By Kelsey Durham
With the recent passage of a bill introduced by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the Senate is seeking to bring awareness of the Korean comfort women issue into New York’s schools.
Avella announced last week that his legislation calling for an amendment to include instruction on the comfort women of World War II into the state education curriculum passed the Senate and will now move on to the state Assembly.
The bill mandates that the history of the Korean comfort women, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during the war, be added to classroom education and be taught at the same time as the Holocaust and other human rights violations that have occurred throughout history.
Avella, who represents a northeast Queens district with a large Korean population, said the issue involving comfort women was first brought to his attention several years ago and he has been working to bring more awareness to the issue ever since. He pointed out that many people still do not know the history of the large-scale abuse because it is not taught in schools and the Japanese government has not recognized the nation’s role in it.
“We have too many situations, even today, of sex trafficking and abuse of women all across the globe,” Avella said. “We should recognize it and call it what it is: an atrocity against women.”
Many members of the Korean community stood behind Avella during last Thursday’s announcement and praised his work to move the legislation on to the Assembly, which needs to pass the bill before it can become law.
Christine Colligan, parent coordinator of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York, said this bill is the first time the comfort women issue has been officially recognized by another nation and said it is the first step to providing the victims the closure they deserve.
“The human rights of children and women were heavily violated, and hopefully now all over, at any school, people will learn, just like the Holocaust,” Colligan said. “This is not just between two religions or countries. It has to be taught all over the world.”
Jaeyeong Kim, a Korean-American student who graduated from Francis Lewis High School last month, also spoke about the progress the bill has made and said it would be an important addition to American education.
Kim, who was born in Korea and came to America about four years ago, said he knew about comfort women simply from being of Korean descent but said he did not have any further education about it once he moved to New York.
“I’ve met comfort women before and they talked about the sadness and what they went through,” Kim said. “It’s important for us to learn about the comfort women so we learn what we did wrong so we don’t repeat it. We need to teach this to young people because they’re the future of America and of the whole world.”
Avella said the bill does not yet have a sponsor in the Assembly, but he said he plans to bring it up during the next legislative session to push support for the curriculum change.
“These are human rights issues and it’s important to speak out against them whenever they occur,” he said. “If we don’t learn from the mistakes from history, we’ll repeat them.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].