Uncovering the Truth about 'Kopinos'

In Seoul, South Korea, there’s a red light district called Hooker Hill. It is located in Itaewon, a tourist area filled with shops and restaurants catering mostly to ex-pats and foreigners. It is also very close to U.S. Army Youngsan Garrison Base. Young women seeking work in the region become victims of sex slavery and trafficking. Unfortunately, many of the sex workers at Hooker Hill are Pilipina women who were lured to South Korea for work. While I was in Korea a couple months ago, friends recommended that I keep a low profile when discussing my identity while in Seoul, as young Pilipina women are viewed as low-class citizens among Koreans. This was a harsh reality to come to terms with, for it is both disappointing and infuriating that such a skewed image could be associated with my fellow Pilipinas.

After returning from my trip to Korea, I learned about another connection between the Philippines and Korea that I had not been aware of.

In the Philippines, there is a growing population of Kopinos, with estimates of over 10,000 people. The term ‘Kopino’, coined for individuals who are Korean-Filipino, describes those who are born as a result of the sex tourism industry in the Philippines.

The Korean fathers, who visit the Philippines as tourists, seek out Filipina prostitutes during their stay and then return home. Sometimes, they leave after finding out their partner is pregnant, or are not even aware that they have fathered a child. Often, these Filipina mothers are impoverished teenagers, who have resorted to prostitution as a last resort.

A single Filipina mother and her Korean-Filipino son

Their Kopino children then grow up without a father, and are doomed to face the same realities that their mothers do. Similar to the ‘Amerasian’ (born to US military fathers and Filipino mothers) and ‘Japino’ children in the Philippines, Kopinos experience abandonment early on in their childhood, and are subjected to harsh living conditions and society condemnation. Many are then forced into sex tourism and human trafficking in order to survive, thus making this cyclical reality difficult to stop.

According to an article release by PhilStar earlier this year, nearly half a million Filipinos work as prostitutes within their own country. Other women in the tourism industry, who become mothers to Kopino children, work in guest relations or as bar girls. With the increase of Korean tourists in the Philippines over the past few years, this this problem is becoming increasingly more common.

So why is this relevant to us Fil-Ams?

Today, Korean-Filipinos and supporters are working on a campaign to contact the fathers who left their children behind. These efforts are raising awareness on this issue in the Philippines and in South Korea. Activists are working hard to get these Korean fathers to take responsibility for their children. Some organizations that have been advocating for this issue include TACTEEN, which focuses on eliminating exploitation of Filipino children by Korean tourists, and ECPAT, which works to end child prostitution, pornography and trafficking.


However, their efforts alone cannot change what Kopinos and their mothers face, and will continue to face in the future. While the efforts of these organizations are being portrayed in the Philippines and Korean media, the support it garners is not enough. The tourism industry continues to overlook the issue, so it is rather difficult to enact substantial change.

As members of the greater Pilipino community, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on this issue. Be it by helping to spread awareness or getting involved in human rights initiatives, we must be active citizens and fight for those who are born into situations beyond their control.

Photo credit: Korea Bang

Postcards from Korea

Enjoying the delights of the fish market in Busan! Back in March, I spent ten days in South Korea, visiting with friends and relatives, and traveling around on my own. South Korea isn’t exactly in the Southeast Asian neighborhood (since I’m currently based in rural Thailand), so getting there was a bit of a trek. However, I asked myself, “When else am I going to be on this side of the planet again? Might as well go where I want while I can!” I merely purchased airfare and planned accommodations for my trip, and left the rest to chance. Naïve? Yes. But I’ve learned to be open to possibilities, so I was more than ready to explore.

There were four major things that stood out to me about my time in Korea:

1. Friends and Family

I arrived in Seoul early in the morning during the end of winter, rented a local phone and thus began my ten-day trip in Korea. I planned to meet up with my good friends from college, as well as my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Honestly, traveling to places where you know people makes the experience less stressful. Having a home base and some good company makes it even more worthwhile! It was so great to meet up with them, and see where they study and work! Just like Thailand has been my home over the past year, Korea is their home. I didn’t feel completely like a lost tourist, because they knew more about the culture and were able to share their insight with me (before and during my trip). They also welcomed me into their apartments so I didn’t have to worry about paying for hotels or guest houses. Always a plus!

2. Food

When people think of Korean food, they think of Korean BBQ, kimchi and other spicy delicacies. However, after living in Thailand for year, I’d have to say that Korean food is not that spicy. One of the great things about food in Korea is that it’s not expensive, especially if you know where to go! The kimbap (similar to sushi) near Korea University was about $1 a roll. If you steer clear of touristy areas, you can find a bite to eat for only a few dollars. However, I’d have to say that the food in Busan was best, simply because of the abundance of fresh seafood.


3. Shopping

One of the cool things about Seoul is that if you love shopping, you can literally check out each of the subway stops and find a shopping mall or market. You know that really catchy “Gangnam Style” song? Gangnam is actually a neighborhood in Seoul! It’s the equivalent to Beverly Hills in the US - that means it's filled with high-end housing and shopping. I checked out Gangnam for a bit, but was overwhelmed by the prices and the plastic surgery advertisements in the subway. So, I moved onto other areas, like Dongdaemun, Myeongdong and Itaewon.



4. Sights Korea is full of vibrant culture and history. There are several museums, palaces, some even being UNESCO World Heritage sites! Aside from Seoul, I was able to travel to Busan, the port city in the south of the country.

busan tower




Photo credits: Cat Stamps, Penn Family, Exploring Korea, Stamps Living At, Stamps Living AtDesign Related-Karen Horton