Mothering and mothered during defection and resettlement: Experiences of North Korean refugee women and their children

Jeongwon Baik, Young Ji Yoon, Priscilla Gibson, Nancy Lo, Hee Eun Nam, Yu Jin Im, Hee Yun Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Women from North Korea (NK) face a perilous journey when they illegally defect to China, and then get married and have children to protect themselves from deportations back to NK and torture, on the path towards resettling in South Korea (SK) with their Chinese-Korean children. The socio-historical relationship among North and South Korea and China requires these women to travel clandestinely and make undesired choices, one of which is temporarily to leave their Chinese-Korean children in order to establish residences in South Korea. This collective case study presents the experiences of the five NK refugee mothers and five of their children born in China. Through individual interviews the women expressed that they made the best decisions possible given the challenges of mothering as a North Korean refugee, but they also expressed feeling of inadequacy as mothers in SK. Both mothers and children expressed challenges in their relationship upon reunification in SK. Mothers were forced to work long hours while children struggled with feelings of abandonment and trauma. Both mothers and children recognized that improving their lives required them to continuously re-adjust to their changing circumstances. Implications for social work services and policies are discussed to assist these women not only with adjustment to a new culture, but also to address their children's well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106242
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The University of Tongmyong Institutional Review Board approved the study (The University of Tongmyong IRB number 201811-HR-001). We thank Dr. Wendy Haight, Professor and Gamble-Skogmo Chair in Child Welfare and Youth Policy of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, for help with English editing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Cultural integration
  • North Korea
  • Reunification
  • Social welfare services
  • Women refugees


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