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North Korean children wave during their tour on the Yalu River in Sinuiju, near the Chinese border city of Dandong, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Chen

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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea said on Wednesday it was working to uphold women's rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers were taking a toll on vulnerable families.

Han Tae Song, ambassador of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the United Nations in Geneva, also urged South Korea to return 12 waitresses "kidnapped" while working in China in April 2016, calling it a "crime against humanity".

Seoul has said the 12 women and one man had chosen to defect to the South.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived earlier in the day in China seeking help to rein in North Korea, telling the reclusive state's leader he was putting his country in grave danger by developing nuclear weapons.

"The United States and other hostile forces impede the enjoyment by our people of their human rights in every possible way, resorting to the vicious ways and means of all kinds in their attempt to stifle the ideas and system of the DPRK," Han told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Washington, he said, had "manipulated" sanctions resolutions against his country at the U.N. Security Council that violated North Korean sovereignty and rights to existence and development, he said.

"Due to these inhumane economic sanctions, vulnerable peoples like women and children are becoming...victims."

"Such sanctions against humanity which block even the delivery of the medical equipment and medicines for maternal and child health and the basic goods for daily life including even children’s bicycles threaten the protection and promotion of our women’s rights and even the right to survival of the children."

South Korea imposed unilateral sanctions on 18 North Koreans on Monday, barring any financial transactions between those sanctioned and any South Koreans, as part of international efforts to dry up Pyongyang's illegal cash flows.

Japan said on Tuesday it would impose additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the continuing threat posed by its missile and nuclear programmes.

The U.N. panel, composed of 23 independent experts, was examining North Korea's record as part of a regular review. Its findings are due to be issued on Nov 17.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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