Where New Leaves of HOPE Sprouts
170,000,000: the annual volume of sexual trafficking in South Korea
24 billion Korean won: annual sales of sexual trafficking in South Korea
166,609: the number of single-mother households in 2010 Korea
9639: the number of children born to unwed mothers in 2010 in Korea (Census Bureau)
Women’s Hope Center (WHC) (Mission & Vision) is a registered Korean NGO/NPO with its headquarters in Pohang, South Korea but serving the entire nation. It is a grassroots organization that was established by Min Hwang, a graduate of Handong International Law School who is a Pastor`s wife and a mother of three small children. It was through her encounters with young students in crisis pregnancies, who had nowhere to go to for help, that she first began to realize the gap in Korea. WHC established the first crisis pregnancy center in Korea and is now raising funds to build the House of Hope (open for donation: GIVE). The House of Hope will be Korea`s first Gospel-centered safehouse, a restorative place where female survivors of sex-trafficking, unwed mothers facing the threat of a forced abortion, and young women who escape the sex industry will be able to live while receiving complete care. Because of clients from those situations contacting WHC through its online counseling site (www.whckorea.org), and desiring to fill the gap in Korea, WHC continues to expand its services. It is God-led and client-led.
1. The Korean Legal System
While I have been regularly meeting with clients staying at WHC`s community housing for unwed mothers (the House of Peace), I researched Korean law on the rights of youth, abortion, and the sex trade in order to prepare for any possible legal issues the clients might encounter. Compared to the U.S. legal system, based on common law, the Korean legal system is based on civil law. Since Korea does not have compiled legal research sources, such as Westlaw or LexisNexis, researching Korean law and understanding the legal terms composed of Chinese characters were meaningful for me as a Korean studying in an American law school.
2. The Changing World and the Reality
Talking about ‘sex’ is considered taboo in Korea as it is a traditional Confucian-based culture. Since nobody really talks about it, most people do not really know what is happening under what feels like an enormous grey cloud. I am already aware that Korea is considered as the number one ‘baby-export’ country. However, I could hardly believe that so many women were, and continue to be, ‘exported’ as sex workers abroad. Many migrant women in Korea are forced into prostitution to pay off debts, and growing numbers of women, from a housewives, to runaway teenagers, to college students seeking to raise college tuition, are seemingly voluntarily joining the so-called Spon Café, Kiss Room, and Massage Room, where their ‘services’ earn eight times more than a regular part-time job. Moveover, one former social worker of a safehouse in the U.S. shared that many of the survivors of sex trafficking from South Korea were young unwed mothers. They are a very vulnerable group to sex traffickers. However, changing this situation is not without hope.
3. Ways to Tackle the Fundamental Problem: Social Enterprise Application
Why do the women get caught up in the sex industry? Why are the unwed mothers afraid to keep their babies? While there are many answers to these questions, one common answer is to search for income and employment in order to survive. WHC is addressing this fundamental problem by seeking to establish a Social Enterprise that would provide these vulnerable, marginalized and hurting women with alternative employment.
This social business venture will include an natural, home-made skincare brand (which a WHC Officer has created) and products from other nation`s social enterprises, coupled with workshops and a cafe suited to mother-employees and mother-customers. The goal is to establish shops that would provide a range of possible creative outlets for the differing interests of WHC client-employees in which they can be trained and obtain job skills, and at the same time, to provide a place where mothers can gather and support each other while learning how to create a loving home from the products and workshops offered. WHC hopes that it may subversively change Korea`s attitude toward motherhood, and subsequently women, to one that is more positive, Biblical and healthy. In this way, WHC desires to work on the side of prevention.
Just as social enterprises are a quickly growing industry in the U.S., recently, the Korean government has been promoting them as well. Accordingly, the number of social enterprises that directly benefit disadvantaged groups is growing. I am privileged to have helped to initiate WHC’s research and application in the establishment of a social enterprise as I am confident that the business will empower and restore vulnerable and hurting young women in Korea – financially, emotionally, and spiritually – thus hopefully helping to prevent them from being tricked into the sex industry or even trafficked abroad.
4. Prayer that was not Forgotten
Living in a foreign country for ten years apart from my mother, I was a lonely adolescent and I did not realize it but I had become a cold-hearted person, who neither trusted anyone nor had hope for this world. Yet, following college graduation, I finally accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and realized that I am a sinner. For twenty years, I longed to be loved by others, when God loved me all along. I prayed to God, “Father, you gave me a soul and new life. Allow me to demonstrate your love to the youth of this world, especially teenage girls, who are lost in their loneliness just like I was. I will show them love without judgment, as you showed to me.”
Only after spending time with WHC clients and wondering why God opened this specific opportunity through the Center for Global Justice and Regent Law School, I remembered my forgotten prayer, which God kept faithful. Sometimes, looking at the statistics on the rate of abortion, sex crimes, and sex trafficking in Korea, I become so heart-broken and my own country looks like a stranger. However, just like new leaves sprout and slowly grow into a blooming flower, God’s mission and plans for WHC and Korea are new leaves that God planted and nurtures. As I know God is so real and He is the only one who can change the world, I will not stop to HOPE and LOVE. It is never too late.
WHC’s Foot Massage Fundraising Event(Pohang International Festival. May 26, 2013)
Human’s feet are connected to all body organs, so foot massage not only has the same effect of body massage but it also connects people’s heart through touches full of love and care.