NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR
DATE OF ENTRANCE TO SOUTH KOREA: SEPTEMBER, 2001
First of all, I would like to thank the representatives of numerous national and international human rights organizations and the rest of you who are present at this international conference.
I was born in North Korea and escaped to China in October 1998 due to my longing for freedom and democracy. I was caught by the Chinese police and returned to North Korea, but I crossed the Tumen River again in January 1999. After a long period of traumatic experiences in China, I finally arrived in South Korea in March 2001. I am now working as a member of the Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag (NKGulag), which is working for human rights and democracy in North Korea.
I am also grateful to the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), which invited me to this conference and gave me a chance to explain the reality for youth in North Korea.
After graduating from college, I taught in high school in Hamheung, South Hamkyung Province, from November 1995 to March 1997. In addition, while I was living as a defector in China, I lived with 70 North Korean juveniles who had left their hometowns and wandered around the country.
The most important point to realize is the falsehood presented by the Kim Jong-il regime, which even now says “children are the kings of the country” and insists that their regime is heaven for children. Today more and more children who should be in school are roaming around the country in search of food. Life for North Korean children is very hard. Are they really the kings of the country when they are starving, without pencils and books for their schooling, following their parents to the marketplace and forever searching for food? Even their teachers are starving.
The essence of education in North Korea is not aimed at the future of the people and the country but at the idolization of Kim Jong-il, with children who sacrifice themselves for Kim Jong-il honored. The Kim Jong-il regime is starving children by failing to address disease and malnutrition. While Kim Jon-il enjoys a luxurious life with his children, he is driving the nation’s children, the future of our country, to death from starvation, cold and disease.
Today I am going to explain the reality for youth under the North Korean regime.
I. What is the essence of the education policy of North Korea?
The North Korean Constitutions states in article 43 that, “The State shall put the principles of socialist education into practice and raise the new generation to be steadfast revolutionaries who will fight for society and the people, to be people of a new communist type who are knowledgeable, morally sound and physically healthy.” Based on this article, on September 5, 1997, the government proclaimed the “Thesis on socialist education,” which illustrated that the principle of education of the DPRK focuses on preparing youths to be of a “new communist type.” Education in the DPRK is aimed at inspiring class consciousness, raising people as communists, making people work and live according to collective principles, educating people to devote themselves not to their own interests but to the interests of society, the people, the party and the revolution with the aim of assembling under the guidance of the party and the great leader a united group with a united ideology.
The DPRK defines its socialist education as “cultivating people as revolutionary individuals armed with independence and creativity.” In particular, education for the new generation aims to make people “loyal to the party and the great leader, revolution and communization.”
Based on this doctrine, the DPRK established its policy for education and controls the whole education system through the Science Education Department under the Central Commission of the Korea Workers Party (KWP). In particular, as basic cells of the KWP, every school all over the country has a unit of the Primary Party Committee, the Korean Children’s Union (for children 7-13 years old) in primary schools and the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League (for people 14-30 years old) in high schools and universities with the aim of ideological control of every student and teacher. The DPRK forces students to join associations such as the Red Young Guard for middle and high school students and quasi-military organizations such as the Pacification Corps for university students in order to raise them as soldiers for a war on the Korean peninsula.
In education administration, the DPRK has had 11 years of compulsory education since 1972. The DPRK insists that the purpose of the 11 years of education is combining general knowledge and basic techniques to make students attain more than one skill. However, the truth is that the fundamental purpose of the education in North Korea is to reflect the revolutionary spirit of the KWP and instilling respect for Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il early in the education system. The 11 years of compulsory education includes four years of primary school, six years of senior middle school and one year in kindergarten as preschool education. Its original name was “General 10-year compulsory education and one-year pre-school compulsory education.”
However, the most important factor of education lies in the fact that all young people in North Korea are forced to dedicate themselves to the two dictators, the Kims. From early childhood, children in North Korea are taught to sacrifice their lives for the Kims rather than for their own country by idolizing the Kims. This idolization can be seen through the subjects taught in school, e.g. “Revolution led by the Great Leader Kim Il-sung,” “Childhood of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung,” “Childhood of the Beloved Leader Kin Jong-il,” etc. This sort of idolization is continued after graduation and forms the basic spirit of the DPRK’s education system.
II. What is the reality for youth under the current North Korean regime?
However, what is the destiny of youths who are admired as “kings of the country” and “ardent workers for our future?” Today, North Korean youths are dying of diseases caused by malnutrition and starvation. When I was teaching in my hometown from November 1995 to March 1997, many students died from hunger and 45 to 55 percent of students on average could not come to school due to a lack of food. The class I was in charge of had 32 students, but when I did a roll call on the first day, less than 20 students were present. After visiting the homes of each of the students, I found that many were simply empty and some students had followed their parents onto the streets. In addition, many students did not have any books or pencils, so they could not come to school. Many students were living on the streets (the so-called kojebi), moving around the country by train. Just in my class, I saw four students die from hunger. In the morning I taught at the school, while in the afternoon I looked for students in markets, train stations or parks, and at night searched for students again as a member of the '9.27 Office.’ This was the reality of North Korean youth during the period I taught at school, 1995 to 1997.
In particular, since 1995, the year that food situation took a dramatic turn for the worse, many children died and still now many are suffering from hunger. In August 1997, the investigators of the World Food Program (WFP) investigated the conditions for children under 7 years old for 3,695 children at 42 nurseries and kindergartens in five districts, including Hamkyung Province, and revealed that 38.2% of them were suffering from malnutrition. In addition, in October 1998 investigators from both UNICEF and North Korea published a report that disclosed that 62.3% of 1,766 children aged between 6 months and 7 years were suffering from malnutrition. In 2004, the WFP warned that if there was no immediate international food assistance, after three or four months a large number of people, including children and pregnant women, would die of hunger and disease.
III. What is the reality for North Korean youth in China and other countries?
Many North Korean youths who have fled from hunger are currently in China and other countries. In September 1998, I was caught by the North Korean security agency after watching videos of a Korean television show entitled “Sandglass” and passing them around to my friends, which later led me to flee to China. At that time, people who watched or circulated movies or publications from South Korea or other capitalist countries such as the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom were charged with condemning socialism, spreading capitalism or, in the worst case, opposing the monolithic ideological system of the party. People so charged were either executed according to the socialist Constitution or sent to concentration camps. Today many innocent people are dying in underground prisons of the security agency (bowibu), lodgings converted into interrogation rooms and concentration camps such as Yodok Political Prisoners' Camp.
I am also one example. In early October 1998, after a close call with the North Korean security agency I fled to China, but after several days was arrested by the Chinese police at a bus terminal in Jilin Province and repatriated. For the next 60 days, I passed through the investigation and imprisonment process, which included the Musan Security Agency, North Hamkyung Province, and the Nongpo Detention Center in Chungjin, North Hamkyung Province. I experienced many forms of torture. Fortunately, while I was being sent to a security agency in South Hamkyung Province, I escaped and in January 1999. I ran across the frozen Tumen River and again into China. I then lived at refuges in Hunchun and Yanjni in Jilin Province with 70 North Koreans with ages ranging between 10 and 20. I could see their miserable circumstances as I lived by with them. I remember crying when I saw pitiful children who had crossed the border in search of food: a boy who had come with his frail 5-year-old younger brother to find their parents who had promised to find food; a 14-year-old boy whose legs had suffered frostbite while crossing the Tumen River and walked with a limp; and a 15-year-old girl who had been sold with her aunt and forced to marry and live in a rural area of China. Even now young defectors are suffering in many countries. The international community must save these children. The world must save 15-year-old girls who fall into human trafficking.
The late dictator Kim Il-sung always said, “Children are the future of our country and the kings of our country.” Throughout his life, he was admired and honored by young people growing up under the North Korean regime. However, today we know the reality.