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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Han

Comfort Women, and Money, Money, Money

The first time when financial support was given to former comfort women in Korea was in 1992. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery (now known as the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance) collected donations from Korean people to give 2.5 million won to each comfort woman. Support from the Korean Government began in the following year. They paid a lump-sum of 5 million won up front and 150 thousand won every month in the name of livelihood support.

A lump-sum payment then increased sharply to 43 million won, and monthly financial support reached 1,474,000 won. If needed, former comfort women could apply to receive further assistance, up to 18 million won of nursing assistance and 9.84 million won for medical assistance. These are the assistance coming from the central government. Local authorities had additionally paid out 200,000 to 850,000 won every month until 2020.

From 1997 to 1998, the “Asian Women’s Fund (AWF)” established by Japan provided 2 million yen (approximately 15 million won) as “atonement money” to each former comfort woman. A letter of apology from the Prime Minister of Japan was sent to them as well. Though the fund was named “People’s Fund” and Japanese people actually donated to it, most of the money was provided by the Japanese Government because only 600 million yen was raised in donations and the Japanese Government contributed 4.8 billion yen.

The misunderstanding that the money came from Japanese private sector spread widely in Korea due to a negative campaign by the Korean Council, leading to many former comfort women turning “atonement money” down. The Korean Council asserted that the money was not from the Japanese Government, not an official reparation, and not an official apology. They criticized the comfort women who accepted the money and the letter of apology and urged other former comfort women to reject “atonement money”.

Unlike the Kim Young-sam administration which viewed the establishment of the AWF and “atonement money” by Japan as positive, the Kim Dae-jung administration followed the Korean Council, suddenly taking a negative stance toward the AWFs efforts. This is probably the turning point, where the Korean Government began to officially be swayed by the Korean Council.

The Kim Dae-jung administration paid by far larger sum than the AWF’s “atonement money” - 38 million won per person to 186 people who declared themselves as former comfort women - and announced its decision not to make payment to those who had received money from the AWF. Also, 5 million won per person was added from the money the Korean Council gathered from the Korean citizens. Overall, the former comfort women received the second highest sum of money through this because they either received money from the AWF or the Korean Government.

The third payment came from the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation established based on the Korea-Japan Comfort Women Agreement in 2015. The Park Geun-hye administration and the Abe administration agreed to solve the issue “finally and irreversibly”. The Japanese Government contributed the full amount of 1 billion yen to the Foundation established in Korea and paid 100 million won to each former comfort woman.

The Korean Council accused the Park Geun-hye administration, asserting that it was not an official reparation too. It is said that the Council “persuaded” the former comfort women not to accept the financial support, saying “If you accept the money, you will become a prostitute.” People say that the Council staff rushed to the hospitals in a group to persuade the former comfort women. However, many of the surviving former comfort women accepted the money.

At the time, there were a total of 47 survivors and 34 to 37 of them received the money. Those who had not accepted the money received 100 million won each from the Korean Council, through donations raised from the citizens. So again, all comfort women received a lot of money, either from the Reconciliation and Healing foundation or Korean people.

On January 8, 2021, the 34th civil division of Seoul Central District Court made a decision on Korean comfort women, which included 12 plaintiffs. It is said that 6 out of them had already received 100 million won each from the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation. The others must have received 100 million won each from donations. Although this is highly unlikely, if they received 100 million won each from the Japanese Government through the lawsuit, it would be the fourth time they receive the money.

The decision on January 8 was filed by former comfort women supported by the “Nanum House (House of Sharing)”, a shared living space for the comfort women established by the Korean Buddhism Jogye Order. On January 13, the judgment of the case filed by 20 former comfort women supported by the famous Korean Council was scheduled to be made, but it was postponed until March for ambiguous reasons. Similar to the January 8 lawsuit, the plaintiffs have already received 100 million won.

This lawsuit, like the decision on January 8, was filed against the Japanese Government in 2016, after the Korean-Japanese Agreement. If the former comfort women win this lawsuit again, all the other surviving comfort women and all of the families of the deceased comfort women can begin filing lawsuits. Many people would go to court to demand at least a high indemnity.


The Third Way (January 19th, 2021) by Lee Woo-yeon

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