Unlawful Marriages and Stateless Children Remain a Challenge for China

Unlawful Marriages and Stateless Children Remain a Challenge for China
Image source: A woman looking through the window. Diego San via Unsplash (2020-03-28)


Vedran Muftic

East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence


At the second and third cycle of Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR), Beijing vowed to take all measures necessary to combat the crime of human trafficking however, activists say that China has not done enough. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) has stated that China actively enables trafficking of women from North Korea [1]. North Korean women are often enslaved in brothels, sold into repressive marriages or made to perform graphic acts online [2].

In addition to the human trafficking of women and unlawful marriages, another issue that has sprung up is the legal status of the women and the children born in these marriages. Since Beijing categorically treats all undocumented North Koreans as illegal migrants, the children born to North Korean mothers are not legally recognized under Chinese regulations. This implies that the children born in these marriages are often deprived of their nationality as well as the right to healthcare and education.

Both China and North Korea have signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Under article 7, it is stated that children shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to acquire a nationality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 15 refers to the right to a nationality as well as that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. This affects both the women’s status in marriages and the children of those women. Both North Korea and China must ensure that these rights are implemented. So far, neither China nor North Korea have been doing enough to ensure these rights.   

Additionally, it is reported that the married women could face deportation back to North Korea if they chose to register their marriage or their child. Repatriation to North Korea would mean separation from the child and an additional risk of detention, torture or execution. China acceded the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP) in 2010 however, China’s accession comes with a notification [3]:

“Regarding paragraph 6 of Article 31 of the Convention, China has not yet specifically designated the authority or authorities that can assist other States Parties in developing measures to prevent transnational organized crime.”

North Korea is not a party of the UN TIP protocol and is therefore not actively making any significant efforts to prevent trafficking.

This entails that because of the lack of a designated authority from the Chinese side and North Korea not being a party of the UN TIP protocol, combating human trafficking from North Korea remains a one-sided challenge for China.   


[1] 정민호. (2023, July 20). Beijing 'actively enables' trafficking of North Korean women, girls: rights groups. Koreatimes. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2023/07/103_355380.html

[2] Julie Zaugg. (2019, June 10). These North Korean defectors were sold into China as cybersex slaves. Then they escaped. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/09/asia/north-korea-defectors-intl-hnk/index.html

[3] United Nations Treaty Collection. (2023-08-01). 12. a) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=XVIII-12-a&chapter=18&clang=_en