Intellectually disabled man freed after 19 years a slave

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Intellectually disabled man freed after 19 years a slave

A 47-year-old man with an intellectual disability who was enslaved at a livestock farm in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, for the last 19 years returned Thursday to his mother and sister, who had been living in devastation ever since he went missing.

The man, surnamed Ko, was sent to the livestock farm on a summer day in 1997 by a cattle market broker. Ko was last seen in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, before he was sent to the livestock farm. The broker later died and no one knows how Ko ended up on the cattle farm in Cheongju.

Since then, Ko had been working on the farm day and night, cleaning up the waste and feeding the cattle. The owners of the farm, an elderly couple, never paid him a single penny.

Ko’s enslavement was revealed when the police found him in a nearby factory on July 1. Ko was staying in the building some 200 meters (656 feet) from the farm, taking shelter from the rain.

Ko said to the police, “I don’t want to go back and clean up waste.”

The officers found something odd about Ko’s behavior and took him to the police station in Cheongwon County.

After interviewing him and the neighborhood residents, police said Thursday they found that Ko had been forced to work on the farm without pay.

Police also found Ko’s family and sent him back to his home on Thursday night. Ko reunited with his mother and sister, who are both also intellectually disabled, for the first time in 19 years.

“I can’t believe my son who I thought was dead came back to me,” Ko’s mother said through his cousin, who has difficulty speaking properly due to her disability and requires an interpreter.

Police additionally said Monday that they have acquired footage of Ko working for the last 20 days at the farm from four CCTV cameras.

From the video clip, police found that Ko woke up at 5:00 a.m. and started his day by feeding the cows.

After filling the trough with dried grass, he shoveled away the excrement. Police believe he was forced to work about 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

The room that Ko lived in while he worked on the farm was only 6.6 square meters, police said. There were no windows, electric fans or wallpaper. As the room was only two meters away from the cattle shed, it smelled of excrement.

“He barely left the farm and just cleaned the cattle shed all day long,” said one resident who lived in the neighborhood.

Police will further interview the elderly couple who own the livestock farm as well as local residents.

As a surgical scar was found in one of Ko’s leg, police asked for his medical record from the National Health Insurance Service to check whether the elderly couple left the wound untreated or not.

Police, however, will postpone questioning Ko since he seems to be struggling psychologically and is having difficulty testifying.

Officials plan to charge the elderly couple for violating the Labor Standard Act and the Welfare of Disabled Person Act and send the case to the court as soon as the investigation is over.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, CHOI JONG-KWON, AND SHIN SOO-YEON [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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