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Korea’s oldest surviving former sex slave to Japanese soldiers–known as “comfort women”–recently donated her savings to destitute young girls, touching many Koreans’ hearts.
Kim Bok-duek, one of the victims of Japanese sex slavery during World War II, has decided to donate about $17,000 to Tong-yeong Girls’ High School. The money will be given to students who are in financial difficulties including recipients of livelihood programs and children of families without parents.
Kim was born in Tong-Young, a southern city of the Gyeongsang Provinces of South Korea, in 1918. She was forced to move to China in 1937 during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea and began work as a sex slave at the age of 18. During her time in captivity, she was also taken to other places such as Taiwan and the Philippines by Japanese soldiers. Shortly before Korea’s independence from Japan in 1945, she returned to her hometown after eight years. Her full story is available here.
Even though Kim suffered from adversity, it was not without compensation. The Korean government provided Kim with around 1.1 million Won ($968) every month in supplementary living allowance, which she has been saving. That is the money being donated for destitute students to help them to realize their hopes and dreams for the future.
Lim Soo-ji, the 16-year-old student designated as the first beneficiary of Kim’s donation, has expressed her gratitude to Kim in an interview with Korea’s news agency NEWSis, “I know how much this money means to Kim. The only way I can repay is by studying hard and becoming a good person who can contribute to society.”
During Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, many Korean women were forced by the Japanese government into sexual slavery as “comfort women.” According to the Korean government, it is estimated that almost 200,000 women were taken at that time, most of whom died because of various diseases or from their living situations. Japan has never officially apologized for the transgression.
Since 1992, victims and their supporters have held weekly protests in front of Japan’s embassy in Seoul, requesting compensation and an apology from Japan. In December 2011, they held their 1,000th protest.
The issue of comfort women is becoming urgent because most of the surviving comfort women are well over 80 years old and may die before receiving compensation or an apology from Tokyo. In 2011, an estimated 16 former comfort women died. As of now, only 61 out of 234 women in South Korea’s government register of surviving victims of Japan’s sexual enslavement are alive.
Under the conservative social atmosphere of Korea that prevailed following the war, few comfort women wanted to be seen in public, making it hard to investigate the truth of the crimes against them. After being freed from Japan, most ran away from their families because of shame or tried to hide the fact that they worked as sex slaves. Investigations have later revealed that some of them got married, but could not have a baby or keep their marriages for a long time.
Kim’s case was not that different. However, she decided to fight back and went after the root of Japanese sex slavery by participating in several campaigns for human rights to let people worldwide know the truth about comfort women. She did so right after becoming a member of South Korea’s government register for surviving victims of Japan’s sexual enslavement in 1994.
Kim met with Amnesty International when the organization visited Korea to investigate in 2005. She also visited Japan several times to call for action from the Japanese government to deal with the comfort women issue.
Since her husband passed, Kim has been living by herself at a rented home in Tong-Young city. Her younger brother, who was her only family, died earlier this year. She has difficulty walking because of her knee joints, and her sight is also failing, making her unable to go out without help. This is why her donation to young students is seen as a hugely inspirational story to many South Koreans.
Image Courtesy of bittermelon