life expectancy North KoreaKorea was divided into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south due to opposing political ideologies. Before the 1990s, the World Bank estimated that the life expectancy of North Korea was similar to that of South Korea. Men were expected to live to 65.9 years, and women 73 years. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea that will list what factors have had the largest impact on the growth or decline or this rate.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in North Korea

  1. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union in Russia led to an economic decline that ultimately decreased North Korea’s life expectancy. This decline was the direct cause of the mid-1990s famine in North Korea, which caused a mortality crisis that lowered its life expectancy by 5.6 years in men and 4.7 years in women.
  2. Though North Korea shares a similar issue with South Korea regarding mortality rates among small children and adults older than 55, the famine-affected North Korea more heavily, leading to a gap between the two countries of 11.14 years among men and 9.90 years among women by the year 2008.
  3. Currently, North Korean men are expected to live to 68.2 years and female life expectancy is 75.5 years. This places the country as 103 on the ranking of life expectancy rates. Unlike several countries in the top 10, North Korea’s national leading cause of death is not suicide, but rather stroke. This is also different from its leading cause for the life expectancy gap between North and South Korea, which is infant mortality.
  4. South Koreans may live longer, but North Koreans have more babies. For the past decade, South Korea has struggled to boost its birth rate, hitting an all-time low in 2017 with only 1.05 births per woman. In comparison, North Korea had a birth rate of 1.91.
  5. Food shortages were thought to be the primary reason why North Koreans also fell behind South Koreans in terms of height, with an average difference of 3-8 cm. Some originally thought that this difference was the result of genetics, but Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul rejected this claim. Additionally, Schewekendiek disproved the theory that North Korean refugees are shorter as a result of poverty. The height difference can provide some insight into the correlation between a person’s height and their life expectancy.
  6. North Korea has directed the majority of its funds to its military. An estimated 25 percent of the nation’s GFP is going into these programs. A major cause of young men leaving the workplace is that most take part in some form of military training. As a result, although 40 percent of its population currently lives below the poverty line, North Korea has the world’s fourth-largest army.
  7. North Korea ranks pretty low among countries in terms of carbon emissions. In 2013, North Koreans kept their emissions to 63.8 metric tons while South Koreans put out more than 10 times as much with 673.5 metric tons. This gap has been one of the most significant factors of North Korea’s recent rise in life expectancy. While there are still debates about a nation’s level of carbon emissions and its overall effect on the world, a lot of studies have proven that there is a relationship between carbon emissions, life expectancy and income.
  8. North Koreans struggle with poverty. Citizens of nations with low carbon emissions are predicted to be unable to achieve higher levels of income. This is because these low-emission nations tend to have a stronger focus on exporting goods in order to keep its economy afloat. While these low carbon emissions provide a healthier territorial range for its citizens, without a moderately sufficient and independent economy, the majority of North Koreans still remain in lower-income levels of poverty.
  9. North Koreans have attempted to redirect their focus to their country’s nutrition and health problems. The government has taken steps to increase the number of young children receiving Vitamin A supplements in order to combat the effects of North Korea’s many food shortages. The World Health Organization encouraged the consumption of Vitamin A in 2000. Additionally, North Korea has mandated that nutrition be a part of medical curricula.
  10. In the past, North Korea has prided itself on being a self-reliant country. However, this attitude has been theorized to be the primary cause of the nation’s chronic food shortages since the nation was reluctant to request international food aid. However, after the North Korea’s 2008 population census revealed its significantly poor health conditions, North Korea began a collaboration with the World Health Organization Centre for Primary Health Care Development to improve the nation’s poor health situation.

North Korea’s reclusive and secretive nature means that there is still a lot that remains unknown. However, these 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea provide some insight into what areas may need more attention from the country’s government and international human rights organizations.

Jordan Melinda Washington
Photo: Unsplash

Life Expectancy in North Korea

North Korea formed in 1948. With Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945, the nation divided in two, with the Soviet Union occupying the north and the United States occupying the south. Efforts at reuniting the nation in 1948 failed, resulting in the formation of two distinct governments: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south. Soon after the advent of the nation, Kim Il-sung seized control of the northern government and his family has remained in control for three generations. This rule has had a significant impact on life expectancy in North Korea.

The nations have since grown farther apart, culturally and politically. Though South Korea has improved vastly, North Korea remains elusive with minimal information publicized by an oppressive government. As international policy with North Korea enters a new era, the country comes further and further into the light. Even knowing 10 facts of life expectancy in North Korea may provide insight into the quality and direction of life in the nation.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Korea

  1. The life expectancy of North Koreans is 71 years. As a result, North Korea has the 157th longest life expectancy of the 224 nations in the CIA Factbook. The average for men is 67.2 years and 75 years for women. Life expectancy had been gradually rising since the country’s formation until the 1990s when it faced a sharp downturn due to a severe famine. The country’s life expectancy began to improve later in the decade and has since slowly continued to rise.
  2. North Koreans live shorter lives than South Koreans. South Korea has a life expectancy of 82.5 years, standing at 11th longest in the world. Both countries’ expectancies grew at similar rates in the late 1970s to early 80s with the North Korean growth rate slowing before and after due to food shortages. Food shortages continue to be a bane on North Korean health. High infant death rates in North Korea further causes the gap between South and North Korean life expectancy. North Korea suffers an infant mortality rate of 21.4 deaths per thousand births. South Korea’s birth rate averages three deaths per thousand. The South Korean National Statistical Office predicts that North Korea’s infant mortality rate will drop to 7.1 in 40 years.
  3. Forty percent of the 24 million in Korea live in poverty. The average GDP per capita is $1,700, leaving North Korean citizens standing at 214th wealthiest in the world. These civilians have severely restricted access to food and heating, leaving their health at risk. Many use wood fire to heat their homes or live without flushing toilets.
  4. North Korea does not guarantee health. Though North Korea claims to offer free health care, many die due to an inability to pay medical expenses, as patients must pay for their own heating, food and medicine. Though there are a greater number of doctors in North Korea than South Korea, they do not receive payment. Due to food insecurity, digestive issues and anemia are rampant across the country. Additionally, sufferers often cannot obtain the necessary treatment since underfunded hospitals have to ration or reuse medicine.
  5. North Korea suffers regular blackouts. Though coal experts largely support the country’s economy, North Korean power is far from reliable. Hospitals suffer from regular blackouts and loss of heat, limiting working hours to daylight and making for poor recovery conditions.
  6. North Korea has been fighting a tuberculosis epidemic for decades. Medical professionals diagnose 82,000 new tuberculosis cases per year and 15,000 people die from it. While the country had an anti-TB campaign launched in the 1970s, it lost traction with the 1990s famine. The Eugene Bell Foundation has been providing large-scale multi-drug resistant TB treatment throughout North Korea, curing over 70 percent of those it offers treatment to, compared to the world treatment success rate of 50 percent.
  7. North Korea suffers from severe food shortages. This fact about life expectancy in North Korea may be the most defining. On average, North Koreans consume only 2,094 kilocalories per day, well below the Food and Agriculture Organization’s recommended 2,500 kilocalories and the world’s average of 2,870 kilocalories. Meat is a luxury for most of the population, who subsist on kimchi—a fermented lettuce dish—corn, rice and porridge. In 2015, Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for North Korea, said that two million children, pregnant women and elderly North Koreans suffered from malnourishment.
  8. The North Korean government maintains one of the largest militaries in the world. North Korea has the 52nd largest population and fourth-largest national military in the world. The country spends one-fourth of its $40 billion GDP on its military. Men and women must serve in the military after turning seventeen, with a 10-year minimum for men. During this service, soldiers maintain exhaustive conditions, serving 15-hour days with only 750-800 grams of food.
  9. The North Korean government expresses a desire to improve its quality of life. In 2016, the nation launched a five-year plan to promote growth across all sectors of the nation. North Korea has passed several pieces of human rights legislation, such as the Convention on the Rights of a Child—which eliminates the worst of child labor, among other protections—and has permitted for U.N. supervisors to enter the country. However, the government does not fully oblige to promises made in these treaties.
  10. North Korea continues to be a focus of international rights policy. The Human Rights Council has been in unanimous agreement that North Korea must cease its human rights offenses. In addition to the Convention on the Rights of a Child, North Korea recently passed four other human rights bills to protect women and the disabled, two groups especially affected by North Korean living conditions. These bills will also focus on protecting general citizen rights. While no one can make a clear quantification of progress, as North Korea has not released a state report, Yoon Yoo-sang of South Korea’s Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights says that they have seen improvements in health care and food supply in the last two decades.

The 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea are distressing, but not hopeless. North Korean life expectancy falls short for a vast array of causes such as natural causes, famine and insufficient medical program funding. Still, life expectancy rises. People should not ignore the gains by the populace—instead, these accomplishments may provide a glimmer of insight to the people behind the heavy veil of government.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr

North KoreansThe West is never lacking digital information about world news. E-books, the radio and news media keep people informed about current world events. However, the people of North Korea do not have access to such resources. In North Korea, information regarding the outside world is limited or, in some cases, non-existent. Although the citizens of North Korea are largely unaware of global current events, people around the world are working together to provide them with digital information.

Providing Digital Information to North Koreans

The state of North Korea regulates almost all content that its citizens can view, denying nearly 25 million residents access to information about the rest of the world. While millions of people worldwide can search current news via the internet, North Koreans cannot. Most of their internet content is restricted to information related to the government and their leader, Kim Jong-Un. Luckily, many organizations are uniting to provide information to those in North Korea.

Flash Drives for Freedom is an organization dedicated to uniting North Koreans and multiple organizations to grant access to digital information. The Human Rights Foundation, Forum 280 and USB Memory Direct have worked diligently to provide flash drives to those in North Korea. These devices contain media content such as Hollywood movies, books and other information denied to North Koreans. The organizations load the drives with information and smuggle them into the country. In 2018, more than 125,000 flash drives were donated and distributed.

Activists in South Korea have also taken action to help. The small group of activists has been informally smuggling food and information in bottles to people in North Korea. These bottles often contain rice, worm medication, U.S. currency and USB drives. Twice a month, with conducive tides, activists toss these bottles into the Han River, and the groups gather together in prayer. This method is a safe and ingenious way of providing digital information to North Koreans.

Hope for North Korea

Activist groups and non-profit organizations are coming together for the overall benefit of North Koreans. Their creative methods have provided key information about the outside world to civilians who have been denied internet access and important news. Techniques as simple as flash drives and plastic water bottles can mean all the difference to someone living in North Korea. By providing digital information to North Koreans, they can gain not just information but hope for a better future.

Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Girls' Education in North Korea

Article 43 of the constitution accentuates the importance of socialist pedagogy as a means of raising younger generations. These are generations who will contribute to society in the future. Conversely, the attitude towards girls’ education in North Korea is rather different from the perceived authoritarian nature of the regime.

The state of girls’ education in North Korea is a great insight into the country’s public education system. It also unveils North Korean society as a whole. Additionally, it sheds light on its government policies. Like any another child, all young girls in North Korean children have personal goals and ambitions.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in North Korea

  1. North Korea also has one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99 percent. This is particularly due to the fact that girls’ education in North Korea is mandatory as the state stresses the compulsory secondary education for both genders.
  2. The official North Korean newspaper, Pyongyang Times, encourages the participation of women and encourages education opportunities. A 1991 article showcased Kim Hwa Suk, a woman who completed compulsory education and worked as a farmer. Soon after, she attended university and chaired her cooperative’s management board. She eventually attained a position as a deputy to the Supreme People’s assembly.
  3. Apart from a core curriculum, most children receive their education from the Kim Il, Sung Socialist Alliance. Idolization education begins from the early stages of education for both boys and girls.
  4. The high school curriculum includes classes like “Kim Jong Un’s Revolutionary History”. The middle school curriculum teaches subjects such as “Kim Jung Un’s Revolutionary Acts.”
  5. The government has established over 11 schools for disabled children in the country for both girls and boys. This provides access to equal opportunities in life by providing a strong educational foundation.
  6. There seems to be a certain parity in girls’ education in North Korea. Both genders are to take ideology classes at the university level like “Juche Political Economy”, “History of the Revolution” and the “Philosophy of the Juche Ideology,” along with their declared majors.
  7. Girls’ education in North Korea has helped change gender roles over the years. Many women are now getting opportunities to major in fields like medicine, biology, literature and foreign languages
  8. However, ‘Confucian Patriarchy’, is unfortunately a part of society and is an impediment to girls’ education in North Korea. These tend to adversely impact women particularly during admissions into higher education institutions.
  9. Even though women are allowed to train for military service, sexual violence remains rampant among women who join the army. Furthermore, many women continue to be denied access to education according to Human Rights Watch and don’t receive the social credit or papers for household registration.
  10. Moreover, most women are expected to actively take part in the labor force and the government endorses this commitment equally between both men and women which is also attributed, in part, to the country’s dire labour shortages.

To conclude, contrary to popular opinion, societal attitudes toward women and girls continue to advance. Further progress for girls’ education in North Korea is of great historical and social significance. This is especially significant given the repressive nature of the government. It will remain an important foundation toward making further strides in the realm of gender equality and tackling other related issues.

-Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Top Five Facts About Girls Education in North Korea

North Korea is known for limiting its citizens’ access to government information and news around the globe. One topic in North Korea that may not be as well known is their education system, more specifically, girls’ access to education. These five facts on girls’ education in North Korea highlight both the positives as well as what needs to be improved.

Top Five Facts About Girls’ Education in North Korea

  1. Primary education in North Korea is free and mandatory. This is especially great for families who are suffering in poverty and cannot afford an education for their children. Young girls around the world are more likely to be denied access to an education due to monetary restrictions, so this is a great achievement for the country of North Korea.

  1. Gender discrimination makes it difficult for women in North Korea to attend universities. In 2017, 26 North Koreans spoke with Human Rights Watch and explained how life in their country is challenging, especially for young girls and women. Due to their patriarchal culture, young girls and women are excluded from opportunities ranging from improving their education, joining the military and being involved in politics. They are instead encouraged to stay at home and take care of children and household chores.

  2. In North Korea, social status affects where children go to school. Based on the father’s wealth, education and social status, this determines where the child can go to university, where they can live and where they can work. The five social statuses of these children include the special, nucleus, basic, complex and hostile. If a young girl has a father with poor social status, this not only limits their educational opportunities but virtually every other major decision in their lifetime.

  3. North Korea’s only private university, Pyongyang University for Science and Technology, previously only allowed men to attend. However, it has been reported in recent years that women are now allowed to attend. This is a great victory for young women in North Korea. Careers in science and technology are notoriously lacking women. Women taking these courses and potentially working in a science or technological field would be quite progressive for this country.

  4. Education in North Korea focuses on nationalist propaganda. Information that includes propaganda for the country starts in nursery school, children are exposed to current and previous political leaders in North Korea who are only shown in a positive light, even if it’s false information. Many children’s first words are political leaders names. Several political courses about the Kim dynasty are required, and if students do not perform well in their courses, physical punishment is sometimes enforced. When young girls are not receiving a well-rounded education, especially when it starts at such a young age, it prevents them from being aware of what’s actually occurring in their own country and around the world.

It is very difficult to know exactly what conditions are like for young girls getting an education in North Korea. There is limited information on most topics concerning North Korea and their human rights violations. What is known to the general public is that the country needs to improve its patriarchy culture that affects women and their general education standards.

Although young girls in North Korea have access to basic and free education, many other factors that they cannot control affect what kind of education they receive. The education that young girls do receive is not always historically accurate and aims to influence students in the country to approve of their political leaders. These five facts about girls’ education in North Korea proves that the country’s education system is far from perfect.

Maddison Hines

Photo: Unsplash

Education in North Korea

Formal education in Korea began during the Three Kingdoms period, influenced by the Chinese educational system. In 1882, King Kojong issued an edict upholding education as a “pillar” of Korea. Thus formal education in Korea opened its doors to both men and women of all classes.

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea, education is entirely government-controlled. Education is required of all citizens for 11 years until the secondary level. Moreover, the education system in North Korea is based around socialistic ideals. Classes focus on the Korean language, mathematics, literature and government. These are the top 10 facts about education in North Korea.

Top 10 Facts About Education in North Korea

  1. Both primary and secondary schooling are required and free in North Korea. First, children go through one year of kindergarten. Then, they attend primary school, known as the “People’s Schools,” from the ages of six to nine. Afterward, they attend a secondary school which depends on their specialties. Secondary schooling continues from the ages of 10 to 16.
  2. North Korea is one of the most literate countries in the world. According to UNESCO, North Korea’s literacy rate is 98-100 percent. However, a self-reported number like this is questionable, considering the amped statistics coming out of North Korea.
  3. The literature read by North Korean students is carefully censored. Most writers remain obscure and their biographical details are concealed. Stories usually revolve around upholding socialism and the care the Kims have given the literary world. For example, “The Fifth Photograph,” by Lim Hwa-won, is told from the perspective of a woman who visits post-Soviet Russia in the early 1990s, only to witness a country failed by western influence.
  4. Women’s education is one of the more progressive aspects of North Korean schools. Secondary education and beyond is equally accessible to both men and women. In the late 1950s, the government initiated the “Chollima” campaign, which worked to more efficiently mobilize the population. As such, women were taught that emancipation came through labor, socialized childrearing and helping to build a socialist North Korea through productive work. Women make up over 80 percent of elementary teachers and 15 percent of college professors. There is no available information regarding the wage scale between men and women. However, one source from a Michigan State study states the wage is usually fixed making men earn more. Women also tend to quit their jobs after marriage.
  5. The curriculum in North Korean schools focuses on the Kims. A study by the Korea Institute for Curriculum Evaluation finds students spend 684 hours learning about the current leader Kim Jong-Un, his father Kim Jong-il, his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his grandmother Kim Jong-suk. North Korea states its education system is for “students to acquire the concept of revolution and endless loyalty toward the party and the supreme leader.”
  6. Many students who go into higher education come from royal family backgrounds. Higher education in North Korea is divided into colleges, universities and vocational schools. One of the most prestigious schools in North Korea, Kim Il-Sung University, is extremely hard to get into. Only students who are related to higher government officials and have good grades can sit for entrance exams. If a student is gifted in science or mathematics, they often go to the University of National Defense.
  7. Military service is required for both North Korean men and women at the age of 17. Before 2017, military service was optional for women. Now they must serve until age 23, and men must serve 10 years. However, exceptionally gifted students from special schools may be exempt from service altogether.
  8. A lot of the education in North Korea is propaganda meant to indoctrinate students into the system as early as kindergarten. For example, when children learn about time, they learn it is based on Kim Il-sung’s birth year, 1912, also known as Year 1 in North Korea. Every classroom in North Korea must have a picture of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il. Children learn about “revolutionary history,” involving music, storybooks, novels and artwork related to the Kims. A report published by the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry states North Korea’s education program has two goals: to instill the utmost loyalty and commitment toward the supreme leader and to instill hostility and deep hatred toward the United States, Japan and South Korea.
  9. The education system violates international law by restricting freedom of thought and expression in its people. The December 2018 U.N. report concludes North Korea is committing “systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights.” Their findings cite torture, “inhuman conditions of detention,” rape, public executions, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and political prison camps. In addition, it cites pervasive restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, expression, assembly and movement. Consequently, North Korea “totally rejects” the U.N. resolution.
  10. North Korean “reeducation camps” are where prisoners go to perform hard labor. The Ministry of People’s Security runs the reeducation camps. Most of these crimes are political, from border-crossings to slight disturbances in order. Prisoners are often forced into hunger and severe circumstances. Most prisoners do not make it out of their sentence alive. Recently, in January 2019, a North Korean denuclearization diplomat was sent to a reeducation camp. This was likely due to being labeled a spy due to his job, serving as the United States’ contact point with North Korea.

These top 10 facts about education in North Korea show the most important role of education is upholding socialistic conformity. Overall, the country doesn’t seem to be raising unique individuals who are given true freedom of expression. Instead, education, like many other aspects of life in North Korea, is political.

Isadora Savage
Photo: Pixabay

Child Malnutrition in North Korea
One in five children
in North Korea is malnourished. The United Nations claims that 200,000 children in this country are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Child malnutrition in North Korea is a growing concern of various humanitarian organizations. Aid programs find trouble reaching the country due to trade restrictions and only a few groups are allowed to enter North Korea. Although the percentage of children stunted by malnutrition in North Korea has dropped from 28 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2018, children are still facing severe malnutrition and are in need of immediate assistance.

World Food Programme Role in North Korea

A very big problem of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is that it suffers from a drastic food shortage. The World Food Programme (WFP) has stated that a combination of the country’s harsh climate, rocky terrain, lack of farming technology and the recent 2015 drought have all contributed to a significant reduction in harvest.

WFP provides several programs to the country such as food for work program, food for nursing or pregnant women and support of factories that produce fortified meals. However, WFP has recently had trouble finding funding as many donors are unwilling to fund North Korean programs even though the country’s sanctions do not limit aid programs.

UNICEF in North Korea

UNICEF has expressed that there is a dire humanitarian need in North Korea. As of 2017, they had screened 90 percent of children under the age of 5 with severe acute malnutrition in the country and have treated 19,000 of those children.

One of UNICEF’s focuses is nutrition and sanitation interventions, specifically for children and mothers who just got their babies, in order to help combat child malnutrition in North Korea. The organization has stated that it needs $16,5 million to meet all of its goals for the country in 2018. These goals include providing children and pregnant women with nutrition, proper hygiene and safe drinking water. UNICEF is not the only group focused on the needs of new mothers and children.

First Health Steps

First Health Steps Canada is another on-ground organization attempting to battle child malnutrition in North Korea. The group mainly focuses on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. They have two programs that are called Soymilk and Sprinkles that are used to provide necessary nutrition to young children all over North Korea.

Through the Soymilk program, they deliver soybeans to North Korea that are then turned into soymilk and delivered to daycares and elementary schools. Their Sprinkles program delivers micro-nutrient packs to pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. The group also works on the ground and has visited the Yonsa county after Typhoon Lionrock to ensure that building supplies and food have been delivered. First Steps has provided an invaluable aid to the food insecure people of North Korea.

Organizations such as UNICEF, First Steps and the World Food Programme are attempting to find solutions to the dire need of food security and child nutrition in North Korea. Although a lot of progress has been made in the last decades, child malnutrition in North Korea is still a high priority issue.

Although it seems bleak, there is hope since more aid workers and groups are finding it easier to access the country. Officials of the country have also been cited as wanting to focus more effort on the economic stability of the country which could ensure the health of their people. As more focus is being put on humanitarian needs and less on political tensions, food security in North Korea is certainly going to improve in the upcoming period.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in North Korea
The world was watching when Kim Jong Un ascended the international stage to shake hands with U.S. President Donald Trump. Yet the fanfare of a once-in-a-blue-moon summit in Singapore between the North Korean and American heads of state shuffled North Korean human rights abuses to the back of the media’s story deck. The latest member of the Kim dynasty lives and speaks in superlatives; his people do not. Here are the t
op 10 facts about living conditions in North Korea.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in North Korea

  1. For a time following the immediate years of the Korean War, North Korea held a slight lead in wealth over South Korea, but famines and increasing state control over the domestic market led to economic contraction. Today, North Korea relies heavily on China for energy and food imports.
  2. North Korea’s GDP per capita stood at about $1000 in 2017. In comparison, China’s GDP per capita in 2016 was about eight times that; the United States measures in at approximately $58,000.
  3. North Korea’s weather is often harsh as it borders Siberia. Winters there can drag temperatures down below zero degrees Celsius (about eight degrees Fahrenheit). A profoundly inadequate heating system forces many inhabitants to gather fuel to keep warm months before the winds and snow arrive.
  4. In 2013, upwards of 18 million people in North Korea lived without electricity; infrastructure has yet to see major improvement since. In urban areas, approximately 41 percent of the population had access to electricity — that number drops down to 13 percent for rural areas.
  5. Although the state economy is running only by virtue of China’s life support, North Korea has a burgeoning black market. Smuggling and dealing in products from drugs to ice supplies many citizens with the income to buy food.
  6. Propaganda is ingrained in both North Korea’s billboards and in many of its people’s minds. As a correspondent for CNN discovered in his time in the hermit kingdom, many in Pyongyang, the capital and most prosperous city of the country, heap praise on the Kim dynasty and hate the Americans. It is unclear whether or not they are forced to do so.
  7. North Korea’s government groups its citizens via a categorization system called “songbun,” which is comprised of three different categories — loyal, wavering and hostile. As expected, those who are deemed loyal receive benefits, while those marked as hostile often find themselves recipients of discrimination.
  8. Life expectancy in North Korea averages at about 70 years. For perspective, it is ranked 157th in the world in this category by the CIA World Factbook. A variety of factors, such as inadequate health infrastructure and food shortages, contribute to its ranking.
  9. North Korean refugees are among the most disadvantaged groups in the world. If they are caught (illegally) crossing the North Korean border into China by DPRK officials, they risk being sent to labor camps. If caught by Chinese officials, they are turned back to their host country; even if they aren’t caught, many are forced into slave labor and prostitution in China and Russia.
  10. Religion remains a sensitive spot for North Korean officials. Buddhists and Taoists are frequently persecuted if found practicing their beliefs and/or religion, and any official religious spaces exist only for propaganda purposes.

Improving Day to Day

The top 10 facts about living conditions in North Korea show that the situation is abysmal, but standards are on the rise. Kim Jong Un has been more liberal than his predecessors in state control of the economy, allowing pockets of capitalism to flourish.

Despite this, totalitarian shackles remain as steadfast as ever before, and the possibility of political reform seems a distant specter. A long bridge of negotiation and diplomacy on the part of outside powers must be crossed if living conditions in North Korea are ever to substantially improve.

Alex Qi
Photo: Flickr

memoirs
The problems in developing countries are often viewed as too big to find solutions. Because of this, many people are deterred from putting in seemingly futile efforts to alleviate a problem. But, they are more likely to join the fight when they learn the individual names and faces of those living under such conditions. These five memoirs about overcoming poverty highlight success stories and seek to mobilize people with a renewed sense of hope.

5 Memoirs About Overcoming Poverty

  1. Masaji Ishikawa recalls escaping from North Korea in “A River in Darkness.” With Japanese heritage from his mother and Korean from his father, he found himself caught between two worlds. When his father realized he could no longer tolerate the discrimination he faced in Japan, the family moved to North Korea. They arrived with the promise of paradise and found, simply put, quite the opposite. Ishikawa was only thirteen years old.In this memoir, he describes atrocious living conditions with graphic detail, unparalleled by any other nation in the world. The regime controls every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and Ishikawa tells readers that “the penalty for thinking was death.” More than any of the five memoirs about overcoming poverty, “A River in Darkness” highlights an ongoing crisis.Since North Korea remains untouched by the rest of the world, it’s difficult to extend support to those still living under the dictatorship. But Ishikawa’s story is one of many that prove North Koreans are waking up to the reality of their oppression. Gradually, more people are choosing to gain control over their destinies.
  2. When Jacqueline Novogratz donated a sweater to Goodwill, she never expected to encounter a young boy wearing it on the streets of Rwanda. It ended up being the namesake for her book entitled “The Blue Sweater.” She holds onto this memory as an important message of interconnectivity and the responsibility to help people in need.Her travels to various countries revealed economic injustice along with a lack of credit access for those with low incomes. This led her to help open the first bank in Rwanda available to women. Along with numerous other initiatives through The Acumen Fund, Novogratz learned that charity is fleeting compared to the sustainability of helping innovators launch businesses to benefit millions of people.
  3. Several reporters sought to overcome poverty by being a voice for untold stories in developing countries. Maya Ajmera, joined by co-authors Sarah Strunk and Olateju Omolodun, wrote “Extraordinary Girls” about what girlhood looks like across the world. Despite cultural differences, the authors work to prove that all girls can find common ground in the desire to make their dreams come true.Their book showcases girls such as Alexandra Nechita from Romania, an exceptional painter whose work was published in a collection by the age of eleven. Through this and many other success stories, the book’s purpose is to encourage girls to be active in their communities rather than feel as if their only option is to fulfill traditional gender roles.
  4. Katherine Boo sheds light on the ramshackle town of Annawadi in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.”. This book illustrates how members of this community responded to India’s promise for renewed economic prosperity amid a global recession. A young man named Abdul discovered the value of reselling possessions thrown out by the wealthy. Others sought to change the course of politics by climbing the social ranks, like the Annawadi community member who became the first woman in that settlement to be a college graduate. These stories are about relying on pure grit to succeed in life when the economic system favors only the rich.
  5. The last of these five memoirs about overcoming poverty is “Teach a Woman to Fish” by Ritu Sharma. It’s a reinterpretation of the gendered language in this saying: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” She argues that if women are taught the same thing, everyone will be fed too.Sharma helped found a business run by women in Honduras, giving them a chance to break free from the household sphere and gain financial independence. Other countries she visited include Sri Lanka, Nicaragua and Burkina Faso. In the book, readers can also find tips for shopping in ways that support female entrepreneurs and email templates if they feel inspired to speak with their members of Congress about this important cause.

All the authors in these five memoirs about overcoming poverty have discovered important lessons about global issues through real-life experiences. They write about them in the hopes that people will no longer be complacent in the face of a problem that, contrary to what some might believe, can be solved.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in North Korea
In the 2018 North Korea-United States Summit, where the U.S. President Trump met with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader, Kim Jong-un, the focus was mainly on human rights in North Korea. North Korea has long been condemned by the U.N. as a perpetrator of human rights violations.

Facts About Human Rights in North Korea

1. 2.6 million modern-day slaves exist in North Korea.

Today, one in 10 North Korean citizens are held in political prison camps known as “kwanliso”. In the camps, prisoners are starved and beaten up while being forced into hard labor by the government officials. Additionally, many modern-day slaves are victims of human trafficking, child exploitation and debt bondage.

2. Political freedom is virtually non-existent.

Political opposition is not allowed under the totalitarian system in North Korea. The state controls all internet access, television and news organizations, allowing only pro-government content. Freedom of assembly and petition are also prohibited.

3. Class status is determined by loyalty.

Individuals are classified under “songbun”, which divides people into groups of “loyal”, “wavering” or “hostile” classes depending on how devoted they are to the government. This classification often determines people’s employment, housing and access to education. It can also threaten their lives.

4. Arbitrary arrests and torture in custody often occur.

The governmental security forces often subject accused political criminals to arbitrary arrest, long-term detention and other tortures including starvation during interrogation. Those accused of major political crimes are often sent to prison camps without trial; emblematic of the lack of human rights in North Korea. In most cases, families are unaware of what happens to their family member. In fact, earlier relatives of political criminals could also be sent to the camps, though this is less common now.

5. Forced abortion occurs as a form of ethnic cleansing.

The majority of refugees going from North Korea to China are women.  They often become victims of rape. Over 5,000 North Koreans are repatriated to North Korea by China every year and once they return to North Korea, pregnant women suspected of carrying “foreign sperm” are forced to have abortions in prison. If not, the suspected half-Chinese children are killed. 

6. Religious communities, especially Christians, are persecuted.

According to Christian watchdog organizations, all traces of the formally large Christian community in the pre-regime North Korea have been wiped out. Suspected Christians are tortured and killed as the state suppresses any religion that poses a threat to the government.

7. North Korea abducts foreign nationals.

Japan continues to demand the return of 17 citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea has admitted to these kidnappings and further accused of abducting over 3,800 South Koreans. Allegedly, these individuals have been kidnapped so that the North Korean government can learn more about the other cultures as part of their espionage efforts.

8. Despite signing several human rights treaties, these abuses continue.

Following increased concern over human rights in North Korea, North Korea has signed treaties that protect women, children and the disabled’s political and economic rights. Despite this commitment to cooperate with the U.N. and other international bodies, the government continues to refuse to work with the South Korean and U.N. human rights organizations.

9. China recently began enforcing more sanctions on North Korea.

China holds perhaps the greatest leverage over North Korea as one of its major trading partners. Historically, China has not demanded changes to the human rights in North Korea because of China’s own issues with human rights violations. But due to nuclear power concerns, in May 2017, China’s sanctions on North Korea‘s government has increased.

10. Despite little improvement, awareness about these crimes continues to grow.

Though the situation still looks bleak, the information known about North Korea has greatly increased since the 1990s when refugee stories first emerged. Since North Korea has been forced to cooperate somewhat with other global powers, there are efforts to reach people in North Korea via social media so they can learn more about their situation and rights.

Human rights in North Korea might not be improving, but global attention to the situation creates awareness of the threat to life that exists in the country. Going forward, international pressure can eventually ensure that basic human rights are given to the people of North Korea.

Grace Gay
Photo: Google