North Korea forced abortions: Babies killed with 'burning irons,' poisons, say experts

north korea
A woman and her daughter arrive to pay their respects at statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and late leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang October 11, 2015. |

International human rights experts and activists have detailed the “inhumane” ways forced abortions are carried out in North Korea's detention facilities, from the use of burning irons and poisons to physical force.

Several experts spoke with Fox News regarding North Korea’s systematic and widespread human rights abuses, including the ongoing implementation of forced abortions. 

China, the experts revealed, is complicit in these atrocities, as it doesn't consider North Korean defectors refugees, instead of viewing them as illegal economic migrants. Thus, China forcibly deports North Korean defectors back to the isolated country. 

Once back in North Korea, defectors could face execution, life in labor camps, and sexual violence. Because North Korea does not allow for mixed-race babies, North Korean women repatriated from China are forced to undergo abortions if they are found to be pregnant.

“Terrifying reports from female defectors depict undergoing forced abortions after they fled to what they thought was freedom in China, only to be repatriated back to North Korea by authorities in China," Olivia Enos, Senior Policy Analyst for Asian Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News. "Other women from North Korea recount having aborted babies born alive or giving birth in ordinary prison camps only to have border guards smother or drown their babies before their very eyes."

Often, babies are aborted without anesthesia, Enos said, adding: “Some reported having soldiers jump on their stomach until the baby came out, others by having various instruments inserted, others still by having poisonous plants inserted in their vagina to kill the baby and induce labor.”

Dong Yon Kim, an analyst and journalist for Chosun News-Press and a former Air Force Officer for the Republic of Korea, called the problem “inhumane and serious” and further detailed the horrific ways abortions are carried out. 

“Pregnant women can be made to lie on the ground. Then [guards] put a long and wide piece of wood on her stomach. They pick two people for the job. These two people could be the son of the woman, her husband or lover, or any relative. These men stand on top of the wooden board like a see-saw,” Kim said. “Using a burning iron is another method. The punisher carries a long piece of metal and lets it burn until red or yellow, then puts it into the pregnant woman. A woman can die from this punishment, and often, if she survives, she cannot walk properly.”

Currently, there are an estimated 230,000 North Korean defectors in China at risk of being arrested and repatriated to North Korea. 

Kim shared how one pregnant woman who escaped North Korea to China was later caught by authorities there and expelled to her homeland. After guards discovered she was pregnant, she was “kicked multiple times and she lost her baby.”

Harry Kazianis, senior director of the Center for the National Interest and a North Korea expert, also stressed that unwanted sexual contact and violence against women are common in North Korea’s concentration camps, jails, and detention centers.

“Where this gets really barbaric is if the woman hides the pregnancy and wants to keep the baby – punishment is swift and heinous,” he said. “If she is discovered, I have been told of accounts where the woman is killed as well as the baby.”

“I have also been told of accounts where the woman is tied to a tree, the baby is cut out of her stomach, shown the child before its throat is slit and then she is executed or left to bleed to death,” he added.

In 2017, North Korean defector Ji Hyeona spoke at the U.S. State Department's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and detailed how she was forced to have an abortion without medication following her repatriation from China. 

"My first child passed away without ever seeing the world," she said, "without any time for me to apologize."

"Pregnant women were forced into harsh labor all day," she said. "At night, we heard pregnant mothers screaming and babies died without ever being able to see their mothers."

North Korea has for the last 18 years ranked as the worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. The country is regularly classified as being home to the worst human rights abuses in the world.

Human rights groups have called on the Chinese government to refrain from repatriating defectors, as the regime of Kim Jong-un shows little mercy to citizens who leave the country. 

"Forcibly repatriating North Koreans to their country violates the international humanitarian principle of 'non-refoulment' and risks sending people to their deaths," Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Merwyn Thomas previously said. "Even if not actually executed, the conditions of torture and abuse in North Korean detention centers and prison camps are so severe that imprisonment amounts to a death sentence."

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