Unless you don’t follow the news at all, you likely know that North Korea is a place all its own. Run under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un, the super-controversial country is one that has its sights set on the United States – and not for a good reason, either. But, what’s even scarier is the way in which children grow up in North Korea.
Of course, a select few are able to live lives of luxury, if you can call it that. Their versions of luxury and ours may be much different, though, and even kids in upscale families are forced to worship a dictator and be faced with all kinds of propaganda in toys, books, and posters that should all protect the innocence of young children.
The children of North Korea will likely make you think twice about the “problems” we see in the United States. Ugly exists everywhere, but children in North Korea are forced to grow up twice as fast, sometimes being forced to slave labor when they should be attending preschool. They learn about the military and weapons as soon as they start school. And, they learn to hate others. Here are just some dark truths about what children are facing in North Korea right now.
15 Forced Labor And Chain Gangs
Most children get to stay home or go to daycare or school while their parents do the hard labor at work. But, in North Korea, kids as young as 5 are forced to enter into slave labor in the form of chain gangs. Videos have captured kids fixing roads, building homes and businesses from the ground up, repairing railroad tracks, and more – sometimes for 10 hours a day or more – all while they should be playing, reading, socializing, and being kids.
The country tries to keep this fairly secretive, but with the technology we have today and the power of the internet, it’s almost impossible to keep it under wraps completely. Some children miss out on school because of their work, but the North Korean government plays it off as a form of “team building”.
14 Don't Want To Work? Here's The Alternative.
The kids here don’t have the right to turn down work, either. If they complain about it or refuse to work, the punishment may be far greater than doing the work itself. Some have reported that children who don’t want to work may either get beaten right in front of their peers, or they may get sent to a concentration camp-like setting where the unimaginable happens.
A report by Mirror that recounts memories of a former prison guard stated that some children were mauled to death by guard dogs as a punishment. Others were buried alive on the premises after being mauled by the prison dogs. The former prison guard said he had to watch as five children were killed by the guards and then buried. And, for those not killed by the dogs, they were treated harshly by workers.
13 No Religious Worship Allowed
If children in North Korea want to worship a god or partake in any type of religion, they won’t be allowed to do so. Under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un, no worshipping of any idols is allowed, as he doesn’t want the country to become corrupted by any Western beliefs, such as Christianity or Catholicism. By law, no religious practices can happen in the country, even though the country’s Constitution allows for religious freedom.
It’s been reported that the punishment for openly practicing religion may include torture, beatings, and even executions. One report estimated that as many as 120,000 people had been imprisoned in the country for practicing religion in some form, and children aren’t excluded. Some may even get sent to concentration camps for sharing their religious beliefs.
12 Instead, They're Taught To Worship A Dictator
Why has freedom of religion turned so heavily under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un? It seems that Jong-Un wants everyone to worship him as if he was a god, which is typical of a dictator. Since kids are the most impressionable people in the country, it stands to reason that he’d work his magic on them as much as possible, removing religious practices and instead forcing them to worship his “greatness”.
Young school children in the country – even as young as kindergarten – are forced to sift through hours upon hours of information and stories in school that all tell about Kim Jong-Un and what a great leader he is. Some reports note that they spend more time learning about him than they do on any other subject, in the hope that they’ll grow up to worship him as a leader.
11 They Learn About Weapons
Can you imagine sending your child to school so they can learn how to use weapons properly and be a part of the military? In North Korea, it’s commonplace to do so. Kids play with imitation weapons – even assault rifles like the AK47 – to learn how to use them in battle and other important military skills that they’ll likely need when they grow up and are forced to become a part of the military. They even learn to throw mock grenades and unsuspecting military personnel from the opposing side.
Some schools and events even set up photos with US military members so the children can learn just who their enemies are supposed to be. Teachers of the students say that the skills the kids learn in school are meant to protect their leader, Kim Jong-Un – not necessarily to defend themselves or their country.
10 Malnourished And Sick
Many children in North Korea are severely malnourished as a result of the country’s extreme drought. The drought has left many without enough water or food, and unfortunately, some of the country’s most vulnerable are seeing the worst side effects. The UN estimated that in 2016, about 25,000 children in North Korea were starving and requires immediate treatment before their little bodies could no longer take the suffering.
One of the biggest issues is that farmlands have suffered so much, decreasing the production of cereals, which many women and children ate. Plus, safe water is a major issue. Without it, children, especially, are at risk of severe dehydration or death caused by diarrhea from unsafe contaminants in the water. Fortunately, organizations like Unicef have been laser-focused on this issue, but there’s still much more work to be done.
9 They Learn To Hate
You’ve likely heard that the United States is North Korea’s biggest target. But, when you see how kids tend to be raised there, it may not be much of a surprise why. From an early age – as young as preschool – kids are taught to hate Americans. They’re flooded with propaganda in books, on posters, on TV, and even in school – things that should be completely innocent to kids at that age. Instead, they learn to hate, as if it’s completely normal to want to kill Americans.
There’s even a museum that’s dedicated to anti-American propaganda. Schools take children here to learn about US-North Korean “history” but are actually flooded with images similar to the one you see here. Many of the images in the museum are extremely graphic and much more than any child should be seeing, but here, it’s almost become second nature.
8 Their Families Can't Escape
Many families over the years have attempted to escape from North Korea to provide a better life for their children. Some have succeeded to be able to tell their experiences, but for many, it doesn’t happen quite so easily. People who attempt to cross the border into South Korea are known as defectors, and North Korea doesn’t think too highly of them.
In addition to being threatened by death if they try to escape, some who have been successful have told stories of beatings and killings they’ve witnessed of others attempting to flee. Still, people take the chance, believing that if they do find freedom away from their country’s dictator, it will be worth it. Border guards also face severe punishment – and even death – if they are caught trying to aid any families who are trying to escape.
7 Some 'Children's Day'
When you hear about International Children’s Day, what do you think of? Probably balloons, fun activities, carnivals, parades, and the like. North Korea’s International Children’s Day celebration does include a parade, but probably not the type you think of. Instead, kids here dress in military gear and ride military-type vehicles as if they’re preparing to go off to war.
The parade is held in the capital of Pyongyang and about 3,000 kids participate in the event. There are some games, dressing up, and other activities, but many of them are not the kind of activities you’d expect kids to enjoy. For example, one was an archery activity. The target? An illustration of a US Army soldier. Another activity included building your own rocket to launch – all on a day that’s supposed to celebrate the world’s most innocent beings.
6 Only A Small Portion Live In Luxury
If kids happen to live in the capital of Pyongyang, they may be lucky enough to live a life of luxury that includes dance classes, elite fashion, and incredible dining experiences. But, a life of luxury in North Korea is rare, only available to a select few. According to News.com.au, the average worker in the capital only brings home $10 USD per month, but those who live in the luxurious part of the capital can easily spend more than that on a piece of brand-name clothing.
But, for the majority of the country, the economy is crumbling, leaving kids to wonder where their next meal is coming from. Rich kids here live in almost a whole different world than the others in the country. They can wear more risqué clothing and behave in more of a “Western” lifestyle than the other 99%, further ostracizing those in poverty.
5 But, Brainwashing Exists, Even In Luxury
Even those who live in luxury aren’t exempt from brainwashing, though, making you wonder just how “perfect” their lives really are. In Pyongyang, there’s a place for the rich kids, known as Children’s Palace. This artsy place is meant for rich kids to partake in arts, theater, sports, and more. But, even here, kids seem to be brainwashed into adopting the ideologies of their dictator leader.
Kids talk about their leader as if he was a saint to the world and gush about how they want to join the military one day. The kids even sing songs devoted to Kim Jong-Un and his rocket launches. And, theater performances recreate political scenes and boast political messages. So, it seems that whether you’re rich or poor in North Korea, you still need to have the same political beliefs as the rest.
4 They're Required To Join The Paramilitary
Once children grow up to be teenagers in North Korea, they may be forced to join the paramilitary, which is much like the US Military Reserves. But, those in North Korea often are given no pay to be a part of the paramilitary, which further aggravates Human Rights activists, who believe that this is just another form of child slave labor that shouldn’t be happening in the country. The paramilitary has up to an estimated 6 million members, many of whom are the nation’s teenagers.
According to The Telegraph, older teenagers move from child labor of working on roads and buildings to the paramilitary, sometimes facing as much as 10 years in the force without having a cent of pay. But, just as the other child tasks are covered as “team building”, so is the paramilitary for teenagers, many of whom grow up thinking their work is completely normal.
3 Harsh Conditions For Orphans
Orphan children in North Korea possibly have it the roughest out of any children in the country. Here, there are way more orphans than families willing to take them in, and not enough resources to go around. Many teenage orphans are left to fend for themselves, homeless and alone, taking up shelter in abandoned sheds or being forced to break into stores just to get a night of sleep.
Some reports mention that orphans in North Korea who are discovered to be of Christian faith are brutally tortured for their religion. Other young children and even babies don’t get enough food, proper shelter, or clothing in orphanages. Even kids who get adopted may end up back in an orphanage if the family simply decides they no longer want the child or can’t care for him. Basically, the fate of orphans in the country is never certain.
2 Even Comic Books Are Brainwashing Materials
Comic books are a favorite of kids around the world. Sometimes, they may have small little political statements in them, but not quite like the ones you may see in North Korea. The comic books here – even those geared toward young children – often have political propaganda that’s extremely one-sided and graphic, even going as far as to depict North Koreans harming those in the United States.
It seems that not much meant for kids in North Korea is very innocent like we’d expect them to be. According to PRI, “‘A Blizzard in the Jungle,’ published in 2001, [depicted] a group of Americans and North Koreans traveling on an airplane crash in an unnamed African country. When they’re stranded in the jungle, the Americans selfishly split ways with their North Korean colleagues, only to be devoured by alligators in a nearby river.”
1 There Are Stories Of The Unimaginable
When the droughts in North Korea were at their worst a few years ago, there were several reported stories of parents who had become so starved that they ate their own children. One man was executed after he had been convicted of murdering his children to eat them. But, the drought crisis is not over, and many parts of the country are still without enough food and safe water to drink. The country’s leader has received some harsh criticism recently for spending a huge amount of money launching rockets instead of helping the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Even though the country isn’t in as dire a state as it once was during the roughest droughts, some reports still point to this horrible trend happening to parents who feel as though they have no other choice.
Sources: BusinessInsider.com, CNN.com, DailyMail.co.uk, HRW.org, LATimes.com, Mirror.co.uk, News.com.au, News.vice.com, Newsweek.com, Telegraph.co.uk, TheSun.co.uk