She had witnessed a government-ordered execution before she was ten years old. She fled her home country and became enslaved in a foreign land as a teenager. Now in her 20s, Yeonmi Park is an author of an Amazon best selling novel and a human rights advocate.
Yeonmi Park lived with her parents and older sister, Eunmi, near Hyesan, North Korea. Her parents were both employed, but even they could not escape the economic hardships that befell the country in the early 90s. The country experienced a famine, and Yeonmi’s father began to smuggle illegal materials to earn the money needed to support his family. He was arrested and imprisoned at a labor camp. Yeonmi’s mother knew the family would soon face greater hardship and made preparations for the family to flee to China.
Eunmi, going against the family’s plan, left ahead of schedule without her mother and sister. Yeonmi and her mother departed during the night, aided by human smugglers. They followed blindly through forests, even mountains, and across the barely frozen Yalu River. When they arrived in China, the two men attempted to rape Yeonmi, who was barely 13 years old. Her mother offered herself to them in her daughter’s place.
One of the men extorted the pair, telling Mrs. Park that he would reveal their illegal presence within the country if she and Yeonmi did not remain his charges. Yeonmi was forced to become a child bride. She and her mother were enslaved for years before they were freed. Once free, they knew that life in China would be difficult. If their origins were discovered, they would be deported back to North Korea and sentenced to death. They subsequently fled and managed to make their way to South Korea.
Freedom and democracy existed in South Korea. It took Yeonmi and her mother some time to adapt to having the freedom of choice and self-expression.
“I can’t believe that there is so much food,” Yeonmi Park said on a Reason TV interview. “And electricity and water. These things were controlled by the government in North Korea. It was dark a lot, and we often washed our clothes in the river.”
Yeonmi studied criminal justice at a university in Seoul before writing a book about her experience. She now works for a think-tank and is a human rights advocate.