Unlike today, many people in Asia, including Japan and Korea, lived in abject poverty during the first half of the 20th century. Even finding enough to eat was difficult for many. As mentioned in the Historical Background section, working as a comfort woman was one way to survive. At the time, prostitution was legal under Japanese law, and comfort women could be paid considerably more than most other workers. (Ref. 1) Parents in debt offered the services of their children. Historically, this was a common practice across Asia (e.g., offering daughters to become live-in babysitters, maids, factory workers, etc. for a period of time), in exchange for advance payment. Although less common, boys were also sent as indentured servants and workers. Some parents sent their daughters to geisha houses (known as kisaeng houses in Korea) or to brothels via a broker. This practice, though tragic, allowed parents to receive money to subsist and reduced the number of mouths to feed, especially for farm families, many of whom were in debt and had many children. Some civilian brokers, many of whom were Korean, deceived parents and women about the nature of the job, in return for payment. It has been described by some that these parents “sold” their daughters, which may have contributed to the misconception that they would be treated as “slaves,” and thus were “sex slaves.”
An important point that often has been ignored is the fact that many comfort women were from Japan. The Japanese comfort women experience, however, has been rarely discussed in the English-language literature.