "very important in medieval Korea, probably more important than in any other East Asian country".[9] Population growth,[9] numerous escaped slaves,[4] and changes to the agricultural economy led to the decline in the number of nobi to about 1.5% by 1858.[8] A policy of gradual emancipation was put in place in 1775,[9] and starting in 1801, the government begun freeing its own slaves.[4] The hereditary nobi system was abolished around 1886[4] or 1887,[8] (sources vary on specific date) and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894[10] or in 1895[4] (again, sources vary). However, slavery did not completely disappear in Korea until 1930, during Imperial Japanese rule.[5][11]

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.[11][12] These included women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II, known as "comfort women".[11][12]

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.[13]

Modern slavery in Korea

Although slavery is now de jure illegal in all countries,[14][15] de facto practices akin to it continue today in many places throughout the world.[16][17][18][19]

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.[20][21][22]

In terms of people in modern slavery in absolute numbers South Korea ranked 128th in the 2014 Global Slavery Index, with some 93,700 people estimated to be enslaved.[2]

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.[23] North Korea is the only country in the world that has not explicitly criminalized any form of modern slavery.[24] A United Nations report listed slavery among the crimes against humanity occurring in North Korea.[3]

See also


  1. ""A living hell" for slaves on remote South Korean island salt farms". 2 January 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Korea ranks 49th in Global Slavery Index". Korea Herald. 2014-11-20.
  3. 1 2 "UN uncovers torture, rape and slavery in North Korea". The Times. 15 February 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Junius P. Rodriguez (1 January 1997). The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. ABC-CLIO. pp. 392–393. ISBN 978-0-87436-885-7.
  5. 1 2 Prem Sunder (10 August 2010). Caste,Class and Society. Pinnacle Technology. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-61820-051-8.
  6. Andrea L. Stanton; Edward Ramsamy; Peter J. Seybolt; Carolyn M. Elliott (5 January 2012). Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia. SAGE Publications. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-4522-6662-6.
  7. Bok Rae Kim (23 November 2004). "Nobi: A Korean System of Slavery". In Gwyn Campbell. Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-135-75917-9.
  8. 1 2 3 Bok Rae Kim (23 November 2004). "Nobi: A Korean System of Slavery". In Gwyn Campbell. Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia. Routledge. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-135-75917-9.
  9. 1 2 3 Martin A. Klein (4 September 2014). Historical Dictionary of Slavery and Abolition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8108-7528-9.
  10. Korean History: Discovery of Its Characteristics and Developments. Hollym. 1 January 2004. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-56591-177-2.
  11. 1 2 3 Junius P. Rodriguez (1 January 1997). The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. ABC-CLIO. p. 393. ISBN 978-0-87436-885-7.
  12. 1 2 Helen Tierney (1 January 1999). Women's Studies Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-313-31071-3.
  13. Tertitskiy, Fyodor (6 June 2016). "The good things in North Korea". NK News. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  14. Kevin Bales (2004). New Slavery: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-85109-815-6.
  15. Shelley K. White; Jonathan M. White; Kathleen Odell Korgen (27 May 2014). Sociologists in Action on Inequalities: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. SAGE Publications. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4833-1147-0.
  16. Smith, Alexander (17 October 2013). "30 million people still live in slavery, human rights group says". NBC News. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  17. Kelly, Annie (3 April 2013). "Modern-day slavery: an explainer". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  18. "Ethics – Slavery: Modern Slavery". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  19. Aziz, Omer; Hussain, Murtaza (5 January 2014). "Qatar's Showcase of Shame". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  20. "The islands of abuse: Inside South Korea's slave farms for the disabled". The Independent. 2 January 2015.
  21. "Former South Korean Salt Slave Describes 'Living Hell' He Endured Before His Escape". Business Insider. 2 January 2015.
  22. Foster Klug, Associated Press (2 January 2015). "Modern day slavery alive in salt farms on small islands off South Korea". National Post.
  23. "North Korea". The Global Slavery Index. Walk Free Foundation. 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  24. "Asia-Pacific". Global Slavery Index 2016. The Minderoo Foundation. 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-12.

Further reading

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