Japan reached an historic deal with South Korea on Monday, officially apologizing for the use of "comfort women" by the Imperial Japanese army before and during WWII. It is the first such deal between the two countries in 50 years.
According to the BBC, estimates range for the number of women, many "kidnapped" from Korea, who were forced into sex slavery by Japan during this time period, but the number could be as high as 200,000.
As part of the agreement, the New York Times reports that "the Japanese government will give $8.3 million to a foundation that the South Korean government will establish to offer medical, nursing and other services to the women" and, in turn, South Korea will cease criticizing Japan over the issue going forward. The BBC reports that only 46 former comfort remain remain in South Korea, and many of them are not happy with the deal.
“The agreement does not reflect the views of former comfort women,” said Lee Yong-soo, 88, during a news conference held after the agreement was announced, according to the New York Times. “I will ignore it completely.” She said the deal fell short of what the former comfort women want: that "Japan admit legal responsibility and offer formal reparations."
Another, 88-year-old Yoo Hee-nam, said: "If I look back, we've lived a life deprived of our basic rights as human beings. So I can't be fully satisfied.
The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery in Japan, an advocacy group for former comfort women, released its own statement, expressing displeasure in the deal which is described as "diplomatic collusion."
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a statement that the deal was important to normalize relations with Japan (both U.S. allies) and to reach an agreement before all of the former comfort women had died. President Park noted that nine had died in 2015 already.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sounds settled on the matter. "Japan and South Korea are now entering a new era," Mr. Abe told reporters, according to the BBC. "We should not drag this problem into the next generation."
A former comfort woman described her experience to CNN earlier this year. At 14, Kim Bok-dong was forced to leave her village in Korea and was told she would be working in a sewing factory. However, she was actually passed around from brothel to brothel controlled by the Japanese military for years. "Our job was to revitalize the soldiers," she told the cable network. "On Saturdays, they would start lining up at noon. And it would last until 8 p.m."
"There are no words to describe my suffering," she said. "Even now. I can't live without medicine. I'm always in pain."
According to the Asian Women's Fund, following the end of the war, many of the affected women refused to return to their homelands, fearing shame and retribution for aiding the Japanese military. For all the women who eventually returned to Korea in the 1990s, countless others remained abroad in China, the Philippines, or elsewhere.
Korean victims have long shunned previous Japanese attempts at financial assistance in lieu of a formal apology and accepting legal responsibility for war crimes. According to the Korea Herald, under a 1993 act by the South Korean government, "each victim receives a monthly payment of 1.04 million won ($893.70), which will rise to 1.26 million won next year. The government offers another 757,000 won for medical fees, which will also increase to 1.05 million won next year." It's not currently clear how the new $8.3 million from Japan will be spent.
You can read more about the experiences of former comfort women at the Asian Women's Fund project.
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