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North Korea

Population size: 

25.7 million [1]

Number of people experiencing domestic abuse each year:

70% of North Korean women are routinely abused by their husbands. [2]

Rate of IPV against women by North Korean refugees was 57.1% [3]

No research on male victims or other gender identities.

Cost of domestic abuse to the economy each year:

No research.

Estimated % change due to COVID-19:

No research.

Current law and policy:

There is a lack of government investigation into complaints. A white paper published in 2018 demonstrated that relief was lacking. There was a complete absence of legislation and of services, safe houses, clinics, resources or other forms of aid for victims.

A 2018 White Paper on North Korean human rights published by the Korean Institute for National Unification reports that women are easily exposed to domestic violence, gender-based exploitation and that social conditions where women can be protected or seek relief were found to be lacking. The government fails to investigate and prosecute complaints, or to provide protection and services to victims – asserts that the country is free of sexual violence and sexism. Researchers interviewed 54 North Koreans for the report. This was the most extensive study ever done of sexual violence in North Korea. It revealed that domestic abuse is so commonplace that men don’t think it is wrong and women have been conditioned to accept it as routine. [4]

No services, safe houses, clinics, resources or other forms of aid for victims. Sexual violence and abuse widely tolerated and unaddressed part of daily life. Gender inequality deeply embedded in the fabric of North Korean society. Divorce is frowned upon and difficult to obtain. Neither domestic violence nor marital rape are prohibited under law. No word for domestic violence in the form of Korean spoken, nor words for sexual violence, harassment or abuse. There is a word for rape but the law states only females can be victims and rape can only occur in very limited circumstances. Legal system exists solely to protect the government and those in position of leadership and courts are not independent. Law enforcement does not exist to protect but to maintain social order. Solution: need to create clearly defined legal terms to describe all types of violence against women, including domestic violence. Laws must be consistently enforced, and punishments must be commensurate with the crime. Need services for victims e.g. safe houses.  [5]

The dire human rights situation extends well beyond domestic abuse. Paradoxical, confused system of gender relations – gender segregation of everyday life. No redress for North Korean women who are subject to ongoing violence within the household, which is often seen as legitimate treatment.  [6]



[1] Worldometer, “North Korea Population (Live)”, (

[2] Um, Mee Young, HeeJin Kim, and Lawrence A. Palinkas. “Correlates of Domestic Violence Among North Korean Refugee Women in South Korea.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 33, no. 13. 2016. 2037-2058

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