North Korea Today No. 172

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today 172nd Edition July 2008

“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”

(Image by Google Earth)

Food Crisis Increases Criminal Activities in a Struggle for Survival as well as Kkotjebis
No Attention Paid to Kkotjebis Collapsed on the Streets of Wonsan
City of Haeju, “Don’t Arrest Kkotjebis. There Are Too Many of Them.”
High Absenteeism in Elementary Schools and Kindergartens of Farming Villages in South Hwanghae Province
A Father Who Stole a Phone and Became a Thief and a Son Who Became a Kkotjebi
Prevalent Extracurricular Lessons for Children of Party Leaders Make the Crackdown Falter

Food Crisis Increases Criminal Activities in a Struggle for Survival as well as Kkotjebis
In the worsening food crisis, the fight for survival is leading to an increase in crime which is also resulting in an increase in the number of Kkotjebis (homeless children). Young children whose parents end up in detention center, re-education centers or interrogation facilities and do not have a way to make a living are turning more and more to the Kkotjebi life style. Many happy families are being broken apart throughout the country due these conditions.

No Attention Paid to Kkotjebis Collapsed on the Streets of Wonsan
Time of new crops of barley and potatoes is here. The number of Kkotjebis, however, seems to be increasing. With so many Kkotjebis roaming the marketplace and railroad stations, even more than just last spring, the policemen seems to have lost interest in controlling them. Since the beginning of July, not a day has gone by that the morning sun has not been greeted by a street full of Kkotjebis collapsed from hunger or exhaustion. Nobody pays attention to them because people are accustomed to this scene. People do not seem to care if the collapsed children are dead or alive. Occasionally, those children are found on the street stripped of their shoes or clothes. Kim, Gil-lye (57), a peddler of water, sighs, “We will become like those children ourselves soon. How can we pay attention to them when we cannot take care of ourselves? Human beings are turning vicious in a world as ruthless as this.”

City of Haeju, “Don’t Arrest Kkotjebis. There Are Too Many of Them.”
City of Haeju, South Hwanghae Province has been trying to control the Kkotjebis population. Their number, however, has been increasing in so rapidly that the city issued directions not to arrest them any more. The shelters have exceeded their capacity and are unable to take in any more Kkotjebis. In every city meeting, “Elimination of Kkotjebis” is emphasized, but no proper measure has been found. Some have suggested building more or expanding the current shelters but it is difficult to believe that this will solve the issue when even the currently available facilities and shelters are so poorly managed.

Additionally, many deaths have been reported due to the poor conditions of those shelters that promote the spread contagious diseases among their residence. Many are saying, “It’s not right to lock up those children when they can’t be provided with proper medical care. The diseases may spread to even the healthy children and make them perish as well.” No actions have been taken to prevent the spread of diseases so far.

High Absenteeism in Elementary Schools and Kindergartens of Farming Villages in South Hwanghae Province
The food crisis has caused high absenteeism in schools of farming villages in counties of Jangyeon and Ongjin, South Hwanghae Province. More than middle schools, the elementary schools and kindergartens are experiencing a much more dramatic decrease in attendance. So dramatic in fact that teachers are finding it difficult to teach. Teachers are expected to visit the families of absent children, but the teachers themselves have become so weak due to hunger and the number of absent students have increased so drastically that they cannot visit the students as enthusiastically as before.

A Father Who Stole a Phone and Became a Thief and a Son Who Became a Kkotjebi
According to Kim, Young-ran (38) in Wonsan, Kangwon Province this food crisis is turning everyday people into petty criminals after thieving, fighting, missing work, and bootlegging just to make a living. Kim’s neighbor is an example of a ruined family. His neighbor stole a telephone from work and tried to sell it, but was caught and sentenced to three months at Labor Training Center. He had a good reputation as a sincere person. He had a chronic liver problem and could no long expect help from his relatives. He could not live on just bowls of porridge and ended up stealing a telephone from his work. When the man of the house was sent to the Labor Training Center, to use Kim’s words, “The family lost their main pillar. The situation became like getting a frost on top of the snow. The family’s hardship worsened.”

His hard-working wife tried her best to feed her fourteen-year-old son and eleven-year-old daughter. Whenever she had any spare time during “social mobilization”, she collected herb and salted fish to make some extra money. Her husband, upon returning from three-month stay at the Labor Training Center, passed away because of the liver problem. She never complained about anything but did everything she could to feed her children and send them to school, but her body was worn out and she too soon collapsed. With no adults available to make a living, the son took his younger sister to a relative’s house. The boy left his sister at the relative’s house and began a life of Kkotjebi, begging at the marketplace and helping merchants when they gave him work.

The boy, now a Kkotjebi, brought food to his mother whenever he could. Each time his mother insisted that they stay together, live or die, but the boy said that it would kill the whole family and returned to Kkotjebi’s life. In the meantime, his mother’s illness got worse and she soon passed away. The boy, as any other Kkotjebi, repeated the cycle of begging in the marketplace, being confined in the shelters and running away. Then one day the boy hurt his head badly while stealing something. And now, although he often looks normal on the outside, his head wound has caused some brain damage and he can be found mumbling incoherently to himself. The neighbors felt pity toward this boy who used to be a very filial son. He was considered very intelligent and never forgot to give his mother even ten won he made, but now he seemed to have developed some mental condition and could not maintain tidy appearance.

Early July, the boy took a piece of bread from the hands of two soldiers at the Wonsan city market shouting, “My mother is starving. My mother has nothing to eat.” Two youthful angry soldiers got hold of the boy and beat him up saying, “Do you know who we are? How dare you steal from us!” The boy was a bloody pulp when he finally lost consciousness, but he kept hanging on to the piece of bread.

Many people at the scene commented angrily, “How could they beat the boy so much? They should be treating the boy as their brother. Are they the soldiers of this republic or Japanese military policemen?” The two soldiers, surprised at the responses of the crowd, quickly made themselves scarce. The boy, unconscious, kept bleeding and trembling. Later he was taken to a shelter by a policeman. It is not known whether he is dead or alive. People guess that even if the boy might have survived, he would have suffered severe mental damage on top of the physical trauma. Kim, Young-ran says the incident broke his heart. The boy would have been happy, playful and carefree under the parents’ care. The story of his separation from his sister as well as his physical and mental injuries make any listener cringe with sadness. His father’s theft of a telephone made the child a Kkotjebi, and brought everyone all this misery. Kim sighed, “Who is to blame, his father or the world that forced the family to steal?”

Prevalent Extracurricular Lessons for Children of Party Leaders Make the Crackdown Falter
North Korean authorities have crack downed on individual extracurricular lessons because these lessons run counter to the spirit of equal education. However, it has become more prevalent and specialized rather than being stamped out. Nowadays incumbent teachers are getting teaching more extracurricular lessons, whereas in the past it was mostly retired teachers who taught a few students here and there to make ends meet. Furthermore, the number of teachers who resign their job at school and plunge themselves into professional extra-classroom teaching is increasing everyday. The most competent teachers are turning in their resignations preferring to give students out-of-school lessons that usually come with a payment of 10,000 to 15,000 Won per student.

Hong Sung-chul (37), living around the station of Mankyong District of Pyongyang, says that he is very satisfied with his life as a professional extra-curricular teacher. He describes, “When I was a teacher in school, my life was poor. Nowadays I take care of 10 students and earn 150,000 won a month. I don’t need to provide my own capital or fund, and earn far more money doing the same thing. So my life has totally changed. I had to eat on corn meal when I was a school teacher, but now I can eat real rice every meal.” As of last June 23, a directive that states that “legal punishment will be strictly applied to giving extra-curricular lesson” is delivered to local safety offices including Pyongyang. However, many students taking extra-curricular lessons are children of high executive party officers or leaders. So, in many cases, the safety officers are forced to step back from implementing the directives. Particularly in Pyongyang, many party leaders want to teach their children English and computer skills but the lack of competent teachers creates a high demand for them. In situations like these, safety officers cannot afford to crack down on these teachers and their powerful employers. Hence, some safety officers tend to overlook, rather than to crack down on these practices.

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