South Korea Wants Japan to Apologize to WWII Sex Slaves

01 February, 2015

Every week, protesters gather in front of the Japanese embassy in the South Korean capital. They want Japan to apologize for forcing thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II. And they want Japan to make payments to the women for the physical and emotional harm they suffered.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. But the protestors have not forgotten what the Korean women were forced to do.

In South Korea, there are only a few surviving women who were forced into sex slavery during World War II. But young people are joining the weekly demonstration near Japan's embassy in Seoul. Sixteen-year-old Kwon Oh-ryung was in the crowd at one recent protest.

"Japanese doing such a, such a, you know such a crime to us, so we couldn't stand it. We couldn't bear it."

It is estimated that more than 200,000 women from across Asia were forced to have sex with occupying Japanese soldiers during the war.

Yoon Mi-hyang has organized the demonstrations. Ms. Yoon is with a group called The Korean Council for The Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. She says she and others have been protesting for almost 25 years.

She says the reason we stand here is that the Japanese government has not accepted its crime and has not offered an official apology and legal compensation which victims have been asking for.

South Koreans have become even more emotional about the issue since Shinzo Abe became Japan's prime minister. He is less apologetic for Japan's actions during the war than other prime ministers have been. Last year, Mr. Abe visited a memorial that listed the names of war criminals. The visit angered people in neighboring countries.

Mr. Abe also angered South Korea and other Asian countries by questioning earlier apologies Japan made for sexual slavery. Some of his conservative allies have suggested that not all of the women were forced into the sex trade.

Mr. Abe has said he may want to amend a statement made in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. Mr. Murayama apologized for the damage and suffering Japan caused during World War II. Mr. Abe may announce the changes in August on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

"As it is now 70 years since the end of the second World War, (the) Abe cabinet will be reflecting on what we did wrong in the last war and also on our progress as a peace-loving nation."

At a recent protest in Seoul, a chair was left empty for one of the former sex slaves who had just died. Yoon Mi-hyang says this new generation of protesters will not let Korea's sense of anger go away after the survivors die.

"The purpose of our activity is not to repeat such a tragic event like the comfort women issue; it is also what the victims want."

The protesters say they will not forget or forgive until Japan apologizes and makes payments.

I'm Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by VOA South Korea Correspondent Brian Padden in Seoul. VOA News Producer in Seoul Youmi Kim provided assistance. Christopher Cruise wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.