Ministry may eschew term ‘comfort women’

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Ministry may eschew term ‘comfort women’

Korea has been considering using the term “sex slaves” in official English-language documents to describe women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japan’s World War II soldiers, instead of the euphemistic “comfort women,” a Seoul official said yesterday.

According to historians, up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude at front-line Japanese brothels during World War II, when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony. Those sex slaves were euphemistically called “comfort women” by the Japanese military.

A debate on the correct terminology to describe the victims resurfaced early last week, when Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had requested the use of the term “enforced sex slaves” instead of “comfort women” in her department. The State Department has neither confirmed nor denied the report.

“The government is reviewing a plan to change the English-language term of ‘so-called comfort women’ to ‘sex slaves’ in official documents,” the official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

There is no plan, however, to replace the Korean-language term of “comfort women” with “sex slaves,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

An activist group representing the victims has supported the euphemistic reference in Korean to show Japan’s wartime atrocities as they were. The euphemism loses its connotation, however, when translated into English, critics say.

In a parliamentary session last Friday, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told lawmakers his ministry was “willing to consider” changing the wording to “sex slaves.”

Kim said Korea could switch the wording through consultations with the victims, noting the current terminology was coined in the past by taking into account the victims’ opinions.

Some activists, however, said the debate over terminology has veered off course from resolving the issue.

Yoo Mi-hyang, head of the activist group named the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, said, “Those who spoke of changing the terminology proved that they did not listen to what the victims want.”

“All the government has to do is to receive a sincere apology from the Japanese government, not change the wording,” Yoo said.

The issue is one of the most emotional and unresolved issues between Korea and Japan.

Korea has pressed Japan to resolve the issue through an apology and compensation for the Korean women on a humanitarian level, but Tokyo refuses to do so, saying the matter was already settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries.

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