Human trafficking in North Korea
North Korea’s government has done nothing to aid victims of human trafficking. Forced labor is a pillar of North Korea’s established economic system. Adults and schoolchildren must work in various sectors, such as logging, mining, factories, agriculture, infrastructure work, information technology and construction. Adults who do not participate in these forms of labor suffer from withheld food rations and imposed taxes. Here are five facts about human trafficking in North Korea.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in North Korea

  1. Child Exploitation: The North Korean government is paying schools for child labor while the children are under their care. Teachers and school principals exploit students for personal gain. The effects of child exploitation can cause physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion and growth deficiencies.
  2. Challenges of Leaving: The law criminalizes leaving North Korea without permission and criminalizes moving to a third-party country. Those seeking asylum are subject to indefinite imprisonment, forced labor and death.
  3. Labor Camps: The North Korean government runs regional, local and sub-district level labor camps. Those imprisoned work hard labor while receiving little resources and experiencing physical abuse. North Koreans who are not registered as employed for longer than 15 days are at risk of being sent to labor camps for at least six months.
  4. Poverty, Famine and Health Care: Repression of North Korea’s people forces North Koreans to remain in poverty. Food famine prevents a vast majority of North Korean’s from feeding themselves and their families. Another example of how North Korea represses its people is through the health care that it provides. While North Korea’s government has claimed to provide universal health care, the majority of the health care system collapsed in the 1990s. Health care is only available to those who can afford it.
  5. Migration to China: Without their basic needs met, hundreds of thousands of North Korean’s flee to China’s borders. Those fleeing from North Korea are desperate and are more vulnerable to human trafficking. In fact, traffickers capture 60% of women fleeing from North Korea to China and force them into sex work and forced marriages. While the U.N. Protocol on Trafficking calls on governments to protect the victims of human trafficking, China sees these victims as migrants and returns them to North Korea where they face extreme punishment.

The United States’ Recommendations

The United States ranked North Korea as a Tier-3 country in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons report for the 18th year in a row, due to not eliminating human trafficking and not making significant efforts to do so. It prioritized recommendations calling for the end of state-sponsored forced labor, including North Korean workers abroad and the prison camps that the North Korean government uses as a source of revenue and a tool of repression. The United States recommends criminalization of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, investigating and prosecution of trafficking cases and conviction of traffickers, allowing international human rights monitors to evaluate the living and working conditions of workers in North Korea and to allow North Koreans to choose and leave their employment at will.

Countries that rank as Tier-3 according to the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report will experience more than just shame. In fact, they will face financial penalties along with the United States’ opposition to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank granting North Korea with assistance.

The consequences of a bad ranking on the TIP report has forced countries to adopt anti-trafficking measures before. However, time will tell whether North Korea will do the same.

– Mckenzie Staley
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in North Korea
Women’s rights is a global issue that never fails to persist. Gender equality is not something that countries can easily gain and even the most progressive governments cannot always ensure fair treatment. Many know North Korea as one of the most repressed countries in the world, with the United Nations Commission of Inquiry having determined that it systematically and egregiously violated human rights in 2014. The investigation found that the State was guilty of torture, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances and systemically denying basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Many of these countless violations occurred at prison camps or detention centers with North Korean women as the most common victim. Here is some information about women’s rights in North Korea.

The Situation

While the State established a Women’s Rights Act in 2010 in response to international scrutiny, as a politically isolated country, the implementation of such policies is doubtful. Investigations by the UN COI proved not only that North Korea had not implemented the policies, but that circumstances might have even become aggravated in recent years.

A report from the Citizens Alliance of North Korean Human Rights determined there were no practical changes in terms of women’s access to labor, wages, social safety, medical care or education. Many of these resources remain restricted to those who cannot pay fees, making typical things such as childcare or higher education only available to women employed by the State. Even when employed, women often experienced intense discrimination in the workplace and had to quit in favor of providing for their families.

The Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Patriarchal culture exists in North Korea socially and politically. Female dominated trades experience heavy restrictions and are vulnerable to incessant fees. It is very difficult for women to make an independent income, and many are often completely dependent on their husbands or families. Employed women are often subject to sexual violence by their male coworkers or employers, and do not receive protection from the State. Circumstances are even direr in detention facilities and prisons, where sexual assault is a common practice. Guards, police agents and fellow inmates often force women in these facilities into submission. When assaulted, victims also frequently receive the blame for the violence enacted upon them.

The reality of women’s rights in North Korea does not correspond to the country’s policy efforts at gender equality. The DPRK 1946 Law on Sex Equality is one of the earliest examples of a comprehensive gender equality law, yet North Korean women have consistently struggled to maintain independence throughout their country’s history.

A legal analysis of the 2010 North Korean Women’s Rights Act shows that the State does not have true determination to enforce gender equality. The language of the document itself is far too vague to ensure the implementation of policy. It fails to define gender equality or the current issues plaguing women in North Korea and focuses on formal equality rather than anything of substance. The document has no clear statements on the prohibition of sexual harassment, reliable access to healthcare, rights to abortion, equal rights to participate in non-government organizations or the removal of gender stereotypes in education and media. Without clear policy, it is challenging to ensure women’s rights in North Korea.

Solutions

There are no specific organizations solely advocating for the betterment of women’s rights in North Korea, but awareness alone can lead to change. Political isolation has enabled North Korea to ignore matters of equality, but supporting the stories of its women prevents the erasing of the problem. Following the investigations by human rights organizations, such as the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, is a good way to ensure the implementation of policy and the recognition of the current issues that affect North Korean women.

Another good organization to support is Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Reports in 2017 determined that more than 1,000 North Koreans defect every year. The experience of trying to leave the State can be highly traumatic for female defectors, and their experience of others smuggling them across borders presents many safety issues. North Korean women trying to defect often end up in detention centers or fail to find safe refuge. LiNK not only provides support for refugee rescue and resettlement but is also actively working to change the narrative of North Korea. By drawing focus away from the government, which dominates the country’s image, LiNK works to bring attention to the experiences of North Korea’s people.

One must encourage change by uplifting the voices of North Korean women and actively listening to their stories. Once that happens, women’s rights in North Korea can improve.

– Ida Casmier
Photo: Unsplash

Ways to Improve Intergenerational Poverty
What little we know about the true conditions of poverty in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is shocking. We hear stories of famine, starvation and an abundance of human rights violations. The true number of those who are homeless is currently unknown due to the secretiveness of the state. However, stories from defectors have researched international ears. High levels of tuberculosis and typhoid are rampant and due to restrictions of food into northern provinces, the situation there is more extreme. However, there are organizations fighting to reach those experiencing homelessness in North Korea and lift them out of poverty.

How North Korea Works

North Korea is known to be a hollow country. The capital city of Pyongyang shows lavish skyscrapers and hotels which are all empty. They are merely a front and not representational of the poverty in the interior. The communist party holds such a grip on the population that there is no freedom for the individual, not even the freedom of your own thought. Thus, those who defy this notion are punished severely. This makes North Korea considered to be one of the biggest human rights abusers on our planet.

Poverty and Homelessness in North Korea

Despite the lack of poverty seen from the surface, go further to the interior and poverty starts to become apparent. The country has suffered for decades from food shortages and famine. In recent years, the sanctions on North Korea are impacting individual households. More people are forced to abandon their elderly or young family members because they have no means to support them. In recent years, the number of homeless people has been decreasing due to the government rounding up these individuals. Where they are sent to is unknown.

Kot-jebi

Homelessness in North Korea affects children as well. The word “Kot-jebi” is Korean for “flowering sparrow” which refers to homeless child beggars who wander the streets outside the capital city of Pyongyang. The reason for their life on the streets varies from the death of the family to the inability for their parents or guardians to care for them and are thus abandoned. Many of them succumb to preventable deaths such as hunger, tuberculosis or typhoid. Usually, you need approval from the government to travel throughout the country, but these children do so at their own leisure, alleviating them from the usual conformity of the North Korean society. These children often steal their own food, skip school and suffer various types of abuses. North Korea offers no national averages on these homeless children and often denies their existence.

Elderly Beggars

In recent years, a new phenomenon of elderly beggars has started popping up. These are elderly individuals who are abandoned by their families or have no children to rely upon and are left homeless. Often times, they are seen as an extra mouth to feed much like the children and are cast out. However, these individuals are usually able to find some work as house servants.

Hope for the Health of Homeless Individuals

Non-governmental organizations (NGO) and institutions desiring to enter North Korea have a difficult time penetrating the government’s watchful eye. The Korean International Foundation for Health and Development has partnered with North Korea to give humanitarian aid to impoverished individuals. Although NGOs have struggled to gain access to the ground in North Korea, the Korean International Foundation for Health and Development was able to work with the North Korean government to deliver relief supplies. This institution specializes in maternal and reproductive health as well as child health in developing countries, primarily North Korea. While the government continues to deny issues surrounding homelessness in North Korea, the existence of those experiencing homelessness and living in poverty cannot be denied. We must continue to support institutions and NGOs such as the Korean International Foundation for Health and Development to deliver aid and relief to those in need in North Korea.

– Kassi Bourne
Photo: Flickr

tuberculosis in North KoreaTuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that mainly attacks the lungs, and can prove fatal without treatment. Tuberculosis spreads through the air via coughing or talking. It causes people to become sick because the immune system cannot prevent the bacteria from growing. The lengthy and specific nature of the treatment for TB means developing nations can struggle with treating tuberculosis epidemics. One of these nations is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which labels TB as one of its most serious health problems. Here are eight facts about tuberculosis in North Korea.

8 Facts About Tuberculosis in North Korea

  1. Though the data on tuberculosis in North Korea is sparse, the rate of instances is estimated to be 442 out of 100,000 people. Furthermore, the WHO estimates that in 2017, the estimated mortality of TB per 100,000 people was 63%. While it had been slowly decreasing since the year 2000 (161%), estimated mortality has risen since 2015 (42%).
  2. North Korea is a poor country, which limits access to healthcare. According to a report by Amnesty International, the healthcare system has been collapsing, with barely-functioning hospitals devoid of medicine. Though the country claims to provide healthcare for all, estimates indicate it is spending under $1 per capita, less than any other nation in the world. Because it is unlikely that the regime will increase healthcare funding, TB patients often do not receive appropriate care.
  3. The inadequately funded healthcare system also means doctors are improperly trained. This results in maladaptive treatment strategies which are expensive and are prone to hijacking by the black market. Hence, many people turn to self-medicating and are unable to access crucial TB drugs. There have been efforts to train doctors through a program in the late 1990s. However, there have not been any in recent years, either from the government or from NGOs.
  4. The lack of documentation and data on tuberculosis in North Korea also causes more serious strains of TB such as multidrug-resistant (MDR)-TB to spread unchecked. Experts estimate that MDR-TB is an already growing problem. Disinformation surrounding TB in North Korea is so widespread. Many people regard TB as so common as to not require a trip to the doctors. Hence, education about the disease is critical. While there have been efforts to educate people about TB, only NGOs (rather than government-sponsored programs), like the Eugene Bell Foundation, have started initiatives to educate patients, though not the general public.
  5. North Korea’s poor track record on human rights also exacerbates its TB and MDR-TB crisis. According to the Health and Human Rights Journal, North Korea’s prison camps and migration across the China-Korea border heighten the risk of citizens contracting TB. Additionally, those migrating or detained are more likely than the average North Korean to receive little or no treatment.
  6. North Korea’s standing as an international pariah aggravates its struggle with tuberculosis. The regime’s totalitarian nature, cold war-era cult of personality, nuclear ambitions and disregard for human rights causes it to face sanctions, political antagonisms and limited medical exchange. International sanctions ban the export of minerals, agricultural products, technology, aviation fuel, metals and more. This results in limited resources, making testing and treatment nearly impossible.
  7. In 1998, the North Korean government began implementing a TB treatment system. Despite North Korea’s reluctance to accept international aid, the government did begin a TB treatment system in cooperation with the WHO. The TB treatment was named DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-Course). Though it reached the entire country in 2003, DOTS had problems. For example, hospitals turned patients away due to insufficient medicine. Additionally, some medication ended up on the black market.
  8. The only NGO to earn the trust of the North Korean government has been the Eugene Bell Foundation. The Eugene Bell Foundation has been offering support to treat cases of TB since 1996. Focusing on MDR-TB in particular, EBF is the only large scale provider of treatment in the country. Additionally, it has a unique 20-year relationship with the North Korean Ministry of Public Health. The foundation’s program cures an estimated 70% of patients in North Korea. However, despite EBF’s successes in opening clinics, bringing in medication and medical equipment and training doctors, a recent uptick in estimated mortality suggests that North Korea is still a long way away from effectively treating its tuberculosis epidemic.

In conclusion, North Korea faces structural and international challenges that prevent it from being able to treat its tuberculosis and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis epidemic. The regime’s neglect of the healthcare system and disregard for human rights has led to numerous international sanctions, causing it to rely on NGOs and the WHO to treat TB patients. For the situation to improve, wholesale reform of the country’s institutions is likely necessary, though international preventative measures could also help improve the situation.

– Mathilde Venet 
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in North Korea
To research healthcare in North Korea is to perform a balancing act with government information, witness testimonies and internationally funded research. While the North Korean government provides free healthcare under the socialist government that Kim Il Sung implemented, famine, lack of resources and lack of education make this socialist paradise seem like a distant dream to most North Koreans.

The Problems

According to multiple North Korean refugees, the free healthcare policy applies only to the uppermost classes living in Pyongyang. These people are the ones that the Kim dynasty hand-picked as its favorites. These citizens come from long lineages of people devoted to the socialist regime, and as a reward, they receive the benefit of free healthcare. The majority of North Korean citizens, however, have to pay not only for medical procedures but also have to supply medical instruments and medications needed for most procedures. Most hospitals have no heating or electricity.

Although other countries and international organizations provide aid to North Korea, much of the medical supplies they provide end up in the hands of merchants who sell them for inflated prices. Many North Koreans bypass hospitals altogether and instead buy medical advice from street vendors in the markets. For many, this is often cheaper and safer than going to a hospital.

Because state-run hospitals are so expensive and unreliable, many North Koreans turn to doctors and surgeons who practice illegally and discreetly in their own homes. These doctors provide resources, expertise and convenience not found in government hospitals.

The Solutions

The state of free healthcare in North Korea took a heavy blow when famines ravaged the country throughout the 1990s. Since then, the country has become increasingly accepting of international aid and advice. Officials in the Ministry of Public Health and at Kim Il Sung University are beginning to admit the country’s health challenges to the outside world. A study that the United Nations conducted in 2019 estimated that over 43% of North Koreans suffer from malnourishment. Another study that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health conducted showed that the prevalence of tuberculosis has been increasing for the past 25 years. In 2016, estimates determined that 640 per 100,000 people suffer from tuberculosis. Luckily, some nonprofits are attempting to improve healthcare in North Korea. Here are three organizations working to provide sustainable medical aid and healthcare to North Korea.

  • Amnesty International conducted research into the healthcare system in North Korea in 2010. It found that North Korea spent less than $1 per person per year on healthcare, less than any other country in the world. Amnesty International continues to urge countries to increase aid to North Korea based on need rather than political considerations.
  • UNICEF’s work with the North Korean healthcare system divides into three sections: health, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene. It has implemented the Integrated Management of Newborn Illnesses (IMNIC) program in 50 counties, providing the residents with medicine kits and training 5,000 doctors per county to provide basic curative services. UNICEF has also partnered with the North Korean Ministry of Public Health to treat severely and acutely malnourished children.
  • The Gavi Vaccine Alliance has provided North Korea with more than $12 million in aid. It focusses primarily on strengthening the existing healthcare system and providing vaccines and equipment to local facilities. Because of these vaccinations, there have been no reported cases of measles in North Korea since April 2007.  Together, Gavi and UNICEF have provided equipment transport vehicles for every county in the country.

Healthcare in North Korea is far from being free and accessible to everyone. However, by being open with the outside world about the dire nature of their health challenges and allowing international aid, North Korea has taken the first few steps to create a brighter future for the health of its people.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in North Korea
Poverty in North Korea has been persistent for decades. North Korea is one of the most secluded countries in the world, both socially and economically. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, the nation has followed an ideology of self-reliance, called Juche in Korean. According to the official website of the North Korean government, Juche has three tenets: political independence, economic self-sufficiency and self-reliance in national defense. Adhering to these principles, North Korea withdrew from contact with other nations, gradually developing into the closed-off state it is today.

However, poor economic policies and the misallocation of resources have caused much of North Korea’s population to fall into poverty. One study estimates that the poverty rate of North Korea is around 60%, and another puts the percentage of undernourished North Koreans at 43%. The country suffers from chronic food shortages and has some of the worst income inequality in the world. Here are four influences on poverty in North Korea.

4 Influences on Poverty in North Korea

  1. Resource Misallocation: North Korea is notorious for its obsession with nuclear weapons and its military. The Korean War created high tensions between the country and its neighbors, leaving North Korea feeling threatened. As a result, North Korea funnels large amounts of resources into developing and maintaining weapons and the military, when it could better use those resources to fight famine and improve the economy.
  2. Environmental Collapse: To become self-reliant in food production, North Korea has employed intensive agricultural methods, using copious amounts of chemicals and cutting down forests to create farmland and increase crop yields. The loss of forests has led to erosion and flooding, costing the country much of its food supply. In addition, people chop down trees for firewood and eat wild animals to survive, leading to an imbalance in the ecosystem. With land growing less fertile, North Korea struggles to produce enough food for its people.
  3. Government Decisions: In 1995, the government cut supplies to the north of the country to provide more food for the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to garner support for the regime there. This decision hurt the regime greatly. Farmers began hoarding food and selling it independently of the state. Citizen support of the regime fell, decreasing even further when the regime used force to maintain its power. The Juche ideology backfired, as the country had to rely on international aid during the famine.
  4. Decreased Foreign Aid: During the Cold War, North Korea received Soviet aid. However, the country refused to pay its debts to the USSR, which responded by withdrawing support for North Korea. The fall of the Soviet Union forced North Korea to rely more on China for imports. In the 1990s, however, China decreased its grain exports because its own population needed the crops. In response, North Korea condemned China as a traitor. Without foreign aid, poverty in North Korea has only worsened.

These four influences on poverty in North Korea show that it is the product of ill-advised governmental decisions. Fortunately, the global community has begun to take note of the country’s struggles, and other nations are offering help. China has been the most generous donor, sending over 200,000 tons of food in 2012 and $3 million in aid in 2016. South Korea has also been generous to its neighbor, pledging 50,000 tons of rice and $8 million in 2019. The U.N. asked donors for $120 million to give to North Korea, eliciting responses from countries like Denmark, Norway and Germany. Non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross and the World Food Programme likewise commit to helping North Koreans in need. Hope remains for the people of North Korea.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

State of Hunger in North Korea 
Hunger in North Korea is a well-known issue. While the picturesque depiction of the country’s capital city Pyongyang might show the improved food conditions of North Korea’s elites, food shortages still loom over the poor, rural populace. Multiple factors such as North Korea’s climate and governmental mismanagement contribute to the state of hunger in North Korea. The famine of 1990, for example, is one of the most well-documented famines in North Korea’s history.

The Causes of Food Shortages in North Korea

Just like many other aspects of North Korean life, the central government distributes the country’s food. In 2017, the U.N. estimated that 17.5 million, or 71.5 percent of the population, relied on the North Korean government’s pubic distribution of food for their family. The Food Procurement and Distribution Authority of the North Korean government sets average monthly rations for the upcoming month. According to this recommendation, the North Korean authorities review food availability in the country, and after this, they make decisions on whether the country needs to import food. However, recent statistics suggest that food rationing became more challenging between 2018 and 2019. Compared to the average of 1,529 kcal per day rations in 2018, an average North Korean family received 1,393 kcal per day in 2019.

The North Korean famine of the mid-1990s demonstrates the extensive damage food insecurity can have on a country’s population. North Korea suffered a major famine due to multiple factors including the fall of the Soviet Union, over-fertilization of farmland, multiple natural disasters and mismanagement of the food distribution system. Some researchers estimate that 600,000 to 1 million people died because of this famine. At the time, this was at least 2.3 percent of the North Korean population.

People know the children who grew up during this time as the Lost Generation. These children suffered from growth defects such as stunting, wasting and malnutrition due to the state of hunger in North Korea at that time. In September and October 1998, a joint survey that UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) conducted found that 62.3 percent of 1,762 North Korean children experienced stunting. However, the surveyors cautioned that they did not randomly select the children they surveyed. 

The Continuing Hunger

The impact and continuation of the great famine still shadow over North Korea. In 2019, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 10.1 million people in North Korea are either food insecure or in urgent need of food assistance. The same report pointed to multiple factors such as international sanctions, environmental conditions and governmental mismanagement as roots of hunger in North Korea. Historically, the North Korean government responded to the agricultural shortage by importing most of its food from other communist countries such as the Soviet Union and China. However, the Soviet Union and many other previously communist countries adopted the market economy. As a result, this made it much harder for North Korea to rely on the previous socialist-style barter system which supplied much of its food production and raw materials for its industry.

A Solution to Alleviate Hunger in North Korea

Food aid to North Korea is more than a simple international aid. There are multiple countries sending aid to North Korea, including China, South Korea, Russia, Canada and numerous other European countries. South Korea fulfilled its promise to donate $4.5 million to the WFP in 2019. In addition, South Korea announced that it will further provide 50,000 tons of rice as food aid to North Korea. The United States used to be the biggest provider of food aid to North Korea between 1995 and 2008. It provided over $1 billion in assistance, about 60 percent of which was food aid. However, the accountability of the North Korean regime’s use of this food aid is troubling.

Many skeptics of the food aid to North Korea believe that much of the past aid only fed North Korean leaders and the country’s military. David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, still asked the international community to support food aid to North Korea. Beasley said in an interview with the Guardian that “the concerns have been about not helping the regime. We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.” Beasley’s statement highlights the moral conundrum that many aid providers face when sending food aid to North Korea. However, the question of accountability is not something that one can ignore. In 2019, a North Korean farmer testified that she and her family did not receive or benefit from the food throughout the years.

The state of hunger in North Korea is both a humanitarian and a political issue. Donors of food aid to North Korea wish to help the starving populace of North Korea. However, the same donors also want to hold the North Korean regime accountable. On the one hand, people of North Korea are still suffering from malnutrition. Meanwhile, there are signs that the North Korean government is only providing food and aid to its rich and elite populace. However, the international community also hopes that the devastation of the great North Korean famine will not repeat itself. Many hope for the day when hunger will be a story of the past in North Korea.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Education in North Korea
North Korea is a prime example of a hermit kingdom and one of the last remaining communist states. The centralized ideology and oppressive domestic policy closed the society off from the rest of the world, shrouding itself with mystery. How is it possible for the Kim dynasty to maintain its ruling power for so long despite international skepticism? The answer may lie in the careful censorship and indoctrination of the education that shapes the minds of its citizens. Here are the top 10 facts about education in North Korea.

10 Facts About Education in North Korea

  1. Education in North Korea is free and mandatory until the secondary level. North Korea requires students to attend one year of preschool before enrolling in four years of primary school, known as “people’s school.” Depending on their specialties, the students will proceed to either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school from the ages of 10 to 16.
  2. The North Korean education curricula consist of subjects in both academic and political matters. Subjects such as the Korean language, physical education, mathematics and arts make up the majority of instruction in people’s school. North Korea devotes over 8 percent of instruction to the teaching of the “Great Kim Il Sung” and “Communist Morality.” The teaching of these political subjects comprises 5.8 percent of instruction when students get to senior middle schools.
  3. Education in North Korea has claimed the highest literacy rates in the world. There are statistics that claim that all North Koreans over 15 years of age have a 100 percent literacy rate. However, actual statistics might be lower.
  4. Children learn to love and believe in the godlike virtues of the ruling Kim family as early as kindergarten. By the age of 5, North Korean children devote two hours each week to learning about their leaders. By the time they get to secondary school, students spend six classes per week on the subject. The schools and textbooks often tell outlandish stories about the Kim family to deify them. For example, one story tells of how Kim Il-Sung made grenades with pinecones, bullets and sand. Another story tells of how Kim Il-Sung used teleportation when he annihilated the Japanese.
  5. A lot of education in North Korea is propaganda. The system indoctrinates citizens into the system and teaches them to idolize the Kim family as revolutionaries. Distortion of history is another means that the government uses to legitimize the dictatorial regime and accentuate the claims of North Korean greatness. With the careful censorship of outside information, it is not difficult for the regime to change contemporary Korean history or to glorify the Kim family.
  6. Admission to universities is selective and competitive in North Korea. Only students who receive recommendations from their instructors are able to continue their studies at the university level. To receive recommendations, the students must have good senior middle school grades, be from a desirable social class and show high loyalty to the party. Those without recommendations instead go to work in the farms or mines or join the military.
  7. Students start learning foreign languages in secondary school. The most common language is English and then Russian. As the government deems the textbooks from the United Kingdom and Russia as containing too much “dangerous” information, North Korea uses its own textbooks. However, the quality of education is poor as the textbooks have poor writing and include mistakes. Students learn phrases such as “Long live Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung” before “Hello, how are you?”
  8. Education in North Korea continues even for adults. In rural areas, North Korea organizes people into five-family teams. Schoolteachers or other intellectuals supervise the people for surveillance and educational purposes. Office and factory workers also have to attend study sessions after work each day for two hours. They have to study both technical and political subjects.
  9. North Korea has a special purpose school for children from the elite class and gifted children. Depending on their specialties, children enter one of the four types of schools for special purposes. These include the revolutionary school (also known as the elite school), schools for arts and sports, schools for foreign language and schools for science.
  10. Private tutors or other forms of paying for education in North Korea is technically illegal. The state only trusts itself to properly indoctrinate the young minds into the communist regime. However, since the famine in the 1990s, families have had to provide some type of payment for teachers in order for them to show up to work. This can involve paying money, providing firewood or helping teachers harvest crops. Tutoring has evolved within the grey economy of North Korea as a means for state-school teachers to make ends meet. The regime is willing to turn a blind eye as long as the teachers are not too ostentatious about it.

These top 10 facts about education in North Korea shows the important role of education in indoctrinating citizens and instilling in them unconditional loyalty to the regime. As long as education in North Korea continues to be this way, it is likely that the nation will continue to suffer from the tyranny and suppression from its great leaders.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Policies of Poverty in North Korea
Few places in the world have aroused as much curiosity and suspicion as North Korea. Known as the “hermit kingdom,” the multiple facets of daily life are secret from the rest of the world, but what is little known about the country paints a very poor economic picture. North Korea’s enigmatic persona on the world stage makes any attempt to uncover its true economic standing rather difficult. This could be due to the fact that the nation has not released any statistics to the global community since the 1960s. Also, while the exact numbers regarding North Korea’s economy and poverty in North Korea are a mystery, there is still quite a bit the world knows about its economic progress (or lack thereof) and how it is affecting the quality of life of its citizens.

Poverty in North Korea

Firstly, many know that along with North Korea’s cult of personality style of governance with Kim Jong-un as its poster boy, it keeps a tight grip on all of the business affairs of the country, resulting in a command economy. As a result, the free market is essentially non-existent with the state determining not only which goods people should produce, but also how and at what price to fix them at. According to the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), “the standard of living has deteriorated to extreme levels….” Even citizens, not fortunate enough to be part of the political or social elite, do not receive the basic necessities of health care and food security.

The KINU has even estimated that poverty in North Korea extends to about half of North Korea’s population of 24 million.

North Korea’s ironclad grip on its economic and political structures, coupled with its military-centric ideology, makes for a chaotic mix resulting in a struggling population. Even with modest attempts to modernize—including special economic zones, price liberalization and limited transactions with its South Korean neighbor—North Korea still finds itself focused on military and foreign policy. By doing so, it is absorbing much-needed market capital. Also, while North Korea fears that economic liberalization will lead to political and social liberalization, it is unprepared to take the economic risks that its neighbor and ally China has taken to marry its communist politics with a partially free-market economic approach.

Global Scrutiny and Aid

North Korea has faced increased global scrutiny due to its nuclear weapons ambitions, and this has resulted in not only immense political pressure but also crippling economic sanctions. Even with the post-Soviet push for rapid industrialization, North Korea has shown little economic resilience in the face of global disconnection. This has only exacerbated the ripple effect which inevitably leads to its suffering citizens.

Additionally, while the internal systems of the hermit kingdom were not enough to overcome, North Korea finds itself repeatedly on the receiving end of climate change and natural disasters. With alternating and equally devastating periods of both droughts and floods, paired with a government unable to respond, this only aggregates North Korea’s agricultural problems.

It is even suffering its worst drought in four decades, according to its state-run media. With a majority of North Koreans relying on crops and livestock for survival, and with the intensity of irregular weather on the horizon, the country could soon find itself in dire straits that it will be unable to shield from the global community.

Even with the multitude of economic, social and political problems North Korea has in front of it, there are still signs that the global community is willing to help eliminate poverty in North Korea. With China and South Korea right along its borders, North Korea has seen help in the form of aid. South Korea has pledged $8 million for aid. China has been even more generous. In 2012, China gave 240,074 tons of rice, more than 80 times what Europe gave North Korea that same year. These pledges signal that some are offering help to lessen the burden of poverty and struggle for the citizens of North Korea, but there is still more that others can and should do.

– Connor Dobson
Photo: Flickr

North Korea Health Care
Despite North Korea having universal health care, many of its citizens struggle to obtain basic health care. The health care system has been in a state of crisis since the 1990s, so the little health care that is available goes to high-income Koreans. Here are five facts about health in North Korea.

5 Facts About Health in North Korea

  1. North Korea spent the least on health care in the world in 2019. The total amount of money that the country did use for health care equaled less than $1 USD. The lack of funding makes the quality of health care lower which prompts citizens to bypass doctors altogether and buy medicinal products from markets and self-medicate.
  2. Two out of every five North Koreans suffer undernourishment. Mission East, a Danish NGO, is the only U.N. exception sending agricultural machinery into the country – which the country has banned alongside metal objects. Mission East emerged in 1991 and was finally able to establish a country office in Pyongyang in the summer of 2019. It helps the rural population with food security and health in North Korea.
  3. Out of the 131,000 cases of tuberculosis in North Korea, 16,000 citizens died throughout 2017. Multi-drug resistant strains are becoming more and more common in recent years. The Eugene Bell Foundation has been giving health care aid to North Korea since its beginning in 1995. The Foundation returns to North Korea every six months and has initiated a multi-drug resistant tuberculosis program as well as a tuberculosis care program. The program has cured over 70 percent of the patients in North Korea with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
  4. Sixty-one percent of North Koreans have access to safe water. UNICEF in North Korea has implemented a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH). NGOs such as the Swiss Humanitarian Aid and World Vision International have received approval from the U.N. to send shipments related to the WASH program into the country. UNICEF works to promote good hygiene, provide technical support and support delivery of supplies.
  5. The infant mortality rate is 33 percent in North Korea. People often neglect children with disabilities and do not report their deaths in most cases, so the number could be up to five times higher than reported. Minimal access to health care, good sanitation and healthy foods play a huge role in the deaths of infants and their mothers. The Korea Foundation for International Healthcare, established in 2006, has partnered with The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to provide medicine, procedures and surgeries to citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion. Recently, a vaccination campaign has immunized millions of North Korean children.

It is not easy to obtain information on North Korea due to the isolated nature of the country. A lot of organizations have to fight to provide aid to the citizens and the ban on equipment and metal shipments into the country makes it hard to provide proper care to people in the country. Since the country prevents citizens from leaving the country without permission, these organizations are the saving grace for many. Health in North Korea is not as successful as it may seem at first glance, but the recent decisions the U.N. has made leaves room for optimism and change.

Taylor Pittman
Photo: Flickr