GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No.187

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
No. 187 August 2008

In Wonsan, On Average, One Kkotjebi Child Dies Every Day
Gimchaek Steel Mill sets up a fence to block Kkotjebi from coming inside
Do not Waste Time with Inspections, Find a Solution for Kkotjebis

Police Officers Aid Kkotjebis in Theft
Children Placed in Orphanage by Their Own Parents
Severe Punishment for
Yeonsa County Middle School Students
Teachers in
Yeonsa County Given Time Off to Pick the Grass
“It is heartbreaking to see kids from other families go to school”

In Wonsan, On Average, One Kkotjebi Child Dies Every Day

Many residents of Wonsan City survive on corn porridge. Some organizations and public enterprises try to provide their employees with some rations of potatoes grown on their own plots of land, but a majority of the employees have yet to receive anything. A situation like this in the largest city in Kangwon Province provides a good indication of the situation elsewhere in the province. As the children living nearby have been gathering in Wonsan, the situation in the large city has deteriorated. Kkotjebis (homeless children) continue to beg for any food items. It has been claimed that Kangwon Province is suffering the worst food crisis in the nation, but as of yet no food supplies have arrived there from the United States.


The lingering food crisis in Wonsan has led to the daily appearance of dead Kkotjebis in the marketplace. A city official commented, “We have not counted them in detail, but it seems that an average of one dead Kkotjebi a day is found. Kkotjebis fight amongst themselves for small amounts of food, the smaller and the weaker children get pushed aside and go hungry. Kkotjebis are getting more organized, those who do not belong to any group are pushed aside and eventually lose the battle to survive.”

Gimchaek Steel Mill sets up a fence to block Kkotjebi from coming inside
An ash treatment plant of Gimchaek Steel Mill (
김책제철소), located in the Songpyong District of Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, has been used as a sleeping place for groups of Kkotjebis. This year, there was a huge increase in the number of Kkotjebis, which pressured Gimchaek Steel Mill to prevent them from living at the plant. Problems arise as the Kkotjebis have been stealing coals and coke from steel mills. As a response, the steel mill built a four-meter high wall to keep Kkotjebis from coming inside. After the walls were raised, Kkotjebis were unable to get inside the ash treatment area.

Do not Waste Time with Inspections, Find a Solution for Kkotjebis
The Central Party of Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province is planning a month-long inspection for the public status of
the Anti-Socialist Activities. The new inspection plan, as it comes immediately after an inspection into the economic status, has elicited many complaints from residents. The residents complain, “If the authorities have time for an inspection, they had better spend it figuring out solutions for Kkotjebis. The inspections are only causing difficulties for those residents trying to make a living. What is the use of inspections when they ignore the number of Kkotjebis?”

The Dongsang-dong District of Sinuiju has a Kkotjebi relief center. The center does not deserve to be called a relief center, a more appropriate name would be concentration camp. The young Kkotjebis are not allowed to go out of the center and they are provided only one meal a day. Three children died this past June and two more died in July. Many older children end up fleeing the center because of the horrible situation. The City of Sinuiju collects goods in the name of helping the Kkotjebi children, but nothing has reached the children yet. Many residents believe that the authorities need to pay attention to finding a way to deliver the goods to the Kkotjebi children rather than inspections.

Police Officers Aid Kkotjebis in Theft
As the food crisis worsens, the number of Kkotjebis has increased throughout the country. More wanderers and Kkotjebis have appeared at Wonsan Station in particular. These wanderers and Kkotjebis beg or pick the pockets of train passengers for survival. Once in a while, some Wons
police officers aid and abet these wanderers and Kkotjebis in their theft. The police officers send signals to them when the trains are about to arrive. Then the Kkotjebis pick the pockets of the passengers in the confusion of the crowd or steal other things. They have to offer more than half of the valuable spoils to the officers, otherwise they are arrested for theft. These Kkotjebis move freely under the protection of the officers. Occasionally, when some Kkotjebis are in danger of being arrested by other officers ignorant of the arrangement, those policemen are moved to other stations.

Children Placed in Orphanage by Their Own Parents

The orphanages and nurseries located in Pyonghwa-dong, Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province have recently seen an increase in the number of children newly admitted. The increase is an indication that new orphans and abandoned children have become more commonplace, which has become a problem for orphanages. Nowadays, many parents leave their own children at orphanages because they can no longer take care of them. In early June, a mother brought a child and asked the orphanage, “Please take care of this child abandoned at the station” then the mother left.

Ham Mi-hwa (33) sighed, “Such a horrible situation that drives parents to do a thing like this! The parents want to come to the orphanage to get their children back when things get better. But will that day come?”

According to Ham, when the children who are cared for at the orphanages reach middle school age, many run away because of the horrible situation and the lack of freedom. Many of the children at orphanages cannot stand more than two years and eventually the orphanages are left with only those who are physically disabled. There are too many younger children in orphanages and too few middle schoolers.

Severe Punishment for Yeonsa County Middle School Students
A middle school in Yeonsa County, North Pyongan Province has been suggesting that each student pay a sum of five thousand won for repairs to the school buildings and old furniture. Parents of the students are against the idea, saying, “Our survival is at stake under the food crisis. Five thousand won is not a meaningless amount.” With no students responding, the school authorities made the suggestion that the payments may be made in small installments or in kind, with roofing tiles, lumber or lime powder, etc. Consequently, around ten students attempted to remove roofing tiles from a house that used to be a military watchpost. Even though the house has not been in use for a long time, the soldiers arrested them as thieves. Male students were beaten severely and female students were forced to work for half a day on the plot of fields run by the soldiers. The students were embarrassed, saying, “We didn’t have any money. We did not know where to get it. We were really pressured.” The teachers did not try to scold the students.

Teachers in Yeonsa County Given Time Off to Pick the Grass
Schools in Yeonsa County are having a hard time because of the food shortage. Recently, teachers made a request to the elementary schools, stating, “We can’t go to work and teach until we resolve the food shortage problem. Please shorten the afternoon working hours and give us time to pick the grass.”
In response, the principal allowed teachers and staff to go pick the grass three times a week in the afternoon.

“It is heartbreaking to see kids from other families go to school”
The family of Baek Myong-sun (41), who works at the fish selling center (
물고기판매소) of Fisheries Department (수산성) in Wonsan City of Kangwon Province, are struggling to make enough money to survive. The fish selling center is not a reliable employer because goods are only available once or twice a year, during festive seasons. Ms. Baek’s husband was honorably discharged from the military after he was injured. Last year, her husband received money from the military, money that was not provided again this year. Baek, with her seventeen-year-old daughter, makes some sweet beverages with saccharine and food colors. The mother sells her product for 10 Won per cup. She buys the ground Korean-style popcorn (펑펑이가루) and licorice (쇠투리;감초) and made some gruel with them. Her family members make their meals with those products. Ms. Baek has already become used to starving and is able to endure her own hunger. However, she feels terrible about her daughter, who helps her mother sell drinks. She says, “My heart is torn out when I see kids from other families go to school while my daughter is out selling sweet drinks. I just feel sorry for not taking responsibility as a parent. There was a better time when I sent my daughter to school, commuted to work by myself, and received food. Now, I am not sure when those times will come again.” Her daughter, walking with short quick steps, seemed to be busy encouraging passengers to buy sweet drinks, ignorant of her mother’s worries.

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