Many female North Korean refugees suffer sexual violence or human trafficking in China or other countries after fleeing their homeland, South Korea's state human rights watchdog said Monday.
The report by the National Human Rights Commission was its first on the plight of women refugees in third countries and followed interviews and a survey of 274 defectors last year.
"Border areas are where most of the human rights infringements against women take place," university professor Lee Im-Ha, who helped conduct the survey, told a press conference.
Virtually all North Koreans fleeing their country cross into China, where they face forced repatriation if caught. Many travel on to Southeast Asian nations in the hope of eventual resettlement in South Korea.
Many suffered abuses at refugee camps in China and other countries, the survey found. Almost 20 percent of the women bribed North Korean guards with money or sex to get across the initial border, it said.
China's forced repatriation policy has been strongly criticised by rights groups.
At a Washington press conference in April last year, North Korean women who escaped the sex trade in China said brokers there treated them like livestock by selling them to one or more "husbands".
Almost 17,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.