South Korean comfort women suing own government

This article is more than 12 months old

Out of desperation, the South Korean government worked with pimps and encouraged local women to serve as "patriots" and "civilian diplomats" by being prostitutes. 

The government wanted to keep US forces in the country after the war with North Korea.

Now the former 'comfort women' are suing their government for proper compensation and to reclaim their dignity.

Some 123 surviving 'comfort women' claim the South Korean government trained them and worked with pimps to run a sex trade through the 1960s and 1970s for US troops.

The suit alleges that the government encouraged the women to work as prostitutes and violated their human rights.

These woman filed their lawsuit with the Seoul Central District Court and are demanding for 10 million won (about S$12,172) in compensation per plaintiff.

The women said they were forced to undergo degrading checkups for sexually transmitted diseases and if the test was positive, locked up until they were "fit" to work again. 

One of these comfort women, Cho Myung-ja, 76, (below)  said: "To make sure we didn't pass on some disease to foreigners, we were tested twice a week, and if it looked abnormal, we would be locked up on the fourth floor, unlocking the door only at meal times, and some people broke their legs trying to escape."

Working through the 1960s and 1970s, the women said they were treated as commodities used to boost a post-war economy.

Patriots then, Forgotten now

The 'comfort women' said the government ran classes for them in etiquette and praised them for earning dollars when South Korea was poor. One former prostitute Kim Sook-ja, 70, said: "They say we were patriots at the time, but now they couldn't care less.

"We didn't fight with guns or bayonets but we worked for the country and earned dollars."

Afterwards, they said they were neglected and forgotten. They were left to live out their lives in poverty and stigmatised for having worked as prostitutes.

Now, hundreds of former prostitutes continue to live clustered around military bases in South Korea, many of them ill and poor, without family and financially unable to relocate.

Source and photos: Reuters

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