International Youth Forum 2013: Tears of Unblossomed Flower

On August 19, Korean National Commission for UNESCO organized the 2nd International Youth Forum at International Seoul Youth Hostel. There were participants from South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Taiwan, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Romania, Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan, Australia and I was the one from Nepal. The program started with a series of lectures from college professors and political activists from South Korea, Japan and Palestine, regarding historical reconciliation in East Asia which was the main theme of International Youth Forum. The lecturers talked about the issues of war crimes and conflicts between the countries in East Asia but the lecture which affected me the most was the one about the sexual slavery.

I did not study Korean history in my school, so it was a shock for me to get to know those issues.  In case you do not know, Korea was annexed by Japan and remained a colony until the end of the World War II. During the Japanese rule, Korea suffered not only, the loss of manpower and territorial disputes but also, the destruction of culture and language. After the World War II, Japan surrendered and Korea was divided into North and South Korea due to the ideological conflicts between the two governments.

Statue of war-torn woman

Statue of a war-torn woman

During the Japanese rule, Korean as well as Chinese, Taiwanese and other South East Asian women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military and those women were called “comfort women”. According to reports, more than 200,000 young women were forced to serve in Japanese military comfort stations. The comfort stations were the places where Japanese soldiers used to satisfy their sexual urges. The women were beaten and treated as animals. Majority of the women died because of diseases and torture while some survived the wrath of Japanese military. There are very few comfort women who are still fighting for their rights but they are very old and dying out. They are the “unblossomed flowers”.

Figures of Halmonis who passed away

Figures of Halmonis who passed away

On our field trip, we visited the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyunggi-do. Some of the comfort women live there. We were told to call them “Halmoni” which means “Grandmother” in Korean. One of the “Halmonis” agreed to meet us even though she was old and not feeling well. She told us how she was kidnapped by two men and forced into sexual slavery. I will quote below what she actually told us:

I wanted to go to school when I was young but my parents were poor, so they could not send me to school. I cried everyday until I was 15. One woman came to my house and told my parents that she would send me to school, so my parents sent me with her but she forced me to work in her restaurant. I could not escape because I did not know where I was. One day I was walking, when two men came to me and without asking me who I was and where I was going, they grabbed my arms and forced me to the truck. They tied my hands and feet. I shouted for help but no one helped. There were other 5 women in the truck. Next day, the Japanese soldiers took me to the comfort station.”

One of the paintings made by Halmoni

One of the paintings made by Halmoni

 Most of the people were sobbing when they heard what she had said. I did not know what to say. It was the saddest thing that I had ever experienced. If those things had not happened to her, her life would have been different. Now she is suffering PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). There are other “Halmonis” too. They all want the official apology from Japanese government for what they did but the Japanese government denies. They said they will fight until their deaths. They are inspiration for everyone. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering they went through. Sexual slavery is the crime against human dignity and I think those “Halmonis” are doing the right thing.

Yes, I am a foreigner and I can never truly understand their emotions even if I try to but the least thing I can do is support them. I am with them. If you want to know more about the “Halmonis” and help them, please check out the link:

I got to know so many things which I did not know. I am very glad that I was given this opportunity to be a part of the youth forum. The five days of the forum taught me so many things, allowed me to meet people from different parts of the world and gave me a platform to share my ideas and opinions. I cannot thank UNESCO enough for organizing the youth forum.

If you want to join the International Youth Forum next year, here is the link:

Everyone deserves a better life, so let’s work to make it possible.

Be kind to one another!!!


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